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My Summer of Love

The cosmic cultural contagion that broke out in San Francisco in 1967 has become American lore. But those who were actually there remember it differently. An abbreviated history of a complicated time.

SLIDESHOW

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Photo: Larry Keenan

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Photo: Dennis Maness

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SFPD officer Arthur Gerrans, aka “Officer Krupke” in Joan Didion’s “Slouching Towards Bethlehem.”

Photo: Arthur Gerrans

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Janice Mirikitani and Cecil Williams.

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Photo: Larry Keenan

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San Francisco Mime Troupe founder R.G. Davis.

Photo: R.G. Davis

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Psychedelic poster artist Stanley Mouse.

Photo: Stanley Mouse

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Photo: Dennis Maness

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Photo: Larry Keenan

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Photo: Larry Keenan

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Michael Joplin, Janis Joplin's younger brother (front).

Photo: Michael Joplin

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Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic founder Dr. David Smith.

Photo: Dr. David Smith

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Photo: Pictorial Press

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Photo: Herb Greene

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Photo: Herb Greene

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“My memories of the time are fragmented.” —Tony Serra


I missed the
Summer of Love by just a couple of years and a handful of miles. Growing up across the bay in Berkeley, I was 14 and had not even smoked dope yet, let alone dropped acid, when the annus mirabilis of 1967 began. I never even went over to the Haight in its mad heyday—Telegraph Avenue was my adolescent stomping grounds. But like so many others of my generation, I was irrevocably shaped by the countercultural revolution. Its tentacles extended as far as London’s Ladbroke Grove neighborhood, where in 1971 I dropped acid with a hippie couple who had taken me in after I hitchhiked into the city from Stonehenge. That trip led me to drop out of Yale in search of nameless Rimbaudian intensities. I didn’t find them, or if I did it was only for brief moments, but in some ways I’ve been looking for them ever since. 

That was my story. I tell it because the history of the hippie explosion that began around 1965, and of which the Summer of Love was merely the weird and in some ways deflating signature moment, is the history of a million experiences like mine—good, bad, and, as radical attorney Tony Serra phrases it in the epigraph above, fragmented. In the words of Leonard Cohen, “The revolution has to take place in every room,” and, as you’ll read in the following pages, it truly did. 

Of course, there is a danger in overdosing on Summer of Love nostalgia. As this magazine goes to press, the deluge of stories, museum exhibitions, concerts, and other commemorations of all things Haight and hippie is already out of control, the psychedelic overload making a 45-minute James Gurley guitar solo look restrained. Isn’t there some kind of cultural Thorazine that can make these endless flashbacks stop?

But there’s a reason we feel compelled to exhume that 50-year-old era yet again. The truth is that the hippie “movement” was, and remains, the most enigmatic, inexplicable, ambiguous, and intoxicating societal upheaval in modern American history. Like the Paris Commune, the European revolutions of 1848, and the California gold rush of the following year, it is what the French writer Yves Frémion called an “orgasm of history”: a sudden eruption of something completely unprecedented, unclassifiable, and transformative. And because the eye of this weird hurricane was in San Francisco, this city has become a shrine (or mausoleum) to it. 

As the firsthand tales you’re about to read reveal, the Summer of Love was infinitely complex. It had a bright, hopeful, even heroic side, but also a dark and tragic one. Some of the young people who flocked to the Haight 50 years ago found not paradise but a psychic or physical nightmare. A lot of bad shit went down. The final scene in Joan Didion’s classic piece of reportage “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” features a five-year-old girl whose mother has been giving her LSD. The Summer of Love was the season of the ’60s when heroin and violent crime began to replace grass, acid, and gauzy talk about love. It is foolish to sentimentalize it.

But it is equally shortsighted to demonize it, or deny its transformative effects. For a brief time, half a century ago, our city was the center of the strangest cultural revolution America has ever seen. We are still sorting out its meaning and its consequences. The stories that follow are fragments from that mysterious explosion, reminders of the time when the wildest dreams on earth were lost, and found, in San Francisco. —Gary Kamiya


PART I: ENTER THE FREAKS

Ray Sewell, 66
Longtime traveling chef for the Grateful Dead and other famous bands. 

By the time the Summer of Love came along, you could see a person from a distance and ID them as a freak—that’s the term that was used: “There’s a freak, he’s cool.” If you see someone hitchhiking and he’s a freak, you’d pick him up. That freak flag, it wasn’t a wimpy thing. It was a struggle to become who you really are. There was a sense of pride in it. That took courage. You were an explorer. Once you get to the West Coast, you can’t go any further. So we turned in to ourselves to explore. The drugs and things, it wasn’t recreational. It was the outcome of the great American experiment.

