The intersection of Haight Street and Ashbury Street in San Francisco marks the location where the hippie movement got its start. The surrounding neighborhood, known as Haight-Ashbury, was home to countless artists and musicians such as Jerry Garcia and Janis Joplin, as well as the Hell’s Angels and other countercultural groups. Now an affluent neighborhood in the center of a thriving modern city, Haight-Ashbury is one of the most popular destinations for tourists in the Bay Area.
Cultural historians always wonder why particular neighborhoods flower in the ways that they do. It seems to be almost a mystery of nature – certain communities simply produce an outpouring of art and creativity for unknown reasons. However, the history of the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood provides some insight into why it was the epicenter of the hippie movement in the 1960s.
Summer of Love 1967 – Haight-Ashbury hippies at their best.
First, due to migration and urban renewal movements, property values plummeted in the early sixties and the many fine Victorian homes in the area became affordable for low-income tenants. These included large numbers of displaced African Americans and artists, who could not afford to live in the more popular Bay Area suburbs. Second, Haight-Ashbury is located right in between two large college campuses – the University of San Francisco to the north, and the University of California, San Francisco, to the south. Because these campuses were so close, the neighborhood also attracted students and intellectuals. The mix of cultural and scholarly activity in the neighborhood proved extremely fertile, and the hippie movement was the result.
In addition to the hippies, Haight-Ashbury was home to numerous shops, hotels, and comedy clubs. The Other Café, a comedy club that has since gone out of business, helped famous comedians such as Robin Williams get their start. Amoeba music, which survives to this day, is also located in Haight-Ashbury, and still sells an eclectic mix of records and CDs.
The district in our days.
Photo by Charles Law
The neighborhood is no longer quite the Bohemian epicenter that it was in the 60s. A skyrocketing cost of living in San Francisco has brought a much more affluent population into the historic Victorian homes, and drug abuse has unfortunately claimed the lives of many who sought to keep the experimental hippie culture alive. But there are still several ways to experience the hippie culture in Haight-Ashbury. One of the best is Hippie Hill, on the east side of Golden Gate Park. On this hill, people still gather with flowers in their hair to play in drum circles and dance under the sun, just as they did in the 60s – only now, they share their hill with tech entrepreneurs, young families, and tourists from all over the world.