By Carol Blackman
Oakland Tribune Correspondent
This story was first published by the Bay Area News Group and appeared in the San Jose Mercury News, Contra Costa Times and Oakland Tribune – 06/20/2010.
If the names Joplin, Hendrix, the Dead and Chocolate George spark a glimmer of recognition, you’re in luck. Forty-three years after “The Summer of Love” in San Francisco, you can brush up on your local history with the Haight-Ashbury Flower Power Walking Tour.
The tour is led by Izu, who prefers to go by only the one name.
She meets our group of eight at the corner of Haight and Waller streets, better known the world over as the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. The 2 and 1/2-hour walking tour begins across the street from Kezar Stadium and includes information about the neighborhood’s Victorian heritage and stories from the “cradle of hippie culture,” says tour owner Pam Brennan.
That culture is prevalent throughout the neighborhood, even at the historic San Francisco Fire Department Truck Station No. 12. The building was a barn that housed fire equipment pulled by horses. Today, the modern fire station is around the corner, and as Izu points out, “This is only place in the universe where the fire trucks have Grateful Dead, also known as The Dead, stickers on their trucks.”
Much has changed since the turn-of-the-20th century. The first Chinese laundry built outside of Chinatown is now a Bikram Yoga studio, and what began as the Shrader Creamery was used as the Hare Krishna Temple in 1967.
Izu talks about the “Hippies Human Be-In” on Jan. 14, 1967. Thousands of people heard Dr. Timothy Leary encourage everyone to “turn on, tune in, drop out” with the help of the psychedelic drug LSD.
Sharing group experiences and exchanging information was an important part of Hippie culture. Izu stops the group to point out a telephone pole painted dark brown. The paint is covering hundreds of staples used to hold notes and flyers about events.
“This was our precursor to the Internet,” Izu says.
Haight-Ashbury was a haven for infamous people, and Izu knows where each of them once lived. There’s the house where Charles Manson recruited young people to join his cult in 1967. Next up is the home where ballet dancers Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn were arrested for smoking marijuana after a performance at the Opera House.
Perhaps the most notable residents in 1967 were the band members of the Grateful Dead. Now a restored Victorian home, painted purple, the house once sat across the street from the headquarters of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang.
The story goes that when Chocolate George was killed, the gang crossed the street to ask The Dead to play a concert for their dearly departed member. “Who is going to say no to the Angels?” Izu says. Chocolate George’s wake concert was held on Aug. 28, 1967 in Golden Gate Park.
Walking down Ashbury Street toward Haight Street, we stop at a building where singer and songwriter Janis Joplin crashed with singer and songwriter Jimi Hendrix.
When we reach Haight at the corner of Ashbury, we snap pictures of the famous pair of street signs. The San Francisco Department of Public Works has vowed that these signs will be the last erected — visitors often steal them, Izu explains.
Finally, we arrive at the Psychedelic History Museum in a restored Victorian house on Ashbury Street. The museum is open only in conjunction with the tour.
The dining room table is full of books about San Francisco in the late 1960s. The walls of the room are covered with photos of the “Summer of Love” characters.
Fittingly, Izu concludes the tour by reading a quote from social activist Abbie Hoffman — a quote that hippies of all ages still believe, “We are here to make a better world.”