Grace Slick, 77
Vocalist for Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship, now working as an artist in Malibu.
When you get educated, you learn that you have choices. In those days we had a choice: Do you want to live like Alice B. Toklas and Picasso, or like Leave It to Beaver? Most of us chose Paris. We didn’t refer to ourselves as hippies, or at least Airplane did not. I was not a hippie: I wore makeup, I shaved my pits, and I did not bake bread. I was surrounded by these women in long dresses and Ben Franklin glasses telling me, “Here’s how to bake bread from scratch.” And I’m thinking, why in the hell would I want to do that?

Joel Selvin, 67
Former pop music critic for the San Francisco Chronicle and author of 16 books, including Summer of Love.

I was sitting in a Berkeley apartment in April with my friends, smoking pot and talking about this massive influx of people headed to San Francisco. That didn’t seem like a good idea. A lot of us wanted to get the hell out of Dodge. I wanted to get away from the overwhelming indignity of phony hippies. None of us particularly welcomed the idea of every mendicant reprobate degenerate from every small town across the country descending on the city and taking away our groovy scene. One guy says, “So there’s 100,000 people coming to San Francisco this summer.” One of the other guys says, “Yeah, and now we have to figure out how to make a dollar from each one of them.” That’s when an alarm bell went off in my head. 

Carl Nolte, 83
A staffer at the San Francisco Chronicle since 1961. In 1967 he was the editor of the Chronicle’s Sunday section; he now writes the Native Son column every Sunday. 

One day a copy boy comes in and asks me if I’ve heard of this band, Jefferson Airplane. It was in the air. I mean, we all thought revolution was going to break out any minute now, so compared to that, “Summer of Love” sounded pretty good to us. No rioting, no throwing stuff, no tear gas. Peace and freedom, that sounded pretty good.

Rick Barry, 73
Then a second-year player with the San Francisco Warriors, he scored a league-leading 35.6 points per game during the 1966–67 season. Today the Hall of Famer lives in Colorado and Florida.

I don’t remember exactly the first time I saw a hippie. You saw them around all the time—they’d come down to other areas of the city. They didn’t just hibernate in the Haight-Ashbury. I lived in the Marina, and I remember seeing a Volkswagen van all painted up—all that crazy stuff.

Arthur Gerrans, 76
SFPD officer working out of Park Station who was labeled the “Officer Krupke” of the Haight in Joan Didion’s “Slouching Towards Bethlehem.”

The papers call it the Summer of Love, but this was the event that started it. March 14, 1966. I was working the midnight shift, in the radio car with Fred Mott. We see this girl walking barefoot and looking awful young in the Panhandle. They didn’t even call them hippies at the time, but beatniks. She had been in the park with this guy. She’s a blonde, a pretty girl, wearing jeans. She had no identification. We were starting to see a lot of runaways, so we took her to Park Station, which next summer was covered with pictures of kids who had run away. We got hold of her parents, and they said, yeah, she was 18, a senior at San Leandro High School, and had run away with another girl who was 17. So we took the girl back to where the 17-year-old was, an attic apartment on Ashbury Street. When we got up there, you could smell the aroma of marijuana. Most of these places were unkempt and dirty, and people were on the floors sleeping. As I recall, they had writings and sayings on the walls. We ended up with two minors, pot on the windowsill, and an attaché case with heroin, needles, and syringes. We busted about two dozen people. We used to bust pad after pad after pad. It was free love and free sex. We’d go into these places and there’d be little kids, babies. These guys were ex-cons having sex with young girls. They were all stoned. There were dogs in there, dog crap on the floor. To me, there was no redeeming factor with these people. They didn’t care about anything except getting stoned. There was not much love.


PART II: RIGHT TIME, RIGHT CITY

Cecil Williams, 87, and Janice Mirikitani, 76
Husband-and-wife leaders of Glide Memorial Church. Williams is pastor of the congregation; Mirikitani is an award-winning poet and founder of the Glide Foundation.

CW: Back then, this place was a city of rawness, a city where people were not organized, not sensitized, were not empathetic with each other, did not work with each other. It was a city of exploitation. 
JM: They called it the Tenderloin because it was a meat rack: prostitution, porno shops and peep shows, and not a lot of families. I came in ’65, and I saw a distance between the neighborhood and the church. Cecil inherited 35 elderly white parishioners unhappy that a young African American minister was appointed to them. And then he opened the doors and invited the pimps and prostitutes in.

Carl Nolte
We were all pretty straight in San Francisco in the early ’60s. It was a very different place then: a lot of blue-collar jobs, a lot of manufacturing, the businesses were all local. We were more liberal than other cities, but Willie Mays still couldn’t buy a house here in ’59. No black firemen, maybe three or four black cops. It was sort of a moderate-Republican kind of town, and the same was true of the paper, although everybody that we knew personally was against the war and thought it was a mistake. That was supposed to be the big news that summer—the war was ramping up, and the election was coming the next year, and we all thought Johnson was kind of cornpone and not our sort of guy and that the war had consumed his presidency. So we were all against the war, but San Francisco was ringed by military bases: the Presidio, Alameda, Treasure Island, all those missile sites ready to shoot down Russian planes any day, and nuclear weapons being stored in Concord. I remember riding a bus across the Bay Bridge and seeing an aircraft carrier loaded with planes steaming out of the Golden Gate and realizing, my God, it’s probably headed to Nam to go blow the hell out of everybody with napalm. But nobody even looked at it twice.

