Aug 4, 2018

March 3, 1968: Haight Street, San Francisco

SAHARA, MR. JONES?  (excerpt)

Mr. Jones, Haight Street was a celebration of people on Sunday. The street filled spontaneously at five minutes before three, and The Grateful Dead sang from two long trucks in front of the Straight Theater.
At least 1000 people packed into the block facing the musicians. People had to squeeze to move anywhere, but the congestion was loving and non-pushiness prevailed.
Strong vibes from the Dead. "I need your love in the middle of the night..." ...a play from a balcony...a speech for the Black Panthers and Huey...a cheer for Alioto.
The police aren't wearing their riot gear and are friendly. Two Reserve officers (volunteers) look like Boy Scouts in their green uniforms. There are no traffic problems. Cars wait for pedestrians on those north-south cross streets, which are open to cars at the request of some businessmen.
The street festivals are bringing all of the merchants more business, says Laura, of I & Thou. She rapped with merchants who stayed open on Sunday.
The only negative vibes come from an increasingly isolated kill-joy, a Mr. Jones. He is a straight businessman in the Haight Ashbury Merchants Association, and he says, "These kids are from the bottom of the barrel. They stand outside my store day after day. Today I had to sweep away their orange peels. Tell them if they want to play drums they can go to the Sahara Desert."
Most of the community is too excited about new plans for Haight Ashbury to worry about Mr. Jones... [Various community representatives] are busy with plans for new festivals...
SDS plans to present a 5000-signature petition to the Board of Supervisors this Monday. They are asking the Board to keep Haight Street open every Sunday.
Other community leaders are looking into free art materials, games, and music for future Sunday happenings...
"O how happy we would be," sang a stoned Haight Street quartet last Sunday.

(by Jan Garden, from the San Francisco Express Times, 7 March 1968)

(From a second article, "Cars to Roll on Haight Again":
"Mayor Alioto's office announced as we went to press that Haight Street would be completely open to traffic this Sunday, and every Sunday thereafter until the police, fire, and public works departments certify that closing the street will pose no special problems. The chances of this happening are zero.") 

* * *


Haight Street became a mall for the second Sunday in a row by order of Mayor Alioto -- but this time the scene was a little less cool.
By the end of the evening the sweet smell of pot had been overcome by the stale odor of beer and spilled wine. It doesn't help matters that the straights from Daly City and San Jose might have been the cause. The day ended without any major incidents, but a bit off the groove.
This coming Sunday the action will be shifted to the panhandle and the park to allow for an assessment of the scene and for legislation to be initiated to make the mall a regular thing.
Meanwhile the community will marshal its forces to present its views to the Board of Supervisors; and to lay new and better plans for artists, guitarists, rappers and meditators to brighten and enlighten the street in the future, if all goes well.

Last Sunday the barricades went up promptly at three o'clock. Traffic dwindled, and the happy people filled their street.
Guitar players did their thing in doorways and on the street. At least one rock group made pleasant sounds in the park, and the Grateful Dead trundled out a truck in front of the Straight Theater and "let there be music."
Earlier in the day, in the spirit of "mall day," painted dashed circles appeared on the street labeled "trees," "flowers," "redwood trees." Mostly the vibes were as pleasant and serene as the Sunday before. Oddly enough, some of the pleasantest people on the street were cops -- badge 139 of Park Station beamed a smile and talked with the kids, another cop let the kids climb all over his motorcycle, and a foot-cop later in the evening dug deep for coins to give to two Black kids who had spent their carfare money earlier in the day.

But there was also a difference between this Sunday and last -- perhaps the same difference that distinguishes love from passion.
Political posters coupling the "liberation of our street" with other causes put some people uptight. Others yearned for the spontaneity of the previous Sunday. "Already an institution" some said, and complained that radio stations plugging the closing had pulled too many tourists into the area.
To complicate matters, a soccer game at Kezar tended to load the street with beer drinking soccer fans once the stadium let out. Traffic cut the street at two intersections, Ashbury and Clayton, directed by pleasant-minded cops. But the street was that much less free. At ten o'clock, the last knot of celebrators in front of Tracy's dissolved and the street reopened to traffic as scheduled. Aside from a few quickly-cooled scuffles, the time of the mall passed quickly and, as they say, "without incident."
Asked to assess the day, Al Rinker of [Haight-Ashbury] Switchboard told KCBS, "It's a neighborhood street and we wanted to put Sunday back in Sunday for the neighborhood.
"Frankly, having a rock group on the street was probably a little too strong -- we love the Dead and are glad they played but we ended up with more of an audience effect than a participation effect."
Other observers also were unhappy because the crowd jammed around the Straight completely cut off any kind of pedestrian traffic down the street, defeating the purpose of the mall. 
[ . . . ]
For this coming Sunday the action will be shifted from the street to the park and the panhandle pending the big push to make the street into a Sunday mall. The Mayor's liason man to the Haight, Mike McCone, said:
"Twice now the Mayor has declared Haight Street closed to traffic as an emergency measure. To become a regular thing, the street closing will have to be voted on by the Board of Supervisors in open hearing to allow for a fair sampling of community opinion. This is legally required by the city's charter.
"As far as the Mayor's office is concerned, we're anxious that the Haight should have a community climate in which the functions and activities of the street will benefit all."
In politically-savvy quarters it's felt that closing the street again by executive order would antagonize the Board of Supervisors and be prejudicial to a fair hearing of the whole community.
In the meantime, there's a growing spirit of cooperation between hip and straight in the Haight. [ . . . ]

