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Posts Tagged ‘Positively Haight Street’


Readers of this blog will already be aware of my affection for the Haight Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. Several articles have been devoted to its history, architecture and culture.

Following my recent trip I have revisited my collection of photographs of the neighborhood. It started off as just a series of images but I have found it hard to resist commenting on a number of them in passing.

I will start with the store in which my vacation dollars and I are most easily parted – Land of the Sun, the  best place on Haight Street for tie-dye shirts and hippie paraphernalia such as jewelry, beads, throws and other household accessories.

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The other store in which I have often satisfied my craving for tie-dye is Haight Ashbury T-Shirts.  It might not be as enticing as Land of the Sun from the outside, but it is a great place to hang out in, even if it does mean you having to spend much of your time craning your neck to view the merchandise that occupies the entire ceiling space.

But it does have the added kudos of being sited at the iconic Haight  and Ashbury intersection (though not the definitive corner – that honor now goes to Ben & Jerry’s).

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Haight-Ashbury is not just hippie clothing and smoke shops of course. It also boasts some of the finest Victorian architecture in the city, as illustrated by this fine pair of Queen Annes situated literally yards off the main drag.

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My first port of call on hitting the ‘hood was once Positively Haight Street, a wonderful hippie-oriented store with stunning facades.

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In June 2012, new owners opened Jammin on Haight on the same premises. Still dedicated to tie-dye fashion, it is undeniably a beautiful store but I haven’t yet quite warmed to it.  Much of the overtly Grateful Dead apparel and accessories – despite the sign in the window below – have gone (or do I have “two good eyes” but “still don’t see”?), and it exudes a more upmarket, well scrubbed vibe that I can’t readily relate to. The window displays, though sporting different designs, remain beautiful.

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I once sang (I use the word advisedly) the Grateful Dead song, Ripple, with a young busker on that corner above. I often wonder whether he was still able to eat that evening.

Though I have not had cause to visit these establishments much, here are some more colorful shopfronts.

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Although I’ve still not managed to beat the lines at the legendary Pork Store Café, the following have provided hearty sustenance over the years. And we will get to eat at Cha Cha Cha one day too!

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Familiar and long gone (but not forgotten) look out on you every few yards along Haight Street.

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No photo gallery of the Haight would be complete without a full frontal view of 710 Ashbury, the Grateful Dead’s home between 1966 and 1968.

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Back to Positively Haight Street, once the retail king of the neighborhood for an unreconstituted Deadhead.

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With every visit to San Francisco I learn of the demise of more quality neighborhood bookstores. Even since my last trip less than a year ago, Badger Books in Bernal Heights and Phoenix Books in Noe Valley, the latter replaced by an inferior alternative, have closed. I was shocked also to find that Aardvaark Books on Church and Market had been remodeled as a secondhand store.

It is reassuring, therefore, to find that Booksmith on Haight Street appears to be flourishing. I continue to make my small contribution to its future.

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Curiuously, in view of my love for the music that originally flowed out of San Francisco music scene in the late sixties and early seventies, I have never got excited about the prospect of visiting the massive Amoeba Music.

It might just be the sheer scale of the place and the fact that it occupies a single floor that disconcerts me. I am, or rather was, accustomed to the stores (Virgin, Tower, HMV) back in the UK  that occupied several tiers which made it easier to find what you were looking for.

Or it may be the legacy of my first visit when I was told rather aggressively that I had to leave the small bag I was carrying at the entrance. I understand that theft may be an issue, but I form an aversion immediately to any establishment that tells me at the front door that I am not to be trusted. I may be naive but this struck me as especially disappointing  on the street where the concepts of love and peace were once so trumpeted.

I haven’t been confronted recently but I still find it difficult to cope with the size of, and lack of warmth in, the store. But that’s as much my problem as theirs. As it happens, I am not a great fan either of Rasputin Music which has recently been providing competition for Amoeba on the street.

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I will finish where I started – with the Land of the Sun store and its reference to the familiar Grateful Dead lyric from Truckin’ of “What a long strange trip it’s been”.

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There are many other places, events and photographs that I could have included, some of which I have paid tribute to in previous posts, but I am conscious that this post will already have tried your patience.

Many will accuse me of having a romanticized, tourist’s – or even dippy hippie’s – view of the modern day Haight, and claim that what echoes there are of the Summer of Love are slight and inauthentic; that, effectively, it is no more than an open air museum (the number of tour buses that still crawl along the street might reinforce that argument).

I don’t presume to know whether there is any vestige of truth in that or not. What I do know is that, amid the upscale stores and expensive accommodation (the Haight boasts more single millionaires (283) than any other San Francisco neighborhood), it still means something valuable and relevant for many people – those who lived through the sixties and those who are their grandchildren. You only need to walk the area during the annual street fair or 4/20 festivities to recognize that.

