The de Young Museum (external link), in association with other groups and venues, is celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of San Francisco’s Summer of Love. Pardon me if I don’t join the festivities.
As the promoters put it, “In the mid-1960s, artists, activists, writers, and musicians converged on Haight-Ashbury with hopes of creating a new social paradigm. By 1967, the neighborhood would attract as many as 100,000 young people from all over the nation. The neighborhood became ground zero for their activities, and nearby Golden Gate Park their playground.”
Actually, Golden Gate Park became their litter box. And the City’s been dirty ever since.
Until the late 1950’s, my grandmother in Sacramento could write her son in San Francisco by putting down his address and then writing “The City” as its destination. Everybody knew the town by that name, there was nothing else so grand and magical to warrant such a title.
When my family visited The City we dressed up. San Francisco made a huge impression on me as someone not quite ten. The air was fresh and clean, scrubbed by the minute by wind off the Pacific, the hills and the views and the cable cars tremendous. I could not imagine any city more beautiful.
My third grade class went on a field trip to San Francisco and I was roundly laughed at for wearing my good pants and a red sports jackets. I felt badly for being teased and badly for my schoolmates, who did not understand we were going someplace special. That ribbing did not lose my love for the City.
Sometime in 1967 my family visited San Francisco and Golden Gate Park. The whole area had changed. Half-naked people, grown people, had taken over the swing sets and playgrounds. Long haired men were wearing World War 1 aviator helmets and goggles, t-shirts, and tattered jeans. To put it mildly, the park was one rolling freak parade. The City never recovered.
In with the hippies came a more relaxed view of hygiene and cleanliness. The streets and sidewalks were now something to sleep on, camp on, and go to the bathroom on. All the old standards were thrown out and made lax. The invading army had won. For all the art and music that was created, the City as a temple was destroyed.
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!'”
For me, San Francisco was like Kerouac’s firework’s explosion. The only response was Awww! and awe. Kerouac and company were Beats. They were different. They came before.
As a young man I watched the 1968 Steve McQueen movie Bullitt. It encapsulated the stirrings I remember before the Summer of Love. Only Hollywood can do that.
First, there was Steve McQueen and he was cool.
And he dealt with people still hanging onto the Beatnik look which was cool.
And he lived in a corner apartment with a bay window. If you have ever been to San Francisco you have looked up and wanted to live in one. This is the filming location, the building now scarred with a garage.
And, of course, he had a smart, beautiful girlfriend. And they had breakfast at the bay window of the apartment everyone wants to live in.
As with any city with dozens of neighborhoods, you can still find places in San Francisco to fall in love with.
In the early 2000’s I helped a friend, the sister I never had, find an apartment in the Inner Richmond district. I was given a key and I could come and go as I wished. The apartment even had off-street parking. For two or three years I reveled in bicycling across the Golden Gate Bridge, enjoying the New Chinatown on Clement, and visiting countless used book stores like Green Apple Books.
But terrible neighborhoods, filthy neighborhoods, have proliferated and continue to get worse. I avoid them when I visit and that’s all one can do. For all the good that The Summer of Love brought about, the City was been victimized by its tolerance and acceptance. The City was never loved back.
Stanton Delaplane felt the same way about going into San Francisco as a child as I did. Delaplane (internal link) was a Pulitzer wining columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle for over fifty years.
Introduction from The City: San Francisco In Pictures. 1961.
By Stanton Delaplane
We never called it anything but “The City.”
You packed your things in the car and gassed up at the gas station.
“Going somewhere?” asked the gas station man.
“Up to The City.”
If we were going down to Los Angeles, we said: “I’m going down to L. A.”
San Francisco has always remained “The City” in California. Los Angeles grows out of its citrus skin. The forecasters of the census predict a huge San Jose.
Even San Francisco has shrunk by population moving to the suburbs.
But when we come to town, we “drive to The City.”
In this book we have our best photography of The City — its face doesn’t change much. A few new glass-and-steel skyscrapers. The Western Addition coming down to make room for better houses.
But changes are made with reluctance. We don’t like to change The City. We like it the way it is. (Let those cable cars alone!)
The City, thank heaven, has unchangeable assets: There is no way you can change The City when the fog spills like whipped cream over the barrier of Twin Peaks.
No architect can rearrange the look of the Bay when the afternoon winds are kicking up whitecaps from the Golden Gate to the Carquinez Straits.
The hills stand up against the washed blue sky, just as they did when Dana sailed here in the “Alert” in 1834. (His description is as good today as it was then.)
While other cities change—and maybe for the better—The City photographs with the well-remembered face of an old friend.
In the pictures we found the feeling of The City: the clang of the cable car mounting the California Street hill. The spicy smell of Chinatown when the herb shop door is open. The sound of the wind in the sweep of the bridge. The toot of a freighter headed for deep water.
Said Tessie Wall, one of The City’s best known ladies of the Barbary Coast’s unladlylike days:
“I’d rather be an electric light pole on Powell street than own all the land in the sticks.”
We used to pack the car and pack a lunch. It took more time to get to The City in those days.
We wore our best suit and carried a clean shirt.
“Going to The City, huh?” said the gas station man.
If we’d been going anywhere else, we’d have worn jeans. You couldn’t fool him. When else would you wear city clothes? Only when you were going to The City.