A FADED "HIPPIE" DREAM Haight-Ashbury five years later
Jerry W Webb
The flower children are gone. This one-time Mecca for hippie youth is now a fading memorial to Utopian dreams. WHAT happened? WHY did it fail? To find out, we sent one of our reporters to the once-famed hippie capital of the world — HAIGHT-ASHBURY. He filed this sobering report.
San Francisco PEOPLE USED to talk about Haight-Ashbury. The underground press wrote about it. Scott McKenzie and Petula Clark made it famous in song: "If you are going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair. For in the streets of San Francisco — you're gonna find some gentle people there..." To the allure of that well-known tune, thousands of youths converged on the "spiritual capital" of the Love Generation — Haight-Ashbury! When the media capitalized on the action, word spread fast: "It's happening in the `Hashbury'! A love community by the sea. Population: subject to change. Elevation: out of sight!"
The Big Scene
Cars were bumper to bumper down the street and flower children abounded in the area. There were banners, songs, slogans and flower-painted buses. And there was "love." Some claimed they'd found a new and better way of life in Haight-Ashbury. Today, everything is different. What has gone wrong and why? Why did the hippie dream for a "new America" fail here? Was it the encounter with society, the press and television sensationalism, the inundation by thousands of runaways, that caused it all to collapse? What really happened here in Haight-Ashbury? In talking with store owners, community officials, police captains, and even some of the young people who were there in the beginning, the amazing story of the Haight-Ashbury hippie phenomenon — how it flowered, then withered — comes clear.
1965 — A New Life Style Buds
The permissiveness of San Francisco — the city on hills — is still evidenced by the topless and bottomless parade that began here. In the older, low-rent community of Haight-Ashbury live some of San Francisco's more liberal-minded elderly residents. They liked seeing young people have a good time. And this, say law officials, is one of the big reasons the hippie movement flowered so quickly here. Back in 1965, young artists and musicians began gathering in this old section of the city near Golden Gate Park. They would wander from house to house on warm evenings, rehearsing together, listening to records and smoking pot. They would form bands, disband, and form others. The music would filter from behind drawn shades of weathered Victorian homes to fill the neighborhood with sound. A coffee house and sandwich shop called the Unicorn was opened on Haight Street. And its first proprietors and customers helped set the life-style. They dropped out of the "straight scene," wore long hair and sandals to show they were different, and banded together so they wouldn't be alone. Said Spencer Dryden, drummer for the famed Jefferson Airplane band: "The Haight was heaven for anybody with long hair. About eight hundred dyed-in-the-wool hippies and that's it. It was a family thing. No tourists. Everybody did live together and did help each other out." A communal way of life was being formed by many of the San Francisco bands (the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Charlatans, Jefferson Airplane and many others). And, the "vibrations" were Heard around the country. "Come on people now... smile on your brother! Everybody get together, try to love one another, right now."
1966 — The Media Step In
As word-of-mouth advertising spread the news, gradually more young people came. The underground press began writing about it. Then, all of a sudden it caught everyone's imagination! Press and television began to glorify and publicize Haight-Ashbury. This quickly made Haight-Ashbury the scene. News and a new fad had been manufactured, if you please. Haight-Ashbury became the place to go! And, youth took note. Soon there were songs and slogans. People wondered what was happening. The news media liberally fed their curiosity. "Haight-Ashbury was unknown until the media broadcasted it all over the United States," said Inspector Joseph Rinkon of the San Francisco Narcotics Bureau. "The hippies didn't know they were flower children until they read about it. Then they got the flowers. It was the news media that made Haight-Ashbury what it has been in the past." Commented one angered businessman and longtime resident: "The press would come down with cameras and photograph a bunch of hippies having fun in the streets. But they never really showed it like it was. They glorified the `flower children' idea and this attracted thousands more!" As the first hippies smoked pot, "loved" and grooved, their neighborhood filled with sight-seers and pseudo-hippies. Their music, their vocabulary and their hippie garb became "stylish." And merchants began growing fat on psychedelic colors, fabrics, buttons and cheap hippie trinkets. Suddenly, they had hit the mainstream of world attention! The songs claimed the scene was beautiful. But was it really? Runaways and social misfits began sharing crash pads. Streets became filled with people day and night. There were week-end hippies, teeny-boppers, young-old hippies in their thirties trying to prove they were "with it." The vacuum in moral values in Haight-Ashbury made even an alley cat seem prudish. Fourteen-year-old girls became mothers. Teenage escapees from society sunk into lasciviousness. Venereal disease reached epidemic proportions. And, "mind-expanding" LSD blew the cool of many of its advocates. "Even during its heyday it wasn't all beautiful," said community relations official Robert Spotswood. "It was full of runaways from all over the country... Young kids, fourteen and fifteen, would ask visitors for twenty-eight cents just to buy a quart of milk. Kind of sad." Chronic hunger was a common thing. The crash pads were filthy. As many as fifteen or twenty would live in one cold-water flat. They ate dirty food on dirty plates and slept on dirty mattresses. The rooms were full of lice. Human excrement littered the floor. "Some of the places they lived in," commented Police Captain Mortimer J. McInerney, "you'd vomit when you walked into them." No, it wasn't all flowers and songs and poetry. It started filthy and it got worse fast.