May the trip continue to be long and strange!

 

 

 

 

 

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We had planned to take the advice of the Small Faces today and spend a “lazy Sunday afternoon” in the neighbourhood.  The only thing we really had to do was some food shopping for the next few days.  Otherwise, we would take it easy, have a traditional English roast dinner in the apartment and then settle down for the latest instalment of Celebrity Apprentice on NBC later in the evening.  And, of course, there was the blog to write.

A slow morning began with my following my soccer team, Gillingham, on live text commentary on the internet as they attempted to enhance their promotion aspirations at Cheltenham.  The 3pm kick off time back home meant that, with the additional hour from last night’s change to British Summer Time, that we were now 8 hours behind.  Last night’s excesses prevented me from making the start at 7am, but I was ready an hour later to follow the second half (in bed with the laptop!).  Gillingham had gone a goal down in the third minute, and that remained the likely outcome until four minutes before the end when they equalised.  Even more remarkably, they scored again in the very last minute to secure a 2-1 win, a great start to the day.

After a leisurely breakfast in the apartment we wandered down to Grove and Divisadero to look at the Farmer’s Market.  As we were planning to stay out for some time, doing our shopping at the Lucky supermarket on our way back to the house, we decided not to purchase anything at this stage.

I thought I had struck lucky when, as we sauntered along Divisadero to the intersection with Haight, a gorgeous young woman (ok, a sixty something harridan) rushed up to me to say how lovely my red hair was (yes, I do have  some red colour in the naturally dark brown)!  Taken aback by the complement I should have realised that this was the opening gambit to ask for money (our first beggar of the day).  I advised her – mistakenly – that we hadn’t any cash at present and were actually on our way to an ATM, at which she reeled off the locations of all those in the immediate vicinity!  Fortunately, she found someone more obliging and we managed to lose her by Page.  

Turning up Haight we walked through Buena Vista Park with its fine views of the city  and back onto the main street in the area.  I have been disappointed with Haight-Ashbury on our last few visits, particularly those shops, for example Positively Haight Street and Haight-Ashbury T-Shirts, which focused primarily on retro sixties hippie culture.  They seemed to have moved away from that era somewhat, providing more of a balance between freak and mainstream clothing and accessories.  Indeed, today I felt that they had undergone a makeover even since this time last year  – perhaps they were just cleaner and tidier now, which, in a sense, is out of keeping with the original design.

That aside, what struck me today was how many shops, including new ones, were open, and seemingly thriving. Since the onset of the recession it has been difficult to walk down any street in any town or city in either the UK or US without seeing a significant number of boarded up shops.  This was frankly surprisngly not the case today on Haight Street, where I counted only two closed retail outletsYes, many had sales and there were the customary groups of residual “heads” hanging out on the sidewalks. It may have been the early spring sunshine and the fact that it was Sunday, but there seemed to be a renewed energy and optimism that I hadn’t witnessed in recent years and which was, especially, for this ageing hippie, very heartening.

The fact that Janet and I spent longer – around three hours – on the street today than we have for many years seemed to reinforce this feeling.  I had seen some baseball fans during the 2010 postseason wearing Giants t-shirts with the Grateful Dead “steal your face” logo on, so was pleased to pick up one today.  I managed also, seven years after first having the band recommended to me by a photographer on the slopes of Heavenly ski resort, to purchase a couple of live albums by String Cheese Incident at Ameoba Records. 

Lunch was taken at the Blue Front Cafe, a middle eastern eatery serving up wholesome and tasty wraps, bagels etc. and strong coffee, and the warm afternoon sunshine later persuaded us to succumb to the ultimate modern day Haight-Ashbury tourist activity of indulging in a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream at the famous street intersection.  I also made a fellow Englishman’s day by taking a photograph with his own camera of him posing outside 710 Ashbury, the fabled early home of the Grateful Dead.

Our extended and enjoyable sojourn in the Haight delayed our planned shopping expedition to the Lucky supermarket just 100 yards from our apartment.  After several sun-kissed hours wallowing in sixties West Coast nostalgia, we turned our San Francisco home into an English enclave by having our customary Sunday dinner of roast chicken, roast potatoes, carrots, peas, chicken stuffing, apple sauce and chicken gravy, washed down, of course, with a Californian sauvignon blanc.

The lazy Sunday theme was restored with a night spent watching America’s Next Great Restaurant (I don’t think so!) and Celebrity Apprentice (Dionne Warwick is still a “heartbreaker”!) on TV.

All in all, a lovely San Francisco Sunday with an English twist.

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