Groups Seek to Chronicle San Francisco Neighborhood's Rich History
but Also Move Beyond Area's Reputation as a Hippie Haven
NOVEMBER 5, 2009
By RYAN KNUTSON
The Haight-Ashbury neighborhood is history. At least, so think two
groups of residents who are planning museums to capture memories of
the 1960s hippie movement before they fade with its aging participants.
One, led by Haight-Ashbury Free Clinics founder David E. Smith, will
function as a "library museum" of the free-clinic movement, which
began in the Haight in the 1960s to provide free health care to
residents. The other effort, led by local artist David Wills, will
chronicle the neighborhood's history from its farming days in the
late 1800s to the Summer of Love in the 1960s.
If the museums launch -- neither is slated to open until after 2011
-- they would be the latest in a recent push by San Francisco groups
to better document the city's history. The San Francisco Museum and
Historical Society has been working to renovate the old Mint Building
in the South of Market neighborhood into a San Francisco Museum by
2013. Last year, the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Transgender Historical
Society opened a museum in the Castro district. Another half a dozen
local museums have expanded in the past five years, according to the
San Francisco historical society.
Despite its rich history, the Haight lacks something similar. Once a
refuge for wealthy San Francisco residents after the 1906 earthquake,
the neighborhood -- a 20-square-block area just east of the Golden
Gate Park -- fell into disrepair in the 1960s. Cheap rent helped draw
beatniks and students to the area in the late 1960s, culminating in
the 1967 "Summer of Love" when tens of thousands of people converged
on the neighborhood, many practicing free love, using drugs and
advocating for the creation of a money-free, utopian society.
These days, the neighborhood has evolved into a bustling tourist
attraction featuring psychedelic murals and hippie-themed head shops
that sell marijuana-related paraphernalia.
Residents say they are eager to move past the neighborhood's "hippie
theme park" reputation emphasized by the head shops. With new
museums, "We hope to educate people about what it was like here at
the time, and try to get more into the philosophy of the free society
that people don't get," said Jim Siegel, who owns the Distractions
head shop and who likely will contribute items to Mr. Wills's museum.
The groups, which are seeking funding from a mix of sources, estimate
it will take millions of dollars to get the museums off the ground,
though they declined to be specific. Mr. Wills's museum is seeking
donations from high-tech entrepreneurs, while Mr. Smith's library
museum would be funded mostly from his own resources and membership fees.
Although Mr. Smith said his effort is more about organizing and
maintaining the history of the free-clinic movement than making
money, the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau says added
attractions such as museums in the Haight could help entice visitors.
The tourism industry is one of San Francisco's largest, bringing in
about $8 billion in spending in 2008, according to the bureau.
The idea for creating a museum in the Haight has percolated for
years. Mr. Smith said he began considering a library museum after
visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland in
the 1990s. "Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, all did benefits for our
clinic, and why is there this great museum in Cleveland and not in
San Francisco where it all happened?" Mr. Smith said.
Mr. Smith said he waited until his retirement two years ago before
investing in the museum effort. He plans to put his museum at a
building he owns at 1692 Haight St.
Mr. Wills, meanwhile, came up with his museum idea at a local art
show two years ago and kick-started the effort in January. With
another Haight resident, Andy Bayowski, the two started a seven-month
site-selection process and now are in talks with a property owner in
the neighborhood. Donors said they won't give money until after a
property deal is reached, said Mr. Bayowski.
"There are a lot of people who are either passing away or moving out,
and like all memories, they fade over time," Mr. Bayowski said.
"We're actually hoping to get this thing pulled together before too
much of that fades away."
Write to Ryan Knutson at email@example.com