1967-68 — Weeds Sprout
Youngsters in increasing numbers found the new scene only disillusioning and frustrating. It meant going hungry and it meant panhandling. It meant popping pills and "being used." It brought bad trips and frequent "busts." This Mecca for nearly every runaway kid in America was becoming a seething cauldron of vice and crime. Hustlers and drug pushers were moving into the area. The widespread use of drugs drew the hard-core drug pushers. There were violent assaults and robberies. Panhandlers remained, but no longer did they smile or offer flowers for a few coins. And, the rough element came in — the "kick 'em around" bunch, the weirdoes, and the Hell's Angels who just wanted to "dump a few hippies." Many were threatened, robbed, raped and beaten. Haight came to be written as "HATE." Love was abbreviated to "luv," and then even that disappeared. In October of 1967 occurred the "death of the hippie" march down Haight Street. This funeral marked the end of the "dream" for many of its originators. Disillusioned, they fled the scene.
1969 — DEATH Stalks the Haight
The original flower children who dressed in Army-surplus garb and lived in crash pads had left. A vicious hoodlum element had taken over. Bars and iron gates lined storefronts and cafes. Few dared "walk the streets" after dark. There were knifings, shootings, and killings. Nationwide magazines and television quit playing up Haight-Ashbury. Runaways began flocking elsewhere. But, still, some came — believing the flower children were still there. Such was one seventeen-year-old girl from Seattle who came hoping to swing with the crowd. She was lonely and just wanted a friend. What she got was a nightmare. When police found her, her nude body lay with obscenities scrawled in lipstick across it. What she wanted was friendship and love, but what she got was three hours of brutal beating, cigarette burns, sexual abuse by both males and females, and, eventually, death! Police said her torture was bizarre, but not fundamentally different from the two or three rapes and several armed robberies that occurred daily within the small radius of 200 yards from Haight Street. This past vibrant epicenter of the hippie movement had become a shattered dream!
1970-71 — An Even Different Scene
Today, the famed "Hashbury" corner looks like many other streets. The hippie shops are boarded — the flower children gone. Shoppers are returning. There are even efforts being made to rebuild the area. Abandoned relics, however, still stand as evidence of the hippie phenomenon which flowered here five years ago. The Middle Earth Clothing Store and Mike's Smoke Shop are closed, barred, and for sale. Walls are scrawled with fading slogans like "Acid is God" and "Speed Lives." The Straight Theater and the Unicorn Coffee Shop stand dismal and deserted. Some storefront windows and psychedelic shops, such as the once-popular Haight Street Palace, are boarded up. There aren't very many hippies around. As a saying among police goes — you could fire a cannon down Haight Street now at eight o'clock in the evening and hit nobody.
Disillusionment Takes Over
When they saw their world crumbling in Haight-Ashbury, many of the first hippies left. John Lydon, one of the first young persons in Haight, told me: "A lot of people went back into out-of-sight places. Some went back to work and others went home. There were only a few diehards that stuck around. A lot of people were disgusted because they wanted to have it [their way of life] right here and now. And, it doesn't happen that way. So, they just got tired and left." Jim and Nia Lockway were typical of the "Hashbury" crowd. They went the full route — long hair, drugs, love beads and hippie garb. They had dropped out of society because they were revolted by the lack of concern shown for young people. Their hang-up was the hypocrisy of today's world. But, little by little Jim and Nia also noticed the hypocrisy of their world. "The hippie talks about love," said Jim, "but he doesn't mean it or practice it in the Biblical sense. It is mostly sex — in fact, sex worship. They don't really care about anybody else." In 1968, Jim and Nia dropped out of hippie life. Today they are a part of the "straight scene." They still see the problems and hypocrisies of the "straight" world, but they found those of the hippie way to be even worse. "Young kids now who think they're hippies — who live on marijuana and speed — their love is inward," remarked Captain McInerney, San Francisco Police Department. "They love themselves, that's what they love. They couldn't care less about somebody else. They are love children all right, but it's 'I love me' rather than 'you.' "
WHY It Didn't Work
Looking for a better way, the first hippies and their followers wanted no part of today's "straight" society. But what THEY didn't realize was — when they dropped out of today's misguided, hypocritical, problem-ridden world, they dropped into a new one of their own making, practicing similar principles but dressed in different garb. They claimed the world was messed up, and they rejected it. But what was recreated at "Hashbury" was no better. They rejected the evils of society, but ended up practicing similar evils, only more openly. With less formality and less restraint. Venereal disease became rampant. Crime increased. Filth was widespread. Morals were forgotten. Minds were blown. And lives were wrecked! But why? Why did a noble dream in the minds of thousands of teenagers — to have a happy, love-filled life — end up as a bad scene? The young people who sought escape in Haight were not able to leave behind the central cause of the Establishment's problems. They brought, unknowingly, an ingredient into their New World Order at Haight which would inevitably cause its destruction. What the new inhabitants of Haight brought in was human nature — the same self-centered human nature — but now concentrated in a new geographical location. New thrills could NOT make this evil, selfish human nature evaporate. It is selfish human nature which has produced the evils of both the Establishment and the Hippies at Haight. Until human nature is really changed from an "I love me" to an "I love you" approach, every love festival, every Woodstock, is doomed to failure. They will NOT BRING WHAT TEENAGERS AND ADULTS WANT — true love, happiness, purpose in living, fun that will have no kickbacks tomorrow.