San Francisco in the 1970s

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San Francisco Bay, August 1972
San Francisco PCC-type streetcar 1167 southbound on Church Street

San Francisco in the 1970s was a global hub of culture. It was known worldwide for hippies and radicals. The city was heavily affected by drugs, prostitution and crime. Outcasts and the socially marginalized were attracted by a greater tolerance and acceptability of multi-cultures in the city. It grew as one of world's biggest centres for the LGBT community and LGBT rights. The Daily Mail described flamboyant 70s San Francisco as being characterized by "hippy street life when buskers, bongo players and impressive bouffants thronged the city by the bay."[1] The rock music known as the San Francisco Sound was performed live and recorded by San Francisco-based rock groups of the mid-1960s to early 1970s. It was associated with the counterculture community in the city at the time.[2]

San Francisco was the cradle of the pornography industry in the United States in the 1970s, and led to a dramatic growth of seedy gentlemen's clubs, adult movie theaters, "peep show" booths, and sex shops downtown. Many skyscrapers were built in the city during this period. The city is also associated with West Coast jazz and was one of the major centers of jazz fusion which took off in the 70s. Many American detective/crime television series were shot in San Francisco in the 1970s and the city became well known as a backdrop to police films such as Dirty Harry.


On November 20 1969, the group Indians of All Tribes (IAT) began a 19-month occupation of Alcatraz Island, 1.25 miles (2.01 km) in the San Francisco Bay, just off the shoreline of the city. The protesters, predominately students, drew inspiration and tactics from contemporary civil rights demonstrations, some of which they had themselves organized. The stated intention of the Occupation was to gain Indian control over the island for the purpose of building a center for Native American Studies, an American Indian spiritual center, an ecology center, and an American Indian Museum. The occupiers specifically cited their treatment under the Indian termination policy and they accused the U.S. government of breaking numerous Indian treaties.[3]

A lingering sign of the 1969–71 Native American Alcatraz occupation

In December 1969, one of the occupiers, Isani Sioux John Trudell, began making daily radio broadcasts from the island, and in January 1970, occupiers began publishing a newsletter. Joseph Morris, a Blackfoot member of the local longshoreman's union, rented space on Pier 40 to facilitate the transportation of supplies and people to the island.[4] Some non-aboriginal members of San Francisco's drug and hippie scene also moved to the island, until non-Indians were prohibited from staying overnight. By late May 1970, the government had cut off all electrical power and all telephone service to the island. In June, a fire of disputed origin destroyed numerous buildings on the island. Left without power, fresh water, and in the face of diminishing public support and sympathy, the number of occupiers began to dwindle. On June 11, 1971, a large force of government officers removed the remaining 15 people from the island, forcibly ending a 19-month occupation.

In 1970, Alex de Renzy of San Francisco produced a "documentary", Pornography in Denmark: A New Approach, about the red light district of Copenhagen. The film, which grossed $2 million on a $15,000 budget, resulted in a well-documented court case, in which the judge ruled that it was "in keeping with the Supreme Court edict that draws the line between what constitutes free speech and what constitutes obscenity."[5] As a result, open-minded San Franciscans became filmmakers and porn merchants, with the likes of the Mitchell brothers and Lowell Pickett capitalizing on the legalization of pornography in the city, and it was referred to early on by The New York Times as "The Smut Capital of the United States" and "the porn capital of America", with a rush later compared to the Silicon Valley boom of the late 1990s.[5] “Storefront” theaters and peep-show booths sprang up around the city throughout 1970, with buildings such as the Presidio and the Centre and Regal on Market Street converted to X-rated theatres. All sorts of kinky shops, publications and items sprang up around the city, including the first "leather" bondage magazine, Whipcrack in 1971.[6] According to Josh Sides, in April and May 1970, "more than 950 patrons of adult bookstores, 367 patrons of pornographic video arcades, and more than 3,100 patrons of adult movie theaters" were observed in San Francisco.[7] Although government officials, such as Supervisor Dianne Feinstein, frowned against the growth of the industry in San Francisco in the 1970s, the police force were known to be more lenient towards adult film makers and theatre owners in the city than in other US cities.[5] Many women's rights groups, notably Women Against Violence in Pornography and Media, campaigned actively against the industry, believing it to be demoralizing and demeaning to women.[8][9]