Jay Thelin, 77
With his brother, Ron, opened the Psychedelic Shop on Haight Street in 1966; later moved to Lake Tahoe and founded a company that manufactures wood-burning stoves.

By 1965, I’d had some realizations. I was in Lake Tahoe for the summer, painting a house, and I can remember thinking, what the world needs is a psychedelic shop to sell materials to ensure people have a good trip, because there were a lot of horror stories out there. I called my brother, Ron, and he loved it. I told him to go down to Haight and see what was available for a storefront. He called me two days later and said he found a place for $150 a month, right off Ashbury. And I was like, “OK, I’m quitting this job. I’ll be there this weekend.” Really, there was nothing happening on Haight—there were maybe two or three clothing stores. We opened the Psychedelic Shop on January 3, 1966—when we called the phone company, they didn’t even know how to spell “psychedelic.” Then, that January was the Trips Festival, and that kind of triggered the idea that there were thousands of people in the Bay Area thinking the same way we were. The idea was to turn on the world. What we didn’t know was that 50,000 young people would run away from home and come to San Francisco. The more people came, the harder it was to provide.

Herb Gold, 93
Beat generation novelist, author of more than 20 titles, who wrote his acclaimed Fathers: A Novel in the Form of a Memoir in 1967.

The beatniks were a small group, but the hippies was really a mass, mass movement, and you felt an avalanche of kids, of teens, falling into San Francisco, just spilling into San Francisco, from Stockton, Cleveland, from all over the world. There were girls—young women, we would call them now—English, French, German, Scandinavian, coming here and breaking hearts and then going home and marrying their school sweethearts. I remember meeting a girl at City Lights, she was from France, and I speak French, and I asked her what she was doing in town, and she said, “I am digging ze scene,” just like that.

Raymond Musante, 75
SFPD officer from 1965 to 1997. In 1967 he was a member of the city’s original tactical squad. 

To me, the Haight was Disneyland. A lot of people were stoned and they were out of it, but they could tell, right away, if they were getting a smile from me, they were OK. The Haight was insane. To the point where, a lot of times, the cops wouldn’t even do anything there. The Hells Angels were the enforcers there. It was so crazy. There were so many drugged people, mentally ill people, street people. The medical facilities were overpowered. Golden Gate Park was one big stage. I think the rigidity of the ’50s, coming out from World War II, young people were exploding inside. What was happening in San Francisco brought it to the forefront. It wasn’t a ship. It didn’t have a captain. It didn’t know what water it was on. It was more or less a happening, if you will. 

Karl Marlantes, 72
Retired marine, Vietnam veteran, and author of two books on the war; now living in Washington State.

I had friends in California, and I had a brother and a cousin out there, and they told me, “There’s all kinds of stuff going on here.” I had a little time before I had to go to marine boot camp in Quantico, so I left Yale early, didn’t even go to graduation, just took off after my last class and hitchhiked out from the East Coast. Of course I wanted to see the Haight and the, you know, gentle people with flowers in their hair, and I remember stumbling on this guy in Golden Gate Park they called Sufi Sam. He was like a saint, and he had these beautiful girls doing dances of universal peace whirling all around him, and I was thinking, I wish I could do that. It was all very romantic and wonderful, but of course I couldn’t participate—I had to go to Quantico. That was early in ’67, and by then the war was looking pretty dicey, and San Francisco was a huge temptation. But desertion is serious—they can shoot you for that in a time of war—and besides, I took an oath. It was a horrible dilemma.


PART III: SEARCHING FOR A HIGHER PLANE

R.G. Davis, 83
Founder of the San Francisco Mime Troupe, arrested in 1965 for staging an Italian Renaissance play ruled obscene by the parks commission. Now retired from a teaching post at San Francisco State.

That summer we were performing an adaptation of L’amant militaire, a play by Goldoni, an 18th-century Italian playwright. It was one of the best commedia dell’arte shows we ever did. We played 46 performances, twice a week, usually Saturday and Sunday. The show was radical, like everything we were doing. It was originally a pacifist play, but we made it into an anti-American military play. The play had the Vietnamese win and defeat the Americans. I don’t remember anybody getting up and leaving. If they didn’t like it, they didn’t put money in the hat. A theater critic came from Women’s Wear Daily and said, “You’re preaching to the choir. Why are you performing for these people?” But anybody who sits down on the grass and watches the show isn’t necessarily the choir. We were much more radical than the audience. I’d say, “We’re not preaching to them, we’re radicalizing them. We’re here to radicalize.”  

