Historical Saturday: Haight – Ashbury District

There is a neighborhood in San Francisco called the Haight-Ashbury which is said to be the birthplace of the hippie movement and is still today a place known for its attitude of youth and alternative culture.

The Haight-Ashbury (pronounced hate) has a long history of recreating itself.  In the 1850’s the neighborhood was outside of town and consisted of mainly sand dunes.  Some ranchers set up business there, but the area didn’t begin to develop in earnest until plans for Golden Gate Park were laid out after 1870.  In 1883, a cable-car line came through the area and houses began being built.  Families of wealth liked to build their second homes on the corners, and the land between was filled in with small, middle class style homes.

Because of the popularity of the new Golden Gate Park, this neighborhood became somewhat of a weekend destination for leisure and relaxation.  It had  a baseball field, amusement park, saloons, hotels, and many bicycle shops.

During the 1906 earthquake, the Haight-Ashbury was hardly affected.  People poured into this neighborhood to find housing only to move out in the 1920’s and 1930’s to live in more desirable locations in the bustling city.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, the city proposed a freeway that would run through the panhandle and would ultimately affect the livability of the area.  The citizens united against the freeway and caused the city to make other plans.  Their acts of political defiance preserved the neighborhood and the integrity of the panhandle park.   

The mid 1960’s introduced the counter-culture and the social rebellion to this struggling middle class neighborhood.  But what started out as a place for innocence, experimentation, and a desire to change the world ended up being something very different and destructive.  “Hells Angels, criminals, and opportunists of all kinds (including Charles Manson) arrived, and by late that summer the scene had turned ugly.  Harder drugs such as methamphetamine, or “speed” and heroin replaced the more benign (and legal until October 1966) LSD.  Things deteriorated quickly, and over the next few years the Haight, as Haight-Ashbury is more commonly called today, became a dangerous slum.  By the early 1970s about a third of Haight Street’s shops were abandoned and boarded up.”  -Historic Walks in San Francisco, by Rand Richards

As with most neighborhoods in this city, the area eventually became more gentrified and the homes were redone and restored.  There is still a bit of a hippie flair about the Haight, but it is more the tv version and less of the real deal.
    
How did the area get its unusual name?  It was named for the intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets where it is located.  I’m assuming the streets are family names, but I have not been able to find any information on that yet.

When you next visit San Francisco, be sure to put the Haight district on your list of places to go and experience.

Cheers!

Mike

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