History of San Francisco

San Francisco Counterculture

San Francisco has often been a magnet for America's counterculture. During the 1950s, City Lights Bookstore in the North Beach neighborhood was an important publisher of Beat Generation literature. Some of the story of the evolving arts scene of the 1950s is told in the article San Francisco Renaissance. During the latter half of the following decade, the 1960s, San Francisco was the center of hippie and other alternative culture. In 1967 thousands of young people poured into the Haight-Ashbury district during what became known as the Summer of Love. At this time, the San Francisco Sound emerged as an influential force in rock music, with such acts as Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead achieving international prominence. These groups blurred the boundaries between folk, rock and jazz traditions and further developed rock's lyrical content.

During the 1980s and 1990s San Francisco became a major focal point in the North American and international punk, thrash metal, and rave scenes. In 2004, the city hosted its first Love Parade, which originated in Berlin, Germany, ten years earlier. It was also a hot spot during the 1980s for comedians like Ellen DeGeneres and Robin Williams who got major career boosts thanks to the presence of the city's popular comedy clubs.

San Francisco's frontier spirit and wild and ribald character started its reputation as a gay mecca in the first half of the twentieth century. World War II saw a jump in the gay population when the US military actively sought out and dishonorably discharged homosexuals. From 1941 to 1945, more than 9,000 gay servicemen and women were discharged, and many were processed out in San Francisco. The late 1960s also brought in a new wave of lesbians and gays who were more radical and less mainstream and who had flocked to San Francisco not only for its gay-friendly reputation, but for its reputation as a radical, left-wing center. These new residents were the prime movers of Gay Liberation and often lived communally, buying decrepit Victorians in the Haight and fixing them up. When drugs and violence began to become a serious problem in the Haight, many lesbians and gays simply moved "over the hill", to the Castro replacing Irish-Americans who had moved to the more affluent and culturally homogenous suburbs. The Castro became known as a Gay Mecca, and its gay population swelled as significant numbers of gay people moved to San Francisco in the 1970s and 1980s. The growth of the gay population caused tensions with some of the established ethnic groups in the southern part of the city. On November 27, 1978 Dan White, who lived in the southern part of San Francisco, a former member of the Board of Supervisors and former police officer, assassinated the city's mayor George Moscone and San Francisco's first openly gay elected official, Supervisor Harvey Milk. The murders and the subsequent trial were marked both by candlelight vigils and riots within the gay community. In the 1980s, the AIDS virus wreaked havoc on the gay male community there. Today, the gay, lesbian, and bisexual population of the city is estimated to be approximately 15%, and they remain an important force in the city's life. San Francisco has a higher percentage of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals than any other major US city.


Culture, Counterculture, Summer of Love, Castro, Love Parade, Gay mecca