Jay Thelin
If you’ve ever done LSD, you know you can’t just tell yourself that this is just a drug, it’ll go away. If you do a good trip, you’re gonna die and be reborn, lose your ego and see a reality you never experienced before, which is really frightening. Our idea was, if people had the right materials and good music, they could get through a trip and have a good experience. Maybe it was naïve, but we were young and it worked for us. 

Tony Serra, 82
Attorney to famous figures including Black Panther leader Huey Newton, cannabis activist Dennis Peron, gangster Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, and members of the Hells Angels and the SLA.

When there was a full moon, we would drop acid at a rock ’n’ roll place in Monterey. It would be starting to come on when the place closed at 2 a.m., and then we’d drive down to Big Sur and sneak into the hot springs at Esalen. Ah shit, man, it was heavy. Everything looked like cabbages, asparagus, and cauliflowers. Why we did not go off the road is a wonder. We would stay in the baths there all night, listening to Rolling Stones records, going from the real hot baths to the real freezing baths. You knew  you had to get out of the cold bath when you started convulsing. In the morning, we would come out still stoned. The people at Esalen were doing tai chi. We would join in, ripped out of our fucking minds. We’d spend all day swimming in the ocean and end up dancing at Nepenthe as we came down.

Stanley Mouse, 76
The seminal psychedelic poster artist who cocreated the Grateful Dead’s skeleton-and-roses motif.

Jimi Hendrix was playing at the Fillmore ballroom! I am sure almost everyone was tripping, including me. Rick Griffin did the famous flying eyeball on the poster for the event. It was printed side by side with the John Mayall poster I did for the next weekend. Hendrix rocked! After the show was over, a friend said to me, “Stanley, I am driving right past your studio. Do you want a ride?” I agreed, since I was on foot. I jumped into the backseat and we took off. It was dark, and I couldn’t tell who else was in the car, and they were not talking much. On the way down the street the lights lit up the car, and I noticed that sitting next to me was Jimi Hendrix. One thing you don’t do on acid is small talk when there are galaxies and centuries drifting through your minds.

Wavy Gravy, 80
The poet, Merry Prankster, and clown prince of hippiedom helped put on the Woodstock Festival in 1969 before starting Camp Winnarainbow, now in its fifth decade of teaching circus and performing arts to kids every summer.

My wife was an actress. She did Star Trek and had a hot on-screen romance with Mr. Chekov. We moved to this house on Lemon Grove [near Hollywood] with the great Del Close. One night we were at this big warehouse in Watts. These two big ash cans were full of Kool-Aid. I explained it to the folks: “Pay attention, now. The Kool-Aid on the right is the eeeeee-lectric Kool-Aid. The Kool-Aid on the left is for the children. Let us review.” I did it for about 20 minutes—right, left. People danced for three hours to the Grateful Dead. And wet! It was 300 mics a swallow. [Three hundred micrograms was 3 to 10 times the typical hit of acid.] The whole place was melting. This sister started freaking out, screaming, “Who cares? Who cares?” It was horrific. She was in this side room, surrounded by maybe 15 people. We joined hands and she turned into jewels and light. We turned into jewels and light. That’s when I passed the acid test. When you get to the very bottom of the human soul, where the nit is slamming into the grit, and you’re sinking, but you reach to help somebody who is sinking worse than you are, that’s when everybody gets high. You don’t even need LSD to do that.

John Mindermann, 80
An SFPD officer until 1968, when he left to join the FBI. In 1972 he investigated a minor D.C. burglary case at a hotel called the Watergate.

My memory of the Summer of Love was watching the district disintegrate. Others may see it from the standpoint of social change and creativity and psychedelic drugs and a new element coming into San Francisco. I didn’t quite see it that way. They were a ragtag group of people who looked pretty much depressed most of the time. They looked like lost souls. To a certain degree, life for everybody is a little bit of being a lost soul, but what I remember about the Summer of Love was it didn’t seem to be a lot of love in the sense that these people were really watching out for one another. They seemed to be just floating away in a kind of haze without a destination. Without anger or even a fight in them. To me, that was the saddest part: looking at young people who seemed to have given up the fight and struggle. I didn’t see a lot of happiness here. You saw common elements in terms of human beings. The soul, the spirit, the physical presence deteriorating. To me, it wasn’t too dissimilar from the people I saw in the Tenderloin or SoMa who had fallen on very, very hard times.


PART IV: SOULS LOST AND FOUND

Stanley Mouse
Big Brother and the Holding Company used to practice at my firehouse studio near Haight Street. I would be making psychedelic posters, and the band would practice downstairs where the horse-drawn fire engines used to park. One day Chet Helms brought this girl over to audition for the band. He said that she could really sing the blues. To me she sounded either super good or really bad. I wasn’t sure. She did have a huge set of lungs. She was loud. They came up into my studio room, and after she chased me around the place—no sex—she introduced herself. Janis Joplin was her name, from Port Arthur, Texas. They all left, and later I was eating dinner. There was a loud rap at the door. I went down and opened the door to find two policemen. They said that they had reports of a woman screaming in the building. After a laugh, I assured them it was only Janis Joplin auditioning for the band. 

