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BEACON Senior News

Remembering the Summer of Love

Jun 29, 2021 05:38AM ● By Randal C. Hill
Summer of Love 1967 psychadelic hippie van

In the now-fabled summer of 1967, San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood temporarily morphed into a community of societal dropouts, college students, teenage runaways, vagrants and hustlers. Often clad in Army surplus and thrift-store outfits, many had come to share a collective spirit of togetherness and love.

Oh yes. And plenty of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, as well.

The Haight (as it was nicknamed) became a social Eden. The epicenter of cool. A cultural Utopia. Those who took up residence there tended to be disillusioned teens and young adults who often railed against a corrupt government, rampant consumerism and an overseas war that was claiming 100 lives each week. Armed with compassion, idealism and lots and lots of flowers, up to 100,000 folks staked a claim in the Bay Area that summer.

For a while, money seemed to no longer be much of a relevant issue. An overall attitude of sharing and community had blossomed among many young San Franciscans by the mid-1960s. This led to, among other things, the establishment of a Free Store (nobody paid for donated food and clothing) and a Free Clinic (staffed by kind-hearted volunteer doctors and nurses). 

In January 1967, the “Human Be-In” saw 30,000 people gather at Golden Gate Park to witness ex-Harvard professor Timothy Leary first offer his now-legendary command of “Turn on, tune in, drop out” amid Hindu chants and throbbing rock music.

June brought the Monterey Pop Festival (dubbed the Monterey Pot Festival by some). John Phillips of the Mamas and Papas had created pal Scott McKenzie’s million-selling hit “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair).” This, of course, only added to the allure of a must-visit destination for those eager to answer the Bay Area’s clarion call.

But the days of this Edenic world were numbered. The tsunami of young people heading for San Francisco alarmed the police force there, many of whom were upset and determined to keep the invading army of motley vagabonds from overwhelming their beautiful coastal city. Irritated residents proclaimed that the area simply couldn’t adequately absorb such an influx of people, arguing that infrastructure and resources would become strained to the breaking point. Finally, much of the “coolness” factor evaporated when bus tours of the Haight brought gawking tourists, each of whom was handed a printout that explained such hippie slang words as “teeny- bopper,” “weed” and “trip.”

The original “peace and love” crowd eventually fled the Haight when the neighborhood began to show the effects of overcrowding, such as unsanitary conditions and crime. As much as anything else, though, it was an influx of hard drugs that hastened the area’s fall. 

But the primary elements of the Summer of Love have never died. James Rado and Gerome Ragni, two young men who witnessed the Human Be-In, felt so inspired by what they experienced that they created the groundbreaking musical drama “Hair.” Its success guaranteed that the unique spirit of 1967, at least, would endure far beyond that turbulent summer.

We asked readers: "What do you remember from the Summer of Love?"

Spring break in San Francisco

My boyfriend and I spent our Spring Break from college in San Francisco. We slept on a friend’s kitchen floor. Walking in Haight-Ashbury with thousands of others was exciting. Everyone was happy. I saw booths for free food, places to sleep and used clothes. When we got back to Denver, we discovered The Family Dog, a nightclub where many of the bands we’d heard of in California came to play. I got to see The Doors, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Canned Heat and Quicksilver Messenger Service, among others. You could stand right in front of the stage before all these groups became household names. Pretty awesome!

- Jennifer Kivilin

Cutting school and playing gigs

What a year that was! My hometown of Sacramento is only 90 miles from San Francisco. I was in a band at the time, and we all cut school one day—even our drummer, whose father was the Secretary of State. We spent the day at Stinson Beach. Later, we ended up at the Fillmore (the original).

We saw John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed and Jefferson Airplane. Price? $2.50.

The week prior, many university students descended on Sacramento to protest cuts in education. Our band’s manager thought he’d capitalize on this and rented out Governor’s Hall at the fairgrounds for a three-day concert. He hired several of the seminal rock groups from San Francisco: The Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Country Joe and the Fish, along with bands in his stable.

Two weeks later, we went to our meeting with our manager, only to find the secretary clearing out his office. Apparently, he’d absconded with our gig money and left the state. Three months later, I joined the Army.

- Robert Velasquez

Serving honorably

As an Army Nurse, I spent the Summer of Love taking care of wounded young men at an Army Hospital in Vietnam. The San Francisco hippies called me “Baby Killer.”

- DH 

More articles by Randal Hill.