While’s there no shortage of 50th anniversary Summer of Love celebrations in The City, a photography show at the California Historical Society is the only one that specifically details the origins of the massive counterculture movement.
“The moment in San Francisco history was magic, but it’s still with us; it hasn’t gone away,” said Dennis McNally, the Grateful Dead’s former publicist and scholar, who co-curated “On the Road to the Summer of Love” with historian Alisa Leslie.
McNally and Leslie were on hand at the May 12 opening of the exhibition, also attended by Donna Ewald Huggins, who arrived in a colorful 1967 Rolls Royce covered with decoupage of psychedelic memorabilia from the era, as well as tie-dye clad Ann Cohen, widow of poet Allen Cohen, who founded the San Francisco Oracle, the movement’s underground newspaper.
“We need to not forget,” said Cohen, mentioning the movement’s relevance today, and how poet Allen Ginsberg planted the seeds for the Summer of Love.
Echoing the statement, McNally pointed to the beginning of the chronologically arranged show of 100 images (by 20 photographers, including seven women), a segment on the Beats and North Beach featuring 1950s-era pictures by Harry Redl and Jerry Burchard.
Another photo captures the mayhem at San Francisco City Hall on May 13, 1960, when police sprayed water from fire hoses onto peaceful demonstrators decrying House Un-American Activities Committee hearings, marking what some call the beginning of the protest movement.
Mario Savio’s 1964 famous free speech comments in University of California’s Sproul Plaza are covered (in photos, also with Joan Baez, and in audio), and there are uncharacteristic, clean cut images of an almost unrecognizable Janis Joplin in the early 1960s by Marjorie Alette.
McNally said his favorite room covers “the avant-garde art scene from the beats to the hippies, which nobody ever talked about.” In it are images and ephemera relating to the Tape Music Center (which recorded EKGS in 1964); the Actor’s Workshop, which famously staged “Waiting for Godot” at San Quentin Prison; and Open Theater’s “Revelations” in which naked dancers were clothed only by light.
Also featured are LSD use (there’s a framed sheet of blotter acid); The Merry Pranksters; and the lights-, drug- and rock- and-roll filled 1966 Trips Festival (with photos by Susan Hillyard, in attendance, who called the scene “fabulous,” with “people doing things that hadn’t been done before”).
The main room is dedicated to other gatherings: The modest, free under-the-radar Love Pageant Rally in the Panhandle in October 1966, in contrast to the big 1967 Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park (shot by Gene Anthony) which attracted tens of thousands of young people, mainstream media and even Dizzy Gillespie, who reportedly noticed how the Grateful Dead really could “swing.”
Pictures of that bash were what prompted kids from all over to flood Haight Street, which ultimately couldn’t sustain the overload, despite efforts by the anarchist action group The Diggers; the 1967 street scene, captured by Bob Seidemann, is in the show.
Other images — of crowded concerts from the Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival in Marin to Monterey Pop — conjure the freewheeling era that people of the generation remember best.
IF YOU GO
On The Road to the Summer of Love
Where: California Historical Society, 678 Mission St., S.F.
When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays; closes Sept. 10
Contact: (415) 357-1848, www.californiahistoricalsociety.org