Michael Joplin, 64
The younger brother of Janis Joplin, who was 14 in ’67; now a glass artist.

We got a letter from Janis saying—the first line is great—“With a great deal of trepidation I bring you the news I’m in San Francisco.” ’Cause she knew [returning to San Francisco] was a risk factor. “Go do what you want to do and do it well,” you know, that was what my parents had always told us. They were terrified, but they were supportive ’cause she was doing well and she was good at it, and they approved of her doing what she wanted to do. We went on a vacation, ostensibly a vacation, to check up on her. We all drove out to San Francisco from Texas in ’67, so prime-time Summer of Love. We went to visit her, see her apartment.
     We just drove around Haight-Ashbury. She showed us the Golden Gate Bridge, you know, the whole San Francisco scene. It was the coolest thing I’d ever seen in my entire life. You know, I’d never been out of Texas, really.
     We’re walking all of us together, and we walked by a shop that happened to have a speaker outside, you know, the music ambience or whatever. And one of Big Brother’s songs came on while we happened to be walking in front. I remember her dancing, like, Yeah!, like a congratulatory-to-herself dance. It was an interesting, funny, sweet moment of pride in herself. Well, all of us, my goodness, all of us were, Ohhh, that’s cool!
     Janis’d just done this poster, a Bob Seidemann photograph of her topless with beads, and it was selling all over the place. We had been walking on Haight, and there was a poster in the window. Janis was so excited, and my parents were like, “Oh my God, you’re naked!”—a little like, Here’s my daughter, naked in the window. I just go, “Oh my God, that is so freaking cool!” And it was a beautiful photograph of her, too, so she looked gorgeous.
     She wanted to take us to hear her play, and they weren’t on any schedule that weekend or anything. Moby Grape gave up one of their sets so that Big Brother could play. Here we are—straitlaced parents, me a wannabe hippie, my sister Laura—we went to the Avalon Ballroom, and Chet’s there with hair to his navel. They did a set, and it was wonderful watching Janis and watching the audience’s reaction to Janis. Big Brother wasn’t on the bill, and so when they came out everybody started screaming. These kids—they were all kids, you know, 19, 22, maybe—were just screaming and hollering, and my parents and I and Laura were semi-dumbfounded. We’d never seen anything like that. It was a really proud moment for all of us, though, to watch that reaction. She got up and sang; she sang her guts out like she did. We’d heard her countless times other ways, but never with musicians, never with drums, never bass and guitar and especially electric, crazy, early psychedelic guitar. James Gurley was like a forerunner for psychedelic guitar. And it was, well, for lack of a better phrase, it was mind-blowing for all of us. Avalon Ballroom, peak of the hippies—yeah, it was wonderful.
     When we left, Laura overheard my dad say to my mom, “I don’t think we’re gonna have much influence over her anymore.” It was a telling sentence and very true, and then everything kinda like ballooned and took off. They were worried about her, and, you know, I can see with hindsight now as a parent of adult children, they were rightfully concerned for her. Excited, proud, concerned. 

Charlotte Shultz, 83
The city’s current chief of protocol and wife of former secretary of state George Shultz, she first arrived in San Francisco in 1963.

I really had a sort of ringside seat from one perspective. My late husband [John Ward Mailliard III] was the president of the police commission, a fifth-generation San Franciscan, and a businessman who went to Yale, so he met people from all over the country. And friends from those places would call him and send a picture of their darling daughter in her cap and gown, or their son in his football outfit—these all-Americans—just pleading for him to find their children. Well, you’d see them [in San Francisco] and they didn’t look the same. All the clothing they wore, the beads and tattoos and the blurry eyes. It was a very emotional time—these parents were really upset.

Ray Sewell
My mom was an intellectual freak who fled from Cleveland to become part of bohemia. And while everybody else’s mom was telling them to stay away from the Haight, here my mom came to the Human Be-In with me. She came because she wanted to meet Ginsberg. So we go in, and my mom was this little short Jewish woman who told it straight. We’re cruising through the crowd, people flaring their arms and dancing and whatever, and I spent most of my time protecting her from getting knocked over. But I was digging it all, and then about midway through, when we got to the stage, she turned to me and said, “I can’t take it, there’s too much BO,” and left. 


PART V: SUMMERS ARE COLD IN SAN FRANCISCO

Carl Nolte
The Summer of Love was a symptom of a change, the way that Salesforce Tower is a symptom of a change today. We sent a reporter out to the Haight to write a column, a series of columns actually, called I Was a Hippie. It was an experiment, but an unfortunate one. It was just stupid, really. The guy wasn’t a very good reporter, and it wasn’t a good idea in the first place, and he made it into a “Look at what these weird people are doing” kind of thing. That reporter later gave up journalism [he became a novelist]. Newspapers aren’t great at covering social movements, never have been, still aren’t.

