Save Druid Heights

HIKING MOUNT TAMALPAIS WITH THE TRAIL MAP EARLY DRUID HEIGHTS PEOPLE WOULD HAVE USED

This is the trail map of near-to-Druid Heights Mt. Tamalpais that would have been used by Druid Heights residents and visitors back in the 1950s on through at least the 1970s and likely later.  Former 1970s Druid Heights resident David Wills has confirmed that it most certainly was what he used. This is a vintage 1950’s edition that belonged to the author’s parents.

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This would have been the map that Druid Heights visitor and for a time resident in ’69-’70 Gary Snyder used on his hikes there, and perhaps he laid it on the floor at the Marin-An shack just over the hill from Druid Heights to show Jack Kerouac where they would be going before they went on the hike immortalized by Kerouac in “The Dharma Bums”.

There have been some changes over the years but the principle trails are still there. If you hike out to Portrero Meadows (see the map closeup) you will be where Snyder and Kerouac camped in the late spring of ’56 (note: camping on Tamalpais is only allowed in official campgrounds these days and Portrero Meadows isn’t one of those).

The Dharma Bums even describes what they ate the next day for lunch near Stinson Beach, so you could load up on “salami and Ry-Krisp and cheese……and wine”, the latter almost certainly cheap and red, before hitting the trail. The Mill Valley Market still stands  at the foot of Tamalpais as it did in the ’50s  and you should be able to get what you need there, though they might not have the low grade red……

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THE “DRUID” IN DRUID HEIGHTS

IT WOULDN’T BE CALLED DRUID HEIGHTS IF ELSA GIDLOW HAD NOT KNOWN ELLA YOUNG

Ella Young

Poet, Irish revolutionary, author of fiction, mythologist, mystic and University of California Berkeley professor Ella Young’s(1867-1956) interest in the Druids, the priests of the British Isles during their Celtic period, was the catalyst for the “Druid” in Druid Heights. Ella and Elsa had first met at the 80th birthday party of poet Charles Erskine Scott Wood in 1932 at his estate, “The Cats”, in Los Gatos, CA.

In her autobiography, Elsa: I Come With My Songs,  Elsa Gidlow says of Ella Young:

“My long friendship with Ella I regard as one of life’s enduring benedictions. There are many who are ready enough to share complaints of their struggles for survival; few who will or can present visions of why survival is worthy of effort. I had had intimations of such visions from my own inwardness, reflections of them from poetry. Few people, however, confirmed my sense of life as a  heroic adventure calling for qualities of fierce strength, and noble endurance, gentleness toward the weak, and passionate reverence for beauty, in particular the beauty of the living earth-until I met Ella Young”.

The best source of information about her I have found is the Wikipedia entry. She lead quite a life and a good part of it was spent in California. She died not long after Elsa moved to her new home west of Mill Valley, CA in 1954 and by then Young was living in Oceano, San Luis Obispo county, CA. There is no evidence that she ever came to Druid Heights, but she certainly had an influence on it.

A HIGH RES COPY OF AN ICONIC DRUID HEIGHTS PHOTO COMES TO LIGHT

While there was a very poor version of this photo, with the caption “Elsa Gidlow 1959”  on page 385 of Druid Heights’ Elsa Gidlow’s autobiography ELSA: I COME WITH MY SONGS the original was not in her files that are now housed at the GLBT Historical Society Archive in San Francisco and no other copies were known to exist.

Until now. The group Save Druid Heights was contacted by a friend of former Druid Heights resident Margo St. James, Don Sobjack,  who is organizing Margo’s papers following her move into a residence for those with Alzheimer’s. He said that she had photos that were likely taken at Druid Heights, and he sent thumbnails of those photos to group co-founder Michael Toivonen. Michael confirmed that they were indeed taken at Druid Heights. Don soon sent us those photos, which are a very valuable addition to the documentation of the history of Druid Heights.

They included this 8×10 inch print of of Elsa Gidlow seated in the shoji room in The Twin Peaks House at Druid Heights. Unlike the poor reproduction seen in the book, this copy reveals many details of the room’s decor and construction, details of Gidlow’s apparel and hints at but leaves us still guessing at what book she was holding in her lap as shafts of the setting sun’s rays illuminate her and the room.

What you see here is a photo of the image taken just after it arrived by mail. It had evidently not been previously stored flat. We plan to get professional reproductions of this photo to give to appropriate archives. For the time being the original will stay in the collection of Save Druid Heights with the hope that it can eventually be placed in a new archive at the Druid Heights Historic site.

