Why is Haight and Ashbury Well-Known?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

If one didn’t live in San Francisco prior to 1967, the district that included the crossing streets of Haight and Ashbury probably meant very little. However, in 1967, the Haight-Ashbury district, as it began to be called, became one of the locus points for an increasing gathering of flower children.

The Haight-Ashbury district often has problems with prostitution.
The Haight-Ashbury district often has problems with prostitution.

The Summer of Love in 1967 brought many specifically to Haight-Ashbury. Some came specifically because of the popular song “San Francisco.” Others came because Haight-Ashbury was the place to be to experience the drug culture, the culture of free love, and to protest the US war in Vietnam.

The Haight-Ashbury district has a reputation for having a large homeless population.
The Haight-Ashbury district has a reputation for having a large homeless population.

Well-known musicians of the time lived near Haight-Ashbury, including Janis Joplin and Jerry Garcia, the architect behind the Grateful Dead. Visitors swarmed into Buena Vista Park and the nearby Golden Gate Park.

The 1967 semi-migration was relatively peaceable at first. The most frequently used illegal drug was marijuana, although many also used hallucinogens. The peaceful nature of the district would gradually undergo change, particularly with the introduction of methamphetamines. Those who became rapidly addicted to forms of meth were potentially dangerous, and within a few years after the Summer of Love, the Haight-Ashbury was no longer safe to walk at night.

By the mid 1970s, the “love” was over in Haight-Ashbury. Increasing use of hard drugs, failure to maintain properties, and the numbers of homeless caused the district to be one most San Franciscans avoided. Groups that “grew up” in the Summer of Love, like the increasing numbers of gay and lesbians, established their claim to San Francisco’s Castro District.

However, most agree, that the initial Summer of Love in 1967 had a particular energy and joy that has not since been duplicated. Most credit this energy to not the drugs but to a shared mindset about allowing people to be themselves. Except for social pressure from the authorities, there was little pressure to do anything. The flower children drew from Eastern religion, particularly Buddhism, in their philosophy. Thus simply existing was a worthy pursuit. It was the Beatles “Let it Be” to an extreme in its pacifism.

This is not to say that some did not find the Summer of Love in the Haight-Ashbury scary or traumatic. There were rapes, and the consequences of taking illegal hallucinogens did cause accidents. There were also overdoses, which filled the nearby hospitals of UCSF.

However, many note that the high number of people who were clearly drugged should have been tied to a higher degree of crime. It simply wasn’t. The principal of sharing, a hallmark of flower children, tended to work against people’s need to steal or to harm others.

Additionally, most drugs taken in 1967 were depressants. Thus most people were moderately sedated. It was only when methamphetamines were introduced that the profile of the Haight-Ashbury began to dramatically change.

In the mid-1980s, Haight-Ashbury also became a place for neo-Nazis, termed skinheads, to gather. This made the area very dangerous for those of races other than Caucasian. Much of the skinhead population has left the area, although this gang still holds some power in San Francisco.

Today people still visit the Haight-Ashbury district as a tourist attraction. It has undergone a great deal of restoration, and the area now has a commercial feel that most of the 1967 Summer of Love participants would have found repugnant. The district can still not be said to be one of the better areas of San Francisco. It draws teenage runaways and still shows problems of excess violence, prostitution and illegal drug use.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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