Dr. David Smith, 78
Founded the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic in June 1967; currently medical director of North Bay Recovery Center, specializing in the treatment of young addicts.

When we opened up, it was total word of mouth. There were 250 people lined up. I brought in my medical bag, and my kitchen table was the examining table. All the medical supplies had come from volunteer physicians; everybody would bring in supplies from the local hospitals—taking from the rich and giving to the poor. The place was totally jammed. We were overwhelmed from day one. One of the key issues was seeing all of these young people walking in who thought that it was sunny in California and were barefoot. But San Francisco is cold and foggy. People were walking around barefoot in the cold, cutting their feet. We saw a lot of upper respiratory tract infections. One of the first patients I saw had pneumonia. I remember sending him to the hospital for an x-ray. Kind of a weird thing that happened that day: This couple comes in. They were freaking out, having a bad acid trip. They said everything was dissolving. So we put them in the Calm Center, a room within the facility. I had observed at the Human Be-In that if the kids on bad trips stayed with their peers, they did better than if they were sent to the ER with ambulance drivers in uniforms who looked like police officers. The Calm Center was decorated with tie-dye wall hangings and collage, and we had volunteers who were young and casually dressed who would talk them down. If you’re going to take care of these people, you need to have something that’s culturally acceptable to them. That day the head of the FDA was visiting, and I was showing him around. When I opened the door to the Calm Center, the couple was in there, naked and having sex. So I had to shut the door real fast. I had to speak to the staff. That wasn’t supposed to be happening. “Wild chaos” would be the accurate term. Providing medical care in the midst of chaos. 

Charlotte Shultz
I saw what was going on. People were in the streets. They didn’t have food. They didn’t have clothes. They didn’t have a place to live. So if you’re a person of any feelings for your fellow man…. We had a group of mostly women, and we’d deliver food to an Episcopal church, and that’s where they cooked the food, and they sent some chefs who were off duty from restaurants to cook. It was just something we did. I don’t think we had a name or anything.

Alicia Bay Laurel, 68
Author, visual artist, and musician known for Living on the Earth, a bestselling handbook for the back-to-the-land movement; now performs a one-woman show, Living on the Earth: The Musical.

One of the things I did was to go into the Diggers’ free store in the Haight where you could drop off anything and anybody could just go in and get stuff. I didn’t get anything. I just wanted to see what they had. But I did see one woman who came in and left with an entire bed. And I thought that was really nice. Peter Coyote was there. We had a conversation. He was explaining that they were starting a free clinic and feeding people in the park every day in the Panhandle. He told me about the method they were using to bake bread in coffee tins at little cost. I don’t know where they got the big coffee cans—maybe discarded by restaurants? But they got sacks of flour for free from railroad yards because the sacks were broken, and therefore the contents were no longer sellable. After they kneaded the dough and punched it down, they would put it in the cans half full until the dough rose to the top. And that was how they baked all that bread to give away free. They were very dedicated to taking care of the people who were coming to the city in droves.


PART VI: TAKING THE GOOD WITH THE BAD

Grace Slick
At home people were always around the house: All our friends and whoever we were screwing at the time, wives, girlfriends, relatives. One night I came in and the furniture was overturned, and I thought, Aw shit. It was a five-story house on Fulton Street, and I crept up to where I knew Paul [Kantner] had a gun. So I sat on his bed, got the gun, and then I heard footsteps out of the next room and I thought, Oh my God, I may have to do something ugly here. And in walks David Crosby. I said, “Shit, I almost shot you.” And he said, “Good girl.” And I said, “Good girl? I almost shot you!” While everyone was out, someone came in and trashed the house. David wasn’t around, nobody was home. Some burglar or some nutcase or someone mad at someone, we never found out who. All kinds of people were in and out of there. 

Cecil Williams and Janice Mirikitani
JM: Cecil was once a judge at a drag queen beauty contest.
CW: I didn’t know what I was doing.
JM: He said, “Those are beautiful women,” and then someone had to explain to him. It was a wild time. The hippies would come to Glide on Sundays. That was the year we had a big three-day event called the Invisible Circus. The hippies came and occupied five stories of the building.
CW: The police came and said, “Don’t you want to do something about this huge crowd of kids?” And I said, “Yes, we want to talk to them.”
JM: The Hells Angels helped as security. Can you believe it? But we managed. 
CW: It was very peaceful.

Tony Serra
I was a dance freak. I used to dance all night and go to court in the morning. I would only do acid on the weekends, but even still, in those days, I could get by on three or four hours of sleep. I developed a vocabulary of dance gestures—whirls and swirls. I’d dance on tables, dance on bars. We had an old fishing lodge near Inverness that we used as an acid house. I’d go on the weekends. There were acid priestesses who would guide you. They were young and beautiful, young and naked. They would feed you acid and play music. The sounds would become concrete. You could go up and touch the music.

Ellen Newman, 89
Philanthropist, marketing executive, and the widow of civic leader Walter S. Newman and daughter of department store magnate Cyril Magnin.

