You can tell it’s not an ordinary place. The ornate Victorian row houses in the neighborhoods around the Haight are incredibly beautiful, like jewelry boxes or elaborate cakes in pastel colors. Their curved balconies with rounded windows, their rich decorations of gold medallions and intricate carved edgings, are works of art. They have towers and turrets like a castle, arched bay windows, and round pillars like you would see on a temple but on a smaller scale. These houses were not slapped together like track houses. A lot of thought went into every detail of each magnificent creation.
The people who live here also have many dimensions, many bright and pleasing colors in who they are and what they believe in. Billy Preston, George Harrison and Alan Ginsburg lived here. The “Grateful Dead House” is at 710 Ashbury. We’ve often walked among giants on these streets. There are many reasons why this is a special place. It feels like home not only to those who live here but to countless millions, in their imaginations, as a spawning ground of the biggest peace movement the world has ever seen.
The colorful businesses on Haight Street express a multi-dimensional approach to life. Brightly-decorated stores offer exotic wares with spiritual meaning, with names like “The Tibetan Gift Corner,” “Love of Ganesha,” and “Reincarnation.” A tiny tattoo parlor has the most amazing storefront of all, done all in mosaic with gold and red mirror tiles. The designs on it look like flames, with wrought iron work on the windows in a shape like a radiating sun. Along the side streets there are big wall murals of icons like the Beatles, Jerry Garcia and Janis Joplin, surrounded by swirls of rainbows and stars. The Burger Urge has red white and blue neons, with a decoration around the edge of the roof that says “PEACE” in foot-high letters, and “1967,” the year of the Summer of Love.
It’s not that rare for people to get together in a spirit of good will, but here in this historic place, it has deep meaning. This is the remnant of the wondrous renaissance called “the Sixties,” when a whole generation of young people decided that the Golden Rule was the best strategy. Most of them did not worship the Prince of Peace, something he never asked for. Instead they went around saying the same things he’d said, often without even realizing it. Their obsession with brotherly love and peace, and treating people with respect, is something the violent world has hoped for.
A Volkswagen bus goes by, hand-painted purple with fluorescent rainbows and flowers all over it. The double-decker buses sway around the corner where the park meets the business district, looking like a ride at Disneyland. The tourists look at the homeless hippies with their dogs. The young people smile at the tourists and make peace signs. Often the tourists smile back and make peace signs too.