Modern Latino Culture is represented in the form of Latino artistic and cultural institutions in the Mission in the bay area of San Francisco, which is called the "Mission Cultural Center" for the Latino Arts. It was established by Chicano (Mexican-American) artists to cater to the taste of all classes of all ages of the community and is considered the “epicenter of Latino culture.” Galería de la Raza, which was founded here in the 1970s by el Movimiento (the Chicano civil rights movement is a nationally recognized institution in the Bay Area. The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) established here in the Mission District celebrates the Latino culture with a “Carnaval,” every year, which is said to be the largest multi-cultural event in San Francisco.[10]

A gay San Francisco postal worker who was to be dismissed from service by the Civil Service Commission on the grounds of “moral incompetency” fought for his rights in the court, in November 1970, and was reinstated in the job. This marked the beginning of gay reforms.[11]

425 Market Street

Many important skyscrapers in San Francisco were built in the 1970s. The Hilton San Francisco and Towers was built in 1971. 425 Market Street was completed in 1973. The 160 m (520 ft), 38 floor office tower at 425 Market Street was built by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company as their "Pacific Coast Headquarters" and was called "1 Metropolitan Plaza".[12] It was built as a modern replacement for their older headquarters on Nob Hill at 600 Stockton Street (now remodeled as the Ritz-Carlton Hotel). It was among the first buildings in San Francisco to have a high-speed transport system for computer data cards, files and inner-office mail, at the time a state-of-the-art system. On May Day 1971, protesters demonstrated against the Vietnam War which led to violent clashes with the police, leading to some 100 arrests.[1] Some 150,000 marchers turned out at the anti-war protests in San Francisco.[13] In 1971, the murder of police officer Sgt. John V. Young in San Francisco led to the arrests and indictments of several former Black Panther Party members.[14]


San Francisco in 1972

The black and Japanese/Chinese/Asian population of San Francisco continued to grow significantly in the 1970s; by 1972 one in seven citizens was black.[15] Many socially marginalized individuals, outcasts and LGBT people continued to increase in numbers in the city, which became a haven for them and where they could share a common identity in numbers, not only attracted by its gay-friendly reputation but for its reputation as a radical, left-wing center. The lesbian community of San Francisco between 1972 and 1975 has been described as a "series of overlapping social networks, in which friendship groups focus[ed] around pair relationships or special interests."[16] These new LGBT 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 homogeneous 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.

Left:Musicians on Union Square, 1973. Right: Great American Music Hall, April 1976

The music scene, especially jazz fusion, but also rock music and disco thrived in the city in the 1970s, and from the 1970s, onwards San Francisco also became a major focal point in the North American and international punk, thrash metal, and rave scenes. In 1967, thousands of young people had entered the Haight-Ashbury district during what became known as the Summer of Love. 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. The 1972 album Graham Nash David Crosby was partly recorded in Wally Heider's studios in San Francisco and Los Angeles.[17] When in the 1970s, the rise of disco was one of the biggest musical genres of the decade (ranging from funk, Latin and soul vocal music supported by bass lines and electronic synthesizers), the band led by San Francisco’s Steve Miller Band turned out, in 1973 in San Francisco, major musical hits such as the “The Joker,” “Fly Like An Eagle” and “Jet Airliner” and “ Don’t Stop Believin”.[18]Jazz clubs across the city increasingly featured jazz fusion artists who moved away from traditional jazz, embracing a range of influences including Brazilian musical forms; bongo playing for instance became one of the musical icons of the city during this period.

Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford, 1970

The San Francisco Bay Area, despite its liberal society, continued to be a leading academic centre in the 1970s, centred around the major universities of Stanford University and Berkeley. In May 1972, for instance, the first demonstration of acupuncture in San Francisco was held at Stanford which attracted some 1,400 physicians.[19]

The 1970s also brought other major changes to the city such as the construction of its first subway system, BART, which connected San Francisco with other cities in the Bay Area. At stations in downtown San Francisco, BART connects with MUNI, the city subway, which has lines that run underground along Market Street, and then along surface streets through much of the city.[20]

Transamerica Pyramid one of the tallest skyscrapers in San Francisco

San Francisco's tallest building, the Transamerica Pyramid is one of the tallest skyscrapers on the San Francisco skyline and one of its most iconic. Although the building no longer houses the headquarters of the Transamerica Corporation, it is still strongly associated with the company and is depicted in the company's logo. Designed by architect William Pereira and built by Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction Company, at 260 m (850 ft), upon completion in 1972 it was among the five tallest buildings in the world.[21]San Francisco also saw a wave of violence during this time such as the Zebra Killings.[22]