My friends and I had what we called the Paris Pot Party. My husband didn’t attend, because it wasn’t legal. He wouldn’t do anything illegal, God bless him. Fifty years ago, we didn’t know what pot was. We bought Acapulco Gold, which was the best pot we could find, and we went to someone’s home and we smoked it. I was trying to find the answer to how people could walk up and down Haight Street floating along with no shoes and socks. And then I floated. I was seeking the answer, and I found it. My husband thought it was kind of outrageous.

Ron Turner, 76
Founder of Last Gasp, which publishes underground comics, and patron of the likes of R. Crumb and Dori Seda.

One day that year I was at S.F. State on my way to get coffee, and suddenly there’s a big mob of people looking at something. It’s about 8 a.m., a classic foggy day, and I go over, and there’s a young couple, 17, 18, 19 years old or so, fornicating on the cold grass. I felt so sorry for that girl’s poor cold ass. And we’re all watching until down the path came a squad car from Taraval Station, and these big, fat, white-haired cops who should have been past retirement push through the crowd to arrest them. And the couple were light and thin and young, and they were getting away, running through the people, and here come the fat cops trying to catch them, and people are blocking them and getting in their way. It was hilarious. At first I’m laughing, then suddenly I’ve got these two naked people hanging on me, asking me to help. The cops had to pull them off me. Then they wrapped blankets around the two and took them off to God knows where you took naked stoned people in those days.  

Vicki Chase, 68 
Former co-owner of Valerie Ann, a Mill Valley dress shop, she was a registered nurse for 41 years. Chase now works at Marin Community Clinic in Larkspur.

I remember walking down Haight Street one day. I was in one of my own creations, a dress with a back that was open except for a little strap for where your bra would be—but of course I wasn’t wearing one. The back of the dress went pretty low. I was walking along, looking at everybody, when all of a sudden I felt a hand slide down my back. I turned around. The guy ran off. I think if it happened today, I’d be mortified and punch him. But because there was this culture of being more physically and sexually open, it didn’t freak me out. I just have this memory of going right along as if it was nothing.

Carla Harris, 83
A mother and housewife who lived in Burlingame in the ’60s and is now retired after running Johnson’s Beach in Guerneville with her husband, Clare Harris, and his family for many years.

My husband at the time, Joe Buckley, was a sergeant at the Park Station. We were living in Burlingame. That summer, my uncle Bob and aunt Elsa from Milwaukee were visiting. He kept reading about Haight-Ashbury and seeing it on TV, so all he wanted to do was to go and see it. And Joe kept saying, “Don’t do it. Don’t go there.” I grew up in North Beach, so I kept thinking, it couldn’t be that bad. I took them during the day. When we got there, there were a lot of hippies around, all dressed really strange, long hair and dirty looking. We were in my car and came to a light. In the heart of this whole thing, this one guy with no shirt on came up to our car and started pounding the roof with the palm of his hand—just to annoy us. Then he continued to walk, and we saw these little kids in Catholic school uniforms waiting to cross the street, heading for a corner where there was a fire hydrant. Right there at the fire hydrant there was a couple having sex. I said to Uncle Bob, “We’ve seen enough, we’re going home.” Should have listened to Joe. 


PART VII: WHAT THE BYSTANDERS SAW

Rick Barry
I don’t think [the scene] was big on my teammates’ radar, as far as discussing it. Maybe some of the other players may have gone up [to the Haight], but I didn’t.… I mean, most of my teammates were black guys, OK? So I don’t think that was their kind of music. But I know for a fact that a lot of the black players loved it at the time—all the white girls were being rebellious and going out with black guys. They wanted to go against the norm. Anyway, I’m grateful I had my focus on something important to me. My total focus was on basketball. I lived, worked out, did what I had to do to get better. It wasn’t an influence on me. It was an interesting time, and a great city, but it wasn’t something I was into, being a flower child.

Tane Chan, 78
Owner and operator of Chinatown’s Wok Shop since 1972. She moved to San Francisco from Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1960.

In 1967 it was all going on over in the Haight and in Golden Gate Park, all concentrated there, but I wasn’t really concerned about the flower children. I was trying to get settled and start a business. What was going on with the flower children didn’t interest me. Chinatown interested me. They would wander into Chinatown that summer looking for water pipes, and the Chinese would sell them. Then tourists were interested in the flower children, they had buses and tour guides taking them through the Panhandle. And then we’d get them to come here, too—they’d go see the wharf and then the flower children in the Haight and then the Chinese in Chinatown. They made business, and business was good.

Marie Harrison, 69
Currently a community organizer with Greenaction, in 1967 she was living in both the Bayview and Potrero Hill and attending junior college.

