Love is in the air in San Francisco again, or perhaps it’s just the memory of a love long past.
The Golden Anniversary of the Summer of Love, the counterculture movement that transformed San Francisco’s politics and international reputation, looms on the horizon.
Beginning Thursday, a City Hall exhibition features 80 historic images from that bygone, often romanticized era. These are the product of none other than the late, all-time great recording artist photographer Jim Marshall.
Marshall captured images of rock-’n’-roll greats like Jimi Hendrix and the Grateful Dead on San Francisco streets in 1967. But the collection also showcases everyday scenes in the Haight, from streets kids to disapproving squares.
Anywhere between 50,000 to 100,000 young people flocked to San Francisco that year, transforming the previously nondescript Haight-Ashbury neighborhood into the de facto counterculture capital of America.
Local filmmaker and activist Peter Coyote calls it “a heady experience from which I have never recovered. Sitting down to dinner with 20 people, making music every night."
Kids favored the Haight because it was close to the park and suddenly cheap. The city had proposed a nearby freeway that would have destroyed the panhandle.
Although it was never actually built, the freeway plan alone killed property values and drove businesses and families away, leaving vacancies for insurgent hippies.
While Berkeley was the pulse of political activism in America, San Francisco was a hub of esoterics, gurus, spiritualists, and escapists.
“There had to be a whole new scene,” Hunter S Thompson wrote in a May 1967 bulletin. “They said [...] the only way to do it was to make the big move from Berkeley to the Haight-Ashbury, from pragmatism to mysticism.”
The hippie movement’s easygoing politics seem endearing today, but older generations of San Franciscans were downright alarmed, and the country as a whole was as divisive and angry as, well, America now.
“Middle class Americans [...] perceived the hippie movement as a threat to all they had accomplished in the post-war years,” historian John Anthony Moretta wrote in his new book The Hippies.
Marshall’s photos capture the curiosity and disapproval of longtime locals and potentially seedy scenes like flophouse interiors, reminding viewers that the summer had its troubles on top of its idealistic tableaus of rock and roll and universal love in the streets.
The Marshall photos display through June 17.