Harvey and Audrey Milk (1973)


In 1974, the education system came under scrutiny with public outcries for improvements. City newspapers ran headlines such as "Angry San Francisco Parents Ask State for Help", "Angy Board Members Talk: Why Schools Don't Improve", "School Costs Rose as Enrollment Fell", "San Francisco Staff Still Outnumbers Teachers", and "Board of Education Exempts Many Bilingual Students from School Bus Program". Subsequently, a commission was appointed to study the city's educational problems, which was considered akin to declaring the San Francisco Unified School District a disaster area.[23] In the same year, with bankruptcy imminent for the San Francisco Ballet, a grassroots effort brought national attention to the association.[24] Prior to the discovery of the first AIDS case in 1981, Dr. Selma Dritz, the city's medical epidemiologist, became alarmed at the increase in sexually transmitted diseases among the city's gay men, opining that epidemics had been triggered after 1974 by "political and social changes in the city".[25] The Grateful Dead Movie was filmed in 1974 in San Francisco during the Grateful Dead's October 1974 five performances at the Winterland Ballroom.[26] After the 1974 kidnapping of newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst in Berkeley, her father gave away more than $6 million worth of food to those in need in the San Francisco area, only to learn that the Symbionese Liberation Army felt his efforts weren't sufficient, thereby retaining Hearst as their prisoner.[27] In August 1975, almost the entire San Francisco Police Department police force staged a strike as the city refused to increase their pay.[28] On the anniversary of the Mexican Revolution, the Mexican Museum was founded in 1975 in the Mission District.[29] Harvey Milk, an openly gay man, ran for election to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors but did not win; when he ran again in two years, he won a seat on the board..[30]


The Golden Dragon massacre that occurred on 4 September 1977 originated with a dispute at the Golden Dragon Restaurant between the Joe Boys,and the Wah Ching, two Chinatown gangs. The Joe Boys attacked the Wah Ching at this restaurant as they had vandalized the graves of some of the Joe Boys members who had been killed. In the resulting gun battle of five innocent bystanders, including two tourists, were killed and 11 injured and this incident came to be known as the Golden Dragon Massacre following which the San Francisco Police Department's Gang Task Force came to be established.[31]


Maynard Ferguson recorded live at the Great American Music Hall, in 1978; his album "Bebop Buffet" became one of his strongest jazz albums.[32] Allan Bérubé, the author of the book tilted “Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War II” was instrumental in bringing forth some of ordeals of the men and women of armed forces who had the vision to challenge, in the mid-1970s, the discriminatory practice followed in excluding them as they were gay. This received wide publicity as “gays in the military” and Allan Bérubé’s campaign in San Francisco, started in the 1970s, culminated in establishing the San Francisco Lesbian and Gay History project, in 1978-79. Following the awareness created by this project, many ex-servicemen challenged their termination from the armed services which resulted only in further tightening the rules against gays by the armed services.[33]

Rioters outside San Francisco City Hall the evening of May 21, 1979, reacting to the voluntary manslaughter verdict for Dan White, that ensured White would serve only five years for the double murders of Harvey Milk and George Moscone

In The Castro, Milk exhibited photographs of gays taken by photographer Jerry Pritikin, in his photoshop. Following a protest march by Anita Bryant in Dade County, Florida in 1977, held to rescind a gay rights ordinance there was a similar support march was held in San Francisco which was led by Milk. In this march, attended by 5000 people, there was a single slogan board which said “Save Our Rights. A photo of this event was publicized for many months and as a result Harvey Milk became the first gay male politician who got elected to the public office of the county. However, he was assassinated, by Dan White, a former police officer and Board of Supervisor member, and Mayor George Moscone was also killed during this shootout on 27 November 1978.[1][34]

