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S.F.'s Summer of Love Going Gray at 30

Milestones: Residents now patrol to prevent drug deals, and Grateful Dead's house is up for sale.

September 03, 1997|MARIA L. La GANGA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — With the Summer of Love turning 30 this year--as in don't trust anyone over--maybe it's appropriate that one of the few big celebrations is a rock 'n' roll auction, a wholesale resale of longhaired memory.

Maybe no one should be surprised that local vigilantes in neon-green shirts patrol the Haight-Ashbury district these days and nights, mucking up drug deals and politely requesting that visitors do not use these storied sidewalks as bathrooms.

Maybe it was inevitable, in this formerly tie-dyed fulcrum of freedom, free love and free drugs, that the residents would someday get sick of it all and even push for a ban on alcohol in Golden Gate Park, party central of a more innocent time.

And maybe a Fishless Country Joe McDonald got it right in the lines of his just-penned paean to an earlier era all grown up: "I guess it's time for a brand-new tune, 'Goodbye to the Good Old Days.' I guess it's time to be movin' on. They weren't so good, anyway."

The Summer of Love--a time when all eyes focused on San Francisco, as American youths congregated here to celebrate sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll and politics--hits the Big 3-0.

And yes, there will be a rock concert. But there will also be a scale model of the Vietnam War Memorial and a choral reading of the names of the 2,863 young Americans who died in Southeast Asia in the summer of 1967.

Yes, there will be a rock concert. But the 710 Ashbury St. house, where members of the Grateful Dead were busted for marijuana possession during that famous era, is also scheduled to go on the auction block--minimum bid a very mature $990,000.

Yes, there will be a rock concert. But it won't be until the middle of October; it's way too cold here to celebrate much of anything any time before then. Says concert organizer Chet Helms: "To quote Mark Twain, 'The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.' "

And what Joe Konopka--president of the patrolling Residents Against Druggies--plans to celebrate, anyway, is not the 30th anniversary of an international youth movement that began right here in this very city. Instead, he will toast local government's agreement to steam-clean the sidewalks sometime next week at the fabled corner of Haight and Ashbury streets.

"Right now we're taking on a lot of different things that are bigger problems than drug dealing: public defecation," says Konopka, whose group came together four years ago to combat drug violence in the neighborhood. "The parks are a pigpen. The neighborhood has gotten filthy."

To understand the Summer of Love from the vantage point of three long decades, one must recognize that it actually lasted anywhere from nine months to a year. Day 1? Circle one: Oct. 6, 1966, the day LSD became illegal. Jan. 14, 1967, the first mass Human Be-In at Golden Gate Park. Or maybe June 1967, when the Monterey Pop Festival made instant stars of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding.

Or maybe it was all just a psychedelic figment of our aging imaginations. "The Summer of Love never really happened," writes Joel Selvin, author of a recent rock 'n' roll history titled--you got it--"Summer of Love."

"Invented by the fevered imaginations of writers for weekly news magazines, the phrase entered the public vocabulary with the impact of a sledgehammer," Selvin relates, "glibly encompassing a social movement sweeping the youth of the world, hitting the target with the pinpoint accuracy of a shotgun blast."

What actually happened in the Haight during the tumultuous months in question is a lot less open for interpretation than when it began.

Hundreds of minors flooded San Francisco each week, part of a tide of thousands of hippies who came, danced, smoked, sang, celebrated and left--often driven out by fog and cold.

Big Brother and the Holding Company was the house band at the Avalon Ballroom. Rudolf Nureyev jeted into town, only to be arrested during a police raid at "a wild hippie party" in the Haight. The drugs of choice: LSD, marijuana and the birth control pill.

There was free food, compliments of groups like the Diggers. Huckleberry's House, the nation's very first shelter for runaway teenagers, opened its doors, kicking off a movement that continues to this day. The brand-new Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic treated thousands of patients for hundreds of ailments.

"To some extent 1967 really was the beginning of a youth movement," says Bruce Fisher, executive director of what is now Huckleberry Youth Programs. Young people "were excited, liberated. The Haight was in part about that, a statement about youth empowerment. They were coming here as opposed to running away from something. They also had drug problems and family problems."

The drugs and dysfunction have remained. But young people are wandering into Haight-Ashbury today in far smaller numbers and are as different from their earlier counterparts as the 1990s are from the 1960s.

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