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Haight Ashbury Built its Culture Upon Hippies and a Hill of Victorians

Written by Cindy Marie Jenkins on Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017 at 4:07am.

When Nook Sales Experts match a buyer with their dream home, the only thing as important as architectural style is the neighborhood. That’s why we’re bringing you the #NookNeighborhoods series, where every Wednesday you’ll find cool history and culture to make sure you don’t overlook an area that could have the best nook for you.

Mention Haight Ashbury and one image is likely to rise to the top of everyone’s minds: The 1967 Summer of Love. If you were a bohemian in the 1950s and Venice wasn’t your beat, you probably lived among fellow poets in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco. As that area became more popular, people moved to Haight-Ashbury, where they could find decently priced housing among the single-family Victorians turned into apartments during World War II. Many in the middle class of the 50s had already deserted this neighborhood to live in the new and shiny suburbs, leaving enough vacancies that the counterculture who would become known as hippies could take up residence.

As the post-war American style turned to the outdoors for inspiration and light, and looked to science fiction for futuristic commercial buildings, Haight-Ashbury reveled in its Victorian architecture. Much of San Francisco’s architectural heritage was lost in the 1906 earthquake and fire, leaving nearly 300,000 homeless and almost 700 dead. Haight-Ashbury was one of the lucky neighborhoods, which is how they retained so many houses built in their original Victorian styles. It must have been quite a sight for The Summer of free love, drugs and rock and roll to thrive within a symbol of a morally rigid British monarch.

Starting in the 1970s, restoration on both the Victorian homes and the neighborhood itself began. Thanks to an interest in reviving the original lustre to attract a new breed of person into Haight-Ashbury, you can see the vast variety of Victorian variations. There are exquisite details on Haight Street in the French Baroque style, designed by American architect James Francis Dunn. His 1347 McAllister Street mansion boasts wrought iron balconies inspired by the Paris Opera, which he included as part of a design intended to win the love of a beautiful diva, or so the legend goes.

This is still The Bay, however, and there’s no escaping that need to put a distinctive stamp onto everything, including such a staple of architecture as Victorian houses. Enter the Painted Ladies. Although the term typically makes one think of “Postcard Row” in Haight-Ashbury, in reality the name refers to any Victorian home painted three or more colors to show off their architecture features and ornamentation.

The infamous Painted Ladies hold much history, including a museum tucked away into the top floor of the second to last in Postcard Row. Its resurgence in this neighborhood is owed to local artist Butch Kadum, who rebelled against the drabness of World War II colors to celebrate his home with greens and blues. It reminds me of the children’s book The Big Orange Splot, where neighbors at first are offended by the bright ways a man paints his house, then challenge each other to be the most unique and colorful on their block. If you live in one of the Painted Ladies, expect tourists to take pictures and request tours. Many the confused visitor has been thwarted in their search for the “Full House” red door in their opening credits. Alas for fans of Jessie and D.J., that was actually a facade in another area and has since been painted.

Beyond photos, the intersection of Haight and Ashbury pays homage to the cultural history of music inherent in the neighborhood, including The Grateful Dead (look for their images on the sidewalk underneath their old home), Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane and more. Bill Kreutzmann, drummer of The Grateful Dead, recounts some of the legend behind their house on Ashbury in his autobiography, an excerpt of which you can find here. At one point, he says that the Hell’s Angels lived across the street, a poetic juxtaposition to The Grateful Dead nearby.

Today you can find an Amoeba Music Store, vintage shops, live music venues and more cafes than you can shake a guitar at. Many of the shops also include boutique clothing for the more high end fashionistas. The Lower Haight Art Walk showcases the best of the burgeoning visual art scene, and The Haight Ashbury Street Fair returns the neighborhood to its historic Summer of Love origins, celebrating all that counter-culture has brought from the past into the world today.  Toronado has forty beers on tap, and The Alembic is the place if you want to sit back with an exquisite cocktail. All that plus the amazing views of San Francisco, and you can’t help but be charmed!

Like many neighborhoods in the Nook family, Haight Ashbury brings a style and history all its own to the larger city of which it’s a part. Check out the vibe and see if it’s for you with our updated Search With Style® app or contact us to learn which beautiful homes are on the market.



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