The trial of Dan White was alleged rigged as he was saved from a death sentence guilt of a lesser charge as death sentence was not awarded. The trial was witnessed by large number of LGBT community. This led to huge rioting, with burning of police vehicles by the LGBT community on 21 May 1979 which came to be known as the White Night riots.[35] Also reported in 1979, off-duty police officers attacked a San Francisco "dyke bar" and roughed up the bouncer and harassed the women, which was widely criticised but no action was taken against them.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "With flowers in their hair: Retro glimpse of San Francisco's hippy street life when buskers, bongo players and impressive bouffants thronged the city by the bay". Daily Mail. 30 May 2012. Retrieved 14 June 2013. 
  2. ^ Reasoner, Harry & Wallace, Warren 1967. ""The Hippie Temptation" (segment) CBS News report on Haight-Ashbury". Retrieved 2013-04-12. 
  3. ^ White, Phillip (30 August 2006). American Indian Chronology: Chronologies of the American Mosaic. ABC-CLIO. p. 131. ISBN 978-0-313-08155-2. Retrieved 17 June 2013. 
  4. ^ Occupation 1969, Alcatraz is not an island, PBS
  5. ^ a b c "Looking back on S.F. porn's golden era". San Francisco Chronicle. 12 July 2011. Retrieved 14 June 2013. 
  6. ^ Fritscher, Jack (1 November 2006). Gay San Francisco: Eyewitness Drummer : a Memoir of the Sex, Art, Salon, Pop Culture War, and Gay History of Drummer Magazine, the Titanic 1970s to 1999. Palm Drive Publishing. p. 307. ISBN 978-1-890834-39-5. Retrieved 14 June 2013. 
  7. ^ Sides, Josh (21 September 2009). Erotic City:Sexual Revolutions and the Making of Modern San Francisco. Oxford University Press. p. 57. ISBN 978-0-19-988854-2. Retrieved 14 June 2013. 
  8. ^ Carroll, Peter N. (1982). It Seemed Like Nothing Happened: America in the 1970s. Rutgers University Press. p. 276. ISBN 978-0-8135-1538-0. Retrieved 14 June 2013. 
  9. ^ Bauer, Carola Katharina (May 2012). The Strange Case of Female Cross-Voyeurs?. GRIN Verlag. p. 49. ISBN 978-3-656-18333-4. Retrieved 14 June 2013. 
  10. ^ "San Francisco’s history is rooted in Latino culture". Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  11. ^ a b "Gay-Events Timeline, 1970-1999". Sexula Orientations Issues in the News (SOIN). Retrieved 15 June 2013. 
  12. ^ Best's Life Insurance Reports. A.M. Best Company. 1989. p. 1477. Retrieved 14 June 2013. 
  13. ^ Small, Melvin; Hoover, William D. (1 January 1992). Give peace a chance: exploring the Vietnam antiwar movement ; essays from the Charles DeBenedetti Memorial Conference ; [conference held in Toledo, Ohio on 4 - 5 May 1990]. Syracuse University Press. p. 79. ISBN 978-0-8156-2558-2. Retrieved 14 June 2013. 
  14. ^ Esquivel, Adolfo Perez (1 September 2008). Let Freedom Ring: A Collection of Documents from the Movements to Free U. S. Political Prisoners. PM Press. p. 725. ISBN 978-1-60486-149-5. Retrieved 14 June 2013. 
  15. ^ Wirt, Frederick M. (1974). Power in the City: Decision Making in San Francisco. University of California Press. p. 33. ISBN 978-0-520-03640-6. Retrieved 14 June 2013. 
  16. ^ Armstrong, Elizabeth A. (15 December 2002). Forging Gay Identities: Organizing Sexuality in San Francisco, 1950-1994. University of Chicago Press. p. 142. ISBN 978-0-226-02694-7. Retrieved 14 June 2013. 
  17. ^ Zimmer, Dave (2008). Crosby, Stills and Nash: The Biography. Da Capo Press. p. 169. ISBN 978-0-7867-2611-0. Retrieved 14 June 2013. 
  18. ^ "Music Through The Decades". 1970s. The History of san Francisco’s One Beat Music: Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  19. ^ Baer, Hans A. (1 January 2004). Toward An Integrative Medicine: Merging Alternative Therapies With Biomedicine. Rowman Altamira. p. 46. ISBN 978-0-7591-0302-3. Retrieved 14 June 2013. 
  20. ^ "BART---Not a Moment Too Soon". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 15 June 2013. 
  21. ^ "Official World's 200 Tallest High-rise Buildings". Emporis. January 2010. Retrieved 15 June 2013. 
  22. ^ "The Zebra Killers". Crime Library. Retrieved 15 June 2013. 
  23. ^ McClain, Charles (1994). Chinese Immigrants and American Law. Garland Publishing. pp. 443–. ISBN 978-0-8153-1849-1. 
  24. ^ Ross, Janice (12 November 2007). San Francisco Ballet at Seventy-