Gidlow Elsa Shoji room 1959 8x10 original

 

DRUID HEIGHTS: HISTORIC COUNTER-CULTURE MECCA IN A NATIONAL PARK FACES DEATH BY NEGLECT

Below are what the author considers the “take-away” paragraphs of his medium.com story with the above title.   You can access the full version of this story at: https://medium.com/@savedruidheights/druid-heights-an-early-counter-cultural-mecca-in-a-national-park-sliding-towards-oblivion-c806803695c2

“That’s a snapshot of the prologue and principle characters of Druid Heights. The epilogue is unwritten. Druid Heights is now owned by the National Park Service. It is increasingly uninhabited. And being unmaintained, it is falling apart.

There are varying scenarios for that epilogue. Two stand out.

In one it is well cared for, allowed to tell its stories and briefly take those who go there and surround themselves with the flowing architecture back to a very different time.

In another it could become a spot at the junction of forest and field with some pieces of concrete, perhaps, poking up through the grass and begging the question “What was here, anything special?” At most, a brief answer might be found on a plaque nearby.”

meditation hut tom fox

TWO UPCOMING DRUID HEIGHTS RELATED TALKS IN MILL VALLEY, CA: MONDAY 12/3 AND WEDNESDAY 12/5

TIME TO REMIND: TWO NATIONAL PARK SERVICE TALKS IN MILL VALLEY, CA NEXT WEEK RELATED TO DRUID HEIGHTS

—MONDAY THE 2ND: GOLDEN GATE NATIONAL RECREATION AREA SUPERINTENDENT LAURA JOSS AND OTHER NPS PERSONNEL TO GIVE AN UPDATE ON THE MUIR WOODS UNIT (DRUID HEIGHTS IS INSIDE THE MUIR WOODS UNIT BOUNDARY)

—WEDNESDAY THE 5TH: GOLDEN GATE NATIONAL RECREATION AREA HISTORIAN KRISTIN BARON AND OTHER NPS PERSONNEL TO DISCUSS DRUID HEIGHTS HISTORY AND CHALLENGES

I plan to attend both and I know at least one other group member who is planning to come on Monday night: Gerd Stern

THE DETAILS:
—Monday 12/3 from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm at Old Mill Elementary School, 352 Throckmorton Ave, Mill Valley, CA 94941, USA there will be a meeting to discuss many aspects of the Muir Woods unit of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA). Druid Heights is part of that administrative unit. The main speaker will be Laura Joss, Superintendent of the entire GGNRA. One of the main topics will be the parking and traffic situation. I know that some local residents fear that preservation of Druid Heights could cause an increase in traffic. Given the newly instituted restrictions on visitation to the area by restricting parking that would seem to have been dealt with. This meeting should add further clarity.

—Wednesday 12/5 from 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM in the Mill Valley Public Library – Creekside Room, 375 Throckmorton Ave, Mill Valley, California. To assure your getting a seat you need to register for this event. In my experience with past events if it fills up there may be seat available because of no-shows. There were still seats available as of Saturday 12/1 at 11am. Here is the link to use to register:

https://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/eventReg…

From the description :
Kristin Baron tells the history of Druid Heights, a secluded artist community in the Marin Headlands near Muir Woods. From the 1950s through to the late 1970s, this hidden enclave fostered creative and innovative architecture, art, poetry, philosophy and music. She will share some of GGNRA’s efforts toward protecting this fragile site as well as highlighting the challenges of interpreting a non-traditional resource.

http://www.millvalleylibrary.org/events/cals.htm

meditation hut tom fox

Gerd Stern’s 90th at the Beat Museum in SF will include discussion of his Druid Heights experiences

UPDATE: THE GERD STERN 90TH EVENT AT THE BEAT MUSEUM IN SAN FRANCISCO THIS SUNDAY THE 2ND AT 7 PM WILL INCLUDE GERD AND I DISCUSSING HIS DRUID HEIGHTS DAYS.
When I was at the Beat Museum a couple of weeks ago museum director and our group member Jerry Cimino asked me if I would be interested in joining the discussion with Gerd on 12/2 at 7pm.
In an email yesterday Gerd wrote “If you will be at The Beat Museum on Sunday the 2nd I could mention that you were with us (on the May 24th visit to Druid heights) and we could talk about Druid Heights?”.

I will most definitely be there. And if you want to see one of the last of the Beat Generation who was at many of the major events, who built an important work of art in Roger Somers’ shop and with Roger’s help at Druid Heights and was a good friend of Roger’s this is a rare opportunity. I will guess that there will be an opportunity for you to ask questions.

