Corner of Haight and Ashbury, San Francisco, California

photo by: Scott Hahn/SF Heritage

National Treasures

Corner of Haight and Ashbury

  • Location: San Francisco, California

San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood contains an awe-inspiring amount of impeccable Victorian homes, but it’s best known for its ties to the counterculture revolution of the 1960s. This period in American history is more than an aesthetic: Its complexity, its dedication to social justice, and its impact on music, popular culture, the environmental movement, and technology make the 1960s a key part of our national identity.

The Corner of Haight and Ashbury National Treasure represents an opportunity to connect the past and present. Our work centers on creating a vision for the Doolan-Larson Building—located at the northwest corner of the famed intersection—in partnership with its new owner, San Francisco Heritage.

Support our campaign for the Corner of Haight and Ashbury.

Lasting Impact: 1960s Activism

San Francisco’s historic connection to art, free expression, and social tolerance enabled the youth-led movement that culminated in the Summer of Love of 1967. Among the movement’s thoughtleaders were the Diggers—so-called from a socialist collective in 17th-century England—who practiced their ideology in part by providing free food in the panhandle of Golden Gate Park.

Inspired by the Diggers’ work, a group of University of California, San Francisco medical students opened the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic on the same block as the Doolan-Larson Building. The clinic, according to UCSF, “declared health care as a right for all” and “helped to transform how drug addiction is treated.” It was a leader in providing universal health care service, an issue that remains relevant to millions of Americans today. Similarly, the nearby Huckleberry House transformed how services are provided to homeless youth.

The Grateful Dead in front of Mnasidika, Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco, California

photo by: Herb Greene Photography

The Grateful Dead in front of Mnasidika.

Art, Music, and Culture in Haight-Ashbury

By the late 1960s, the world recognized San Francisco for its music scene. From well-known rock bands like Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and Big Brother and the Holding Company to underground groups like the Charlatans, music was a defining form of artistic expression in the Haight. The San Francisco sound combined folk, rhythm and blues, and jazz and infused it with a West Coast optimism. The bands and their legendary promoters became pioneers in live performance and created innovative technology that transformed how we experience live music today.

The Doolan-Larson Building itself played a key role in defining the trendsetting fashions of the era. It was home to one of San Francisco’s first hippie clothing stores, Mnasidika, run by Peggy Caserta, a lover and close friend of Janis Joplin. The store is where Jimi Hendrix supposedly got his trademark bell-bottoms and vest, and where the Grateful Dead conducted an iconic photo shoot. Today, six retail storefronts are on the ground floor of the Doolan-Larson Building, including one family-owned and operated T-shirt shop that has been a tenant at the corner of Haight and Ashbury since 1980.

San Francisco’s countercultural legacy also lives on through institutions like the Haight Street Art Center. The Center is “deeply committed to extending San Francisco’s proud heritage of publicly accessible artwork,” according to its website, and it celebrates the city's poster art movement of the 1960s.

Connecting Doolan-Larson to its Community

Even though Norm Larson, the generous benefactor of the Doolan-Larson Building, wasn’t a part of the Summer of Love or the countercultural movement of the 1960s, his passion for San Francisco history and the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood motivated him to purchase and meticulously restore the property.

Larson moved into the home in 1985 and spent over 25 years restoring it to its 1907 appearance (after the 1906 earthquake, the house was raised and included retail shops along Haight Street). Larson hired a historian to document the building’s history, designate it a City Landmark, and list it on the National Register of Historic Places. Uniquely, the designation included protections on some interior elements like the second-floor foyer, two parlors, and the dining room. He redecorated his living space in a combination of antiques and ‘60s memorabilia.

Norm Larson, benefactor of the building at Corner of Haight and Ashbury, San Francisco, California

photo by: Christopher Michel

Norm Larson, benefactor of the property.

Larson was a beloved figure in the Haight, inviting friends and neighbors to parties and hosting events like fundraisers for San Francisco’s former mayor and current Governor of California, Gavin Newsom. A lover of the symphony, opera, and baroque music, Norm also hosted “musicales” in the building’s open attic space.

Though Larson passed away in 2018, he made the property a planned gift to San Francisco Heritage, with the aim of preserving its history for the public to experience for years to come.

Telling the Stories of the ‘60s and Beyond

With San Francisco’s cultural history under threat amid the rapid growth and changes in the city’s local retail business environment, the National Trust and our partners at San Francisco Heritage and the Haight Street Art Center are aiming to protect not just a historic building, but the fabric of a renowned San Francisco neighborhood. Together, we plan to reimagine the Doolan-Larson Building and turn the upper-floor residence into an interpretive center that recognizes the history of the countercultural 1960s and also reflects Larson’s time in the house.

Through our work at the Corner of Haight and Ashbury, we hope to ensure that the counterculture, so formative to American cultural identity, remains well in the future.

Norm Larson at the intersection of Haight and Ashbury, San Francisco, California

photo by: Christopher Michel

Haight and Ashbury is one of the most recognized street corners in the world.

The Corner of Haight and Ashbury is the centerpiece for interpretation of 1960s counterculture.

Donate to our campaign for the Corner of Haight and Ashbury.

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Join us for PastForward, the historic preservation event of the year, October 10-12 in Denver, Colorado. Register online by October 4!

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