North Bay Utopian Communities
We revisit the many fascinating cults and communes that have flourished in the North Bay's illustrious utopian history.
By Leilani Clark
Founded: Lou Gottlieb, bassist for folk trio the Limeliters, bought 32 acres on Graton Road near Occidental in 1962. After retiring from showbiz, the grizzly-bearded musician declared the ranch open land, inviting anyone and everyone to live there for free. In 1966, it became a super-mecca for Diggers, dropouts, the "technologically unemployable" and wild children of all ages.
Beliefs: "Open-land" and "voluntary primitivism" were Morningstar's philosophical lynchpins. People built tree houses, frolicked and cooked in the nude, took drugs and grew vegetables that fed not only the residents but provided supplies for free-food programs in San Francisco.
Unraveling: Where Gottlieb saw utopia, authorities saw safety and health violations. The Sonoma County Health Department and the sheriff began staging raids on the "Happiness People" after neighbors complained about open fires, open-pit toilets and rough living conditions. By 1971, the county had bulldozed the shelters and campsites, and Gottlieb left for India, deeding his property to God.
Remnants: Gottlieb died on the land in 1996, and caretakers have allowed the site to return to its natural state. "The land has just been resting very quietly. That's what Lou wanted," says Ramon Sender, a San Francisco writer and former resident who's archived Morningstar's history at www.badamamama.com. In 2011, Gottlieb's heirs announced plans to sell the property. A group called Friends of Morningstar is raising money to buy the property for placement in a land trust, says Sender.—L.C.
Founded: Bill Wheeler opened his 320-acre Coleman Valley Road ranch to the displaced folk of Morningstar in the late 1960s.
Beliefs: Wheeler espoused the same open-land ideas as Gottlieb. The community became home to errant flower children, runaways and soldiers AWOL from Vietnam. "What was important to us was that there was a lot of art, there was a lot of music and there was a lot of creativity," Wheeler told the Bohemian in 2003.
Unraveling: Once again, the county stepped in after complaints were lodged by neighbors against the freewheeling nature of the ranch. In 1973, bulldozers razed the tents, lean-to's and rough-hewn houses that had sprung up across the property and the uprooted community disintegrated.
Remnants: Wheeler still lives on the pastoral property that once played home to nearly 400 free spirits. He tells the Bohemian that everything from the days of the ranch was bulldozed or burned to the ground by the county, leaving nothing at all behind. Rumors that the ranch site eventually became the Ocean Song Farm and Wilderness Center are unfounded, though "we enjoy a great friendship," says Wheeler.—L.C.