Besides those of you who like me weren’t there “back in the day”, I will say, without naming them, I have good reason to believe that there are people who either are members of or follow this group who live in the SF Bay area and were at Druid Heights in the early ’60s when Gerd was. It would be great to see and meet you at this event!

http://www.kerouac.com/beat_event/gerd-stern-90/

Below, Gerd Stern on the left and Jerry Cimino on the right, The Beat Museum, December 27, 2014, Taken from this Youtube video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8Nrnp_4GkIGerd Stern TBM Joan Anderson 2017

COMING ON THE WEEK OF 11/12/2018: AN ANNIVERSARY, AN EVENT AND SOME NEWS

Next Friday, November 16th, will be the 45 anniversary of the passing of Alan Watts in his home in the Mandala House at Druid Heights on 11/16/1973. By pure coincidence it was on 11/16/2016 that I took a walk through the unoccupied portions of Druid Heights after reading some articles about it online, most notably the New York Times article of 1/25/2012.
 
 
I am very glad I went there when it was still possible to enter Elsa Gidlow’s house, The Twin Peaks House and Alan Watts library, and that I took the many photos that I have shared here. On that day I had no inkling of becoming involved with an effort to preserve what I was seeing. That didn’t happen until the following summer after my having viewed the exhibit “Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia” at the Berkeley Art Museum and met guest curator, exhibit catalog author and our co-founder UC Berkeley Architectural Historian Greg Castillo.
 
Here is a link to the catalog of that exhibit. I highly recommend it to anyone who wishes they had made the exhibit and even those who did. It is simultaneously a great coffee table book full of easy to skim images and a scholarly overview of the subject that includes reproductions of hard to find original source material.
 
Back to Alan Watts, if any of you feel motivated perhaps you could post something on him this week. I am going to be out of the Save Druid Heights “office” attending the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s annual conference called “Past Forward 2018”, very conveniently being held in San Francisco. I hope to learn more about the nuts and bolts of historic preservation at the workshops I attend as well as meet and talk to people in the field of Historic Preservation. As I understand it my conference name badge will have Save Druid Heights on it as well as Michael Toivonen.
 
I will also be attending the day and a half symposium sponsored by the US chapter of the International Committee On Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) being held in tandem with the conference. The theme is bridging the divide between those whose focus is preserving cultural heritage and those whose focus is preserving natural heritage. That definitely speaks to the challenges presented by Druid Heights.
 
Last but not least, I will have some very interesting news next week…….stay tuned!

DRUID HEIGHT’S ELSA GIDLOW: IMMIGRANT


Here are some words worth considering when we think about Elsa Gidlow, who until age 6 was a resident of the UK, and from 6 until 21 was a resident of the province of Quebec, Canada. She immigrated to New York City in the US in 1920 and then in 1926 came west to California where she was to live the rest of her life, the last 32 years of it at the home she came to call Druid Heights.

“Anyone who knows the history of California knows that it has been the great flow of immigration that continually refreshes and revitalizes our culture, creativity and productivity.”-Dr. Thomas Peters, President & CEO, The Marin Community Foundation

About Save Druid Heights

Save Druid Heights was formed in the summer of 2017 by Travis Amos, Greg Castillo and Michael Toivonen after a walk through the unoccupied portions of Druid Heights. It seeks to preserve the most significant buildings and the history of this historic site. To get in touch with us please send an email using the contact button on this page or send it to savedruidheights@gmail.com. Our email inbox is closely monitored by communications person Michael Toivonen and your email should be answered shortly, usually within a couple of hours. If you need to speak to us about something urgent send us an email in which you tell us a little about it, include your phone number. and we will be in touch with you as soon as possible.

 

 

A BOOK YOU SHOULD OWN: THE ART AND LIFE OF JEAN VARDA

A LITTLE ADVICE FROM THE EDITOR: BUY A COPY OF THIS BOOK FOR YOURSELF AND ANOTHER FOR A FRIEND
Since we are doing Varda I want to put in a plug for a great book: The Art and Life of Jean Varda by Elzabeth Leavey Stroman. Besides being about Varda there is info about his friendship with Druid Heights’ Roger Somers and Alan Watts. It is lavishly illustrated, in part because of the cooperation of Varda’s family.

This book was a true labor of love by its author. I had the pleasure of meeting her last year at a book event in Sausalito, CA where I was asked by her to speak about Druid Heights connection to Varda for a few minutes.

Not only did she do a huge amount of research and writing, she hired, on her own dime, professional book designers to help her assemble the text and graphics into a beautiful book. It is both a good read and a good “take a casual look” coffee table book with an eye catching cover

Using the link below to go to the book’s webpage where you can purchase it directly for $43.45. You can also get it as a special order through your local bookstore or order it through Amazon. I’d do it directly from Stroman because that way she gets the most money, and even at $40+ shipping she said she was making nothing, just recouping some of her costs.

Here is the link to her page:
http://www.vardabook.comVarda+Cover