At the turn of the 20th century, the Haight Ashbury district grew as an upper middle class suburb, it’s streets lined with large Victorian homes tucked in to small city sized parcels. Just a few years earlier, it had been farmland and sand when the Haight Street Cable Railroad connected Haight Ashbury to to downtown San Francisco.
By the time of the great depression, the Haight Ashbury district area had already peaked as automobiles opened up the suburbs. World War II brought a need for low cost housing and many of the large old homes were divided into apartments or boarding houses, and the neighborhood was deteriorating. By the 50’s, lack of maintenance and the exodus of the middle class left the Haight in rough shape with lots of vacant apartments…just the type of low cost rents that attracted struggling musicians.
San Francisco already had a large arts community and a reputation for being a bit wild. The low cost rentals in the neiighborhood of the intersection of Haight Street and Ashbury Street intersection were a magnet for musicians. It was home for a number of important psychedelic rock performers and groups of the mid-1960s, including the Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin, who all lived a short distance from the famous intersection.
Nearby are two large parks, Buena Vista and Golden Gate, which served as a haven for the homeless and added to the drug culture. Druggies and maijuanna use were so prevalent that, by ‘67, Haight Ashbury was jokingly called “Hashbury”.
Combine these conditions with the leftovers of the beat Generation (Beatnicks), and Haight Ashbury became the birthplace of the Hippie movement.
Today, Haight Ashbury is back in style. Many of the old victorians have been fixed up. Rents are sky high, and the streets are lined with upper end boutiques and cafes. And the famous corner of Haight and Asbury streets is home to a busy Ben and Jerry’s.