Here begins, in six parts, the story of the rise and fall of a small student community in San Francisco’s Fillmore District in the years 1962-64. It will be told by three people who lived there, in their own words. However, this installment begins with The Pondering Pig’s own ruminations on those lost years in that lost world…
When I finally made it to San Francisco in the summer of 1961, I moved into a boarding house on Twenty-Sixth Street between Castro and Noe. In those days, Noe Valley was a forgotten blue-collar neighborhood at the end of the 24 Divisadero bus line: mostly white, mostly respectable, mostly peaceful. Cats yowled in the backyard outside my window in the night, and that was about it. In those days, old bohemian North Beach had fallen on hard times, but it was still the only cool place to breathe. Twenty-sixth Street was about as far away from the Beach as an aspiring beat poet such as myself could get, and still live in the City.
I was nineteen. I’d traveled through Mexico during the spring. I was too gone to move home. I needed a cheap place. My best friend’s girl, Susan Haylock, had moved in too. We were going to go to summer session at San Francisco State. We were two flecks in an immigrant stream heading towards the Haight-Ashbury of the Sixties and beyond to today.
A frazzled-looking Negro woman (In 1961, Negro was still the term of respect) named Louise Amos ran the house. Her hipster husband had run off with a longhaired blonde the year before, and left her to lurch through life on her own. She kept up the best front she could, and was raising their two kids to be friendly and polite. The people at the much larger Fulton Street commune helped her get her own pad up and running.
The Fulton Street People lived in a turreted Queen Anne a couple blocks west of Divisadero Street. They shared everything, except each other, as far as I knew. They shopped, cooked, cleaned house, paid bills communally. I didn’t understand their lifestyle, it just was. Sue and I showed up once or twice a week to take bread with them.
They were mostly in their mid-twenties, already formed people. They weren’t beat. In fact, I couldn’t find anyone in the City who copped to being beat. I learned what I didn’t know I knew: people who have found themselves object to being assigned a title of any kind. The Fulton Street people lived together for fun and cheapness.
I learned there were other communes in their network: the Central Street House, the O’Farrell Street House. It was at one of those communes, the O’Farrell Street House, that I scored peyote for my first psychedelic excursion: little green cacti, legally mailed from Rose’s Cactus Garden in Laredo, Texas.
When school started for real in the Fall, I learned that communities like these were peppered across the Fillmore District and Potrero Hill. There were student communes and student co-ops and plain old flats where people shared the rent and that’s it. There were peacenik communes and folknik co-ops and drugnik flats. There were Wobbly communes and Trotskyite co-ops and grungy flats inhabited by people who liked to drink coke laced with cherry-flavored codeine cough syrup and nobody paid the rent. (Look, I’m assigning them titles. But how else can we talk?) All were inhabited by young Bohemians who lived together by mutual interest or by chance. None were as organized as the Fulton Street House, but they didn’t need to be. They were following a well worn path.
What follows is the story of one such community, the 857 Divisadero Street group, important to the little history of my time and place as predecessor to the famous boho rooming house, 1090 Page Street. Which was, in turn, the match to the Haight-Ashbury flash that briefly illuminated the world in 1966-67.
857 Divisadero was inhabited from late 1962 to the summer of 1964 by at least ten young bohemians. People moved in and out, of course, but the mainstays were stage magician and inventor William Dahlgren, avant-garde filmmaker Loren Means, sorcerer Edmund Robere, computational linguist Gerald Keil, art conservator Nathan Zakheim, and the folk musician/ craftsman Rodney Albin. None of them knew then they would have descriptions tacked in front of their names. In those days, they were all, except for Edmund the Mad Magician, kids going to school at San Francisco State.
Rodney Albin, William Dahgren and Edmund Robere aren’t around any more, so I asked three of the survivors to write down their memories of those days. Here’s their story, told in their own words, beginning as Loren Means graduates from high school in Yankton, South Dakota.
NEXT: LOREN MEANS’ STORY