by Ellen Hall
San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district is best known as the center of '60s hippie counterculture in the US.
Today, it's a lively neighborhood full of charm and many contrasts.
The area locals call the Haight covers a twenty-block stretch from Golden Gate Park to Market Street. It's divided into two portions, Upper and Lower.
The Upper Haight is trendier and more upscale, while the Lower Haight is somewhat grittier.
Though there is some debate, the main thoroughfare was probably named for Henry Haight, a local banker and philanthropist.
The Upper Haight was mostly dairy farms until the 1870s, when development began on Golden Gate Park.
Many wealthy Nob Hill residents built ornate Victorians near the park for their weekend homes. With the completion of local streetcar and cable car lines in the 1880s, the area became a thriving community.
Still others migrated here after the 1906 earthquake and fire, which left the Haight largely undamaged.
After World War II, the Haight fell into decline as city dwellers moved to the suburbs.
Summer of Love
In the 1960s, poets and writers from North Beach began moving to the Haight in search of cheap rent.
The dilapidated Victorians became home to a new subculture as the former beatniks discovered free love, rock music and psychedelic drugs.
The hippie movement, with the intersection of Haight and Ashbury as its epicenter, attracted anti-establishment types from around the world.
In January of 1967, tens of thousands gathered in Golden Gate Park for the Human Be-In, featuring counterculture icons Timothy Leary and Alan Ginsburg. The Be-In was a prelude to the Summer of Love, when as many as 100,000 young people flocked to the Haight.
During the '60s the Haight was home to popular musicians including the Grateful Dead (710 Ashbury), Janis Joplin (112 Lyon), and Jefferson Airplane (2400 Fulton). These San Francisco addresses are still popular pilgrimage sites for music fans.
Decline and Renewal
The Haight declined again after the hippie movement in San Francisco ended in the early 1970s.
Buyers returned to the area in the 1980s, attracted by what were then inexpensive Victorians. The Haight is now a mix of bohemian nostalgia and urban chic, with headshops, cafes, boutiques, and alternative bookstores lining the sidewalks.
A photo illustrated discussion of major Victorian house styles can be seen on my Historic San Francisco Victorian Homes page.
Buena Vista Park
Buena Vista Park is between the Upper and Lower Haight.
The first park in the city park systemestablished in 1867 as Hill Park and renamed Buena Vista in 1894Buena Vista has mature trees in a natural setting and offers sweeping views from downtown San Francisco to the Golden Gate Bridge.
You can even see the lighthouse on Point Bonita from Buena Vista Park though a pair of binoculars or telephoto lens is helpful.
A retaining wall was built here in the 1930s using slabs of marble recycled from cemeteries—some of the inscriptions can still be read.
Slideshow—all photos on this page
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Website and all photos copyright © 2001–2015 Lee W. Nelson