A couple of years earlier, my dad had moved the family to California from Missouri. My parents had nine kids—I was number seven. We were a strange group of folks, country folks. Most of us kids were grown, but we still had rules to abide by. Now, I wasn’t a bad child, but I wasn’t necessarily a good child, either. I went places I shouldn’t, and I had friends who helped me get into different things. The Haight was the place in those days. There was always a party, everyone was welcome, didn’t matter if you were black or white, blue or green. My mother said, “Those kids are totally out of control out there, I hope you’re not going there.” If only she knew. You couldn’t keep me away: I was out there getting introduced to all sorts of—well, it wasn’t alcohol, get my drift? But I wasn’t a bad child.  

Odis Cook, 92
A former sheet metal worker and painter, he saved enough to buy rental properties in the ’60s in the Haight, where he still resides.

You know, the hippies started coming with their mattresses and belongings on their backs. And laying in the street. And, of course, I rented to them. We got along fine. Not all of them, but most of them smoked weed and, you know, partied. I got along with them very well. Many of them made good tenants. There were parades on Haight Street. The girls wore skimpy clothes. Everybody had fun. I knew it had to be temporary. I was old enough and knew enough about life. It was not something that could last for a long time. I don’t remember when it stopped being fun, but, for me, when people start trashing your building, that stops being fun. 

Valerie Meehan, 92
A former City College of San Francisco chemistry teacher, she spent the Summer of Love at home on maternity leave nursing the seventh of her eight children.

My second-youngest was born in February ’67, so he was still a baby. Our children were isolated from it. I still took the children to the park. I rarely read the paper. We were having difficulties with the house, and with the kids—I was completely absorbed in my home. My husband was making $300 a month back then, so I baked my own bread, put up my own fruit. I had very little time to get out. I’d go to a mothers’ group at St. Agnes’s and at St. Anne’s—that was our activities. I really was almost unaware of the Summer of Love. It’s so strange to think that all this happened right there. 

Charlotte Shultz
It’s interesting now to look back [at that time]. The world went on. San Franciscans went about their lives—the opening of the opera, the ballet, the museum. People had birthday parties, and there were all these events for other causes going on. People read the headlines and felt bad, of course—astonished, disturbed—but they still went to restaurants and lived their lives. 


PART VIII: YOU CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN

Joel Selvin
I knew it was not going to be well understood. People were going to get this wrong. It’s not a movement that’s going to reach a level of evolved consciousness that some of us had hoped it would. I thought I’d just duck the whole thing and spend the summer in Wabash, Indiana, my mother’s hometown. Before I left, I saw Hendrix the first night he played at the Fillmore. I heard on KMPX that Hendrix was also going to play the next afternoon in the park. Sure enough, we went over to the Panhandle, right around Cole, and there’s the Jefferson Airplane’s flatbed truck with some gear on it, along with Hendrix, Noel Redding, and Mitch Mitchell. Hendrix on the flatbed was less awesome than he had been at the Fillmore, but it was such a groovy scene, traffic whizzing by, people wandering up wondering what was happening, dogs. Only a few hundred people. Very manageable crowd. Lots of knowing smiles. But I knew the Hendrix deal was going to be the last whiff of that smoke I was going to see for a while. It didn’t make me want to stick around and see what happened next. Saw those tea leaves already. By the next week, I was gone for Indiana. 

Cecil Williams and Janice Mirikitani
CW: 1967 was the year I removed the cross from the sanctuary. The parishioners had very strong opinions about that.
JM: He took the cross down and gave pieces of the cross to people in the street, saying, “Here’s the cross, be the cross.” People [in the church] were appalled, but I had just come on board, I was anti-religion, and I said it was a gutsy thing to do. Although I did think about lightning striking him down. He actually preached from the scaffold taking down the cross, which I thought was brilliant.
CW: I was going through incredible changes, but some people protested, some didn’t like it.
JM: They went to the bishop to have him defrocked.
CW: But he said, “I’m going to go along with this young man.” I told him, “Bishop, I’m going to turn the world upside down,” and he supported me.

Karl Marlantes 
So during the Summer of Love, I was up at about four in the morning in Quantico with a sergeant screaming at us, and then running, doing push-ups, learning how to shoot, learning how to climb, learning how to do small-unit tactics, all until 10 at night, and then sacking out until someone is screaming at us at four in the morning again. We were at war, and guys were coming back telling us about the things that had happened to them. What made a real impression on me was a photo of the aftermath of an ambush. This was my first real look at this carnage, and it’s hard to tell somebody what 10 or 12 bodies riddled by machine guns looks like. I was like, Holy moly, this is what I’m being trained for. That put all of the romanticism from back when I was 18 right out the window.

Tony Serra
The ’60s didn’t die. It got diluted. Attenuated. Old guys still come up to me, saying, remember this or remember that? My God. I have to squint because I want to see them as they were, dancing wildly on the street. It didn’t end. It’s still with us. My friend, there’s acid out there right now. You and I could go cop and drop tonight.  


Interviews by Adam Brinklow, Joe Eskenazi, Joanne Furio, Scott Lucas, Lindsey J. Smith, and Ian A. Stewart

 

Originally published in the June issue of San Francisco

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