The House On Divisadero Street (Part 1 of 6)

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

To Go to Part 2, click here.

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18 thoughts on “The House On Divisadero Street (Part 1 of 6)

  1. O Nostalgia. Jerry Garcia! From freak-commune to…fashion rack.

    Walker Percy said some interesting things about nostalgia, memory, repetition, did he not? (following his master Kierkegaard). Not that I necessarily buy Percy’s papist interpretation of Time, or despair, or Tod– but …interesting. Demons rule the streets of SF, man. I seen ’em.

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  2. Pingback: The House on Divisadero Street (Part 3 of 6) « the pondering pig

  3. There were Wobbly communes and Trotskyite co-ops

    Were–the key word. Most of the quasi-wobbly’s and trotskyites were like middle or upper class college kids, poli sci or philosophy drop outs from Cal or SFSU, maybe a few from Steinford, preparing for the big Bay Area Rev. which never arrived–bought out by rich developers and brokers in late 70s.

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  4. Pingback: The House On Divisadero Street (Part 4 of 6) « the pondering pig

  5. Pingback: The House On Divisadero Street (Part 5 of 6) « the pondering pig

  6. Pingback: The House On Divisadero Street (Part 6 of 6) « the pondering pig

  7. I briefly knew the Zakheim bros. back around 1966. One of their gal pals, then known as LaVerne Trautz, now Shari Smith, from Santa Barbara, was a house mate out on 46th Ave around the corner from the Surf Theatre. Did you know Paddy O’Sullivan or Angelo Satosanti or any of that tag end of Beat Gen.? Paddy introduced me to Bob Kaufman in his tiny chaotic digs at Swiss Alps hotel a few mos. before he died.

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    • I remember that little enclave of underground people out by the Surf Theater. They lived in the elderly flats and cottages out there, built long before the march of the Doelgers across the sand dunes of the Sunset in the 20s and 30s, and the rents were comparatively cheap. It never was really a scene, just a place where hip people could live and be near Ocean Beach and the park. I do remember Paddy O’Sullivan from early forays to North Beach when I was still in high school. I remember him standing on the corner of Columbus and Broadway hawking his poem books to the tourists. He was never part of the beat scene, as I remember, more of a classic old-time bohemian. Angelo Satosanti is not a name I know – enlighten me.

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  8. Ponderpig, I’m trying to learn more about the O’Farrell Street House. Do you remember even roughly where it was located? On O’Farrell, obviously, but do you perhaps recall what neighborhood, or a street it was near? I know that it was an early sixties commune started by a beatnik who was also a Zen Buddhist, and Ted Wise the sailmaker lived there before he married Liz and started the Living Room in the Haight and the House of Acts in Sausalito. By the way, your blog is a rare treasure. Thank you for all the wonderful knowledge you’ve shared and continue to share.

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    • Mark, I do remember approximately where it was. It was a very decrepit row-style Victorian. I’m sure what they call them but not a Queen Anne. It was located on the south side of O’Farrell, east of Webster Street and west of Gough. I would guess around Laguna or Buchanan. The whole area was bulldozed in the mid-Sixties and there would be no trace of it today. I was only there a couple of times – I bought a paper bag of peyote cactus buttons there one night, fresh and green. A couple comes to mind who may have lived there at that time: Chuck and Annamarie Garrigues. I’ll write to your email if I think of more. It had mythical aura about it for me – very intense, very beat, an older group, but kind to this fresh kid from the suburbs.
      There are some people in the New Mexico contingent who may remember more. I’ll ask around.

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      • One memory came to me last night. We didn’t buy the peyote. The guy who had it gave it to us. He kept it in a paper shopping bag under his bed. He just pulled a few buttons out and handed them over. We went home and went off on our first psychedelic journey. That would have been the summer or fall of 1961.

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