It has been almost a half century since 1967 when the “Summer of Love” exploded in San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury district. It became the epicenter of the counter culture of Hippies, Free Love and lots of illegal drugs. I was in my mid-teens and witnessed the tsunami of “Flower Children” first-hand as they inundated the area. Since The Haight (pronounced “hate”) is in my own backyard, I decided to go have a look at it and see how it has changed.
It really has not changed all that much. There is a 2012 “Sit/Lie” law that keeps people from sitting or lying on the sidewalks, which is particularly enforced in this area. I would say that the entire Hippie culture has just morphed with the times. Except for the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream store at the corner of Haight & Ashbury, the street is untouched by big business. Vintage clothing shops predominate the businesses along Haight Street, which is the only commercial street in the district. However, you can still find “bongs” displayed in shop windows.
Loved To Death:
One of the most unusual shops called ‘Loved to Death’ has an edgy, macabre theme. In it are random animal skeletons, taxidermy, antique embalming equipment along with all other sorts of ever-changing curiosities. The store has been featured as a series called ‘Oddities: San Francisco’ on the Science channel, relinquishing some of the underground mystique of the Haight-Ashbury.
Just a few doors away, a bar call ‘Zam Zam’ not only pre-dates the Hippie era, but continues in an unchanged state since 1941. A narrow Persian-themed facade can almost be passed by if you are not looking for it. Inside, the theme continues with a beautiful mural behind the semi-circular bar. Red light dominates the small room that has seating for about twenty patrons, maybe double that if you include the standing ones.
There is still the occasional whiff of pot in the air lending a true sensory experience to your journey along the sidewalk. Be sure to look up as you amble along. The side of one building has a towering painting of Jimi Hendricks. Above the Piedmont Boutique, a giant set of legs in fishnet hose and red pumps protrude from the wall in a can-can style pose.
So, you may ask, “whatever became of all of the Hippies”? Most of them are now collecting their Social Security. Many went back to their hometowns, finished college and began families. Some who clung to the credo of their youth have bought the Victorian homes in the surrounding area and gently gentrified the neighborhood.
As you walk along this bohemian demimonde, you may want to stop and buy some flowers to put in your hair, further lending to the mystique of a time when the Flower Children frolicked in the era of beginning a new nonviolent, but never attained, world full of love and peace.