The Haight Became the Home of the Hippies
its heart is Haight Street, particularly the stretch from the
eastern edge of Golden Gate Park past Ashbury to a block or
two beyond Masonic, the actual physical boundaries of Haight-Ashbury
are roughly considered to be Stanyan Street to the west, Baker
Street to the east, 17th Street to the south and Fulton Street
to the north. Nestled more or less in the center of the city,
the Haight is accessible and, steep hills to the south notwithstanding,
easy to navigate.
At one time a foraging ground for the local Indians, Haight-Ashbury
was first settled in 1870 by a dairy farmer named William Lange.
Soon thereafter, most of the district's streets were named after
members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, who helped
spin the wheels that put Golden Gate Park into motion toward
the end of the 19th century.
Tolerant Haight Street itself, ironically, was named after California
Governor Henry Haight, known in retrospect for his efforts to
keep non-whites out of the city.
As the park was completed, Haight Street took on more strategic
importance, with a cable car line coming through and recreational
facilities being erected in the area. During the 1880s, the
Haight became an affluent area, and a construction boom resulted
in a proliferation of "Queen Anne" style, or Victorian,
homes being builtsome of the most beautiful houses in
the city. Largely unscathed by the 1906 earthquake, the Haight
took on even greater import during the first years of the 20th
century as prolific building took place in the city's western
half. Most of the classic homes that still stand in the Haight
today were built before the Great Depression.
After the Depression, however, the rich began to vacate the
Haight for other parts of the city, and much of the area fell
into disrepair. Despite hosting schools, hospitals, sports facilities
and, of course, the gateway to Golden Gate Park, the Haight
became something of a ghost town during the years before and
directly after World War II, and many of those homes that still
housed people at all had been divided into apartments or duplexes.
Into the 1950s, Haight-Ashbury remained home primarily to working-class
people, particularly minorities.
By the end of the '50s, though, the Haight was being rediscovered,
by several groups of low-income people. Its cheap rents and
fabulous architecture were welcome signs to students from San
Francisco State University, as well as artists and other creative
people. Gays also found the area inviting in the years before
Castro and Polk streets became fashionable gay outposts. By
1965-66, the Haight had supplanted North Beach as San Francisco's
most happening district.
"Haight Street," Marty Balin said in a 1966 interview
with Los Angeles radio station KFWB's Hitline magazine,
"is just like Carnaby Street [in London]. Long hair, boutiques,
ice cream parlors, band sessions and plays in the park, pie
fightsit's just great. It's a low-rent district so all
the kids can afford to live there."
A community spirit had developed among the new residents even
before the arrival of the hippies, the Haight having become
a refuge for the politically disenfranchised. When, in 1959,
the state earmarked the Panhandlethe narrow strip of park
jutting out from Golden Gate Park, buttressed by Oak and Fell
streetsas a freeway construction site, a coalition of
Haight residents mobilized into action, and by 1966 the proposal
was narrowly defeated by the Board of Supervisors. One supervisor,
future mayor George Moscone, who admired the Haight's spirit
and its focus on the artistic, was said to be the force that
knocked down the idea once and for alljust in time for
Haight and Ashbury to become the most famous corner in San Francisco
and, for a brief while, maybe even the world.