Haight-Ashbury

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Haight-Ashbury is a district of San Francisco, named for the intersection of two streets commemorating two early San Francisco leaders who had a hand in planning the neighborhood, as well as the nearby Golden Gate Park. The area is best known for being the origin of the hippie counterculture in 1960s America, especially during the “Summer of Love” (1967), in much the same way that the bohemians of the beat movement in the late 1950s had congregated around the city’s North Beach neighborhood.

Author Hunter S. Thompson labeled the district “Hashbury” in The New York Times Magazine, where activities in the area, especially in regard to psychedelic rock music and counter-culture, were reported regularly, propelling local bands like the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane to stardom. The Psychedelic Shop, which opened in 1966, offered a place to purchase drugs (such as marijuana and LSD), which were perceived to be a community unifier. Another important presence was the local “community anarchist” group, The Diggers, known both for its street theater as well as their common belief in human goodness. To express this belief, they established a free society in which they offered free meals and medical care, and opened a free store, while relying entirely on volunteers and donations. They were strongly opposed to capitalism and felt that by eliminating money, people would be free to examine personal values, which in turn would lead to a happier existence.

Soon after the Summer of Love, as many people were returning to college, an influx of hard drugs and crime (due to a lack of police presence), as well as homelessness and hunger, afflicted the neighborhood. On October 6, 1967, those that remained staged a “happening”, which could be seen either as a mock funeral or a “Death of the Hippie” ceremony, with the message: “Don’t come here because it’s over and done with. Bring the revolution to where you live.”

Later, throughout the 1980s, the area became an epicenter for the San Francisco Comedy Scene, when The Other Café at 100 Carl Street (originally a small coffee house) became a full-time comedy club and helped launch the careers of comedians such as Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, and Dana Carvey.

About 48,000 Victorian & Edwardian-style houses were built in San Francisco from 1849-1915, many brightly painted. During the World Wars, many of these houses were painted battleship gray with war-surplus Navy paint, while many others had their Victorian decor either removed or covered over. Another 16,000 were demolished. Then in 1963, San Francisco artist Butch Kardum began to color the exterior of his Victorian house with bright colors. After becoming a color designer, he and other colorists began to transform dozens of the gray houses into what are collectively known today as the Painted Ladies. One of the best-known groups, known as Postcard Row (below), can be found at 710–720 Steiner Street, across from Alamo Square Park in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. This block also appears frequently in photographs of the city and has appeared in an estimated 70 movies, TV programs, and advertisements, including in the opening credits of the TV series Full House (and its sequel, Fuller House).

  • Visited: May 2006

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