(by Thomas Benji, from the Berkeley Barb, 8 March 1968)

(From a second article, "Hash Hopes Brought Down":
"Hopes for further festive street closings on Haight were squashed Wednesday when SF Mayor Joseph Alioto shifted responsibility back to the Board of Supervisors. Alioto was nudged by Haight property owners who objected to recent Sunday street happenings.
The mayor indicated that closings of the Haight would be possible only if proposed by the entire surrounding community. Normal channels for such a proposal now again go through the Police, Fire, and Public Works Departments, and a committee of the Board of Supervisors, and the entire Board.
Alioto for the past two weeks had used his special police powers to close the street to 'avert traffic congestion and other problems.'") 

Short film clips here and here.


  1. A wider perspective of the Dead's show - they were just part of the festivities on Haight Street that day, and to some people, not a very welcome part.
    It's sometimes written that the Dead stopped Haight Street themselves to put on a show, but this is not the case - the mayor stopped traffic on the street two Sundays in a row, and on the second Sunday the Dead decided to take advantage of the situation.

    McNally writes: "On Sunday, February 18, [after a traffic incident on crowded Haight Street] the police were called, and what the Examiner described as 600 bottle-tossing hippies faced tear gas and riot batons, leading to 75 arrests. In an effort to promote domestic tranquillity, the city announced that on March 3, Haight Street would be closed to traffic, and that 'a number of musical events are planned.'" [The mayor closed the street on Feb. 25 as well.]

    The Dead all had fond memories of the day, but there were complaints at the time. The Barb notes that "the crowd jammed around the Straight completely cut off any kind of pedestrian traffic down the street." What was intended to be a street festival instead became a congested concert. (The Barb even complains that the day didn't feel spontaneous enough.) A lot of drunks also collected in the street, breaking windows or lying in doorways, many of them picked up in a police sweep after 10pm. Although many in the community were thrilled about the possibilities of a Haight festival every weekend, business owners on the street promptly squashed any plans for future festivals.

    A couple memories of the day -
    Rock Scully: "We did that one without a permit. It was a day when the street was closed to traffic. Haight Street had gotten so crowded with bumper-to-bumper traffic that the city closed it to vehicles. We thought it would be perfect to slide our trucks across the street and play. We piled all the equipment onto flatbed trucks and just pulled up in front of the Straight Theater and plugged into their electricity. We had two flatbed trucks back to back set up across Haight Street, which we used as our stage. The band played for a couple of hours. The entire length of Haight Street was literally filled all the way past Divisadero. Immediately the cops were trying to unplug us, but we were running off the Straight Theater and we had that place fortified. The cops couldn't get near the electricity. We were running it right out of the second-floor window so the cops couldn't cut us off. It was an amazing day."
    Mountain Girl: "It started early in the morning and I think it was Rock's idea. The band kept saying, maybe we can do it, maybe we can't, all the way up to the wire. There were two flatbed trucks end to end across the street... They played during the day and everybody we knew was there. It was great to see the street full of people... The city had just started closing the street on weekends and making it a mall and it was a big block party. So the street was closed to traffic and, instead, packed with people. It was beautiful."
    (from Sandy Troy, One More Saturday Night, p.89, 119)

  2. The Dead talked about this show in one 1970 radio interview -
    DJ: What’s the single greatest thrill that you’ve had with an audience?
    Bill: Haight Street was really high... We played one day in Haight Street, we got up at around 11:00 and...decided to play, we went down to Haight Street, and we set up a flatbed truck –
    Lesh: - don’t you remember man, the mayor had closed off Haight Street from all vehicle traffic –
    Bill: Oh yeah, closed it off.
    Lesh: - for one Sunday before that, and it worked pretty well, it was pretty mellow, so they decided to do it again, and we decided the next time they did it, we were gonna sneak in and play.
    Bill: Right, right, so we did, we played –
    Lesh: And the cops let us in –
    Bill: Miraculously.
    Lesh: There was one motorcycle cop who just let us in, he said, “Go on, [go for it…”]
    Bill: And he later lost his job, he later was transferred out...
    Lesh: Anyway, Haight Street is about – it’s a really long street, it comes up one of the main hills of San Francisco and goes all the way to Golden Gate Park, and the part of it that we could call Haight-Ashbury was, what, half a mile or a mile long...and it was packed with people all the way down – far as you could see –
    ?: There’s a picture of it, on Live Dead...
    Lesh: It was the highest – I think it was the highest performance, or the highest relationship between us and an audience – but it wasn’t anything like an audience, man, it was like an outdoors acid test with more people. [Garcia: Right.] Only I didn’t take any dope that day –
    Bill: But we got high.
    Lesh: But we got off, oh boy.
    Bill: Oh, it was really getting off – everybody was.
    Weir: I took lots of dope and got higher. [Laughter.]
    Lesh: Everybody just got really high... And after that, though, Haight Street was never again closed to vehicle traffic.
    Garcia: Right, because shortly after that started the hassles, the riots –
    Bill?: That was the riots, they started breaking the windows two weeks after that.
    Weir: In fact, right after that [Haight-Ashbury] crumbled.

    (Phil also writes about this show at length in Searching for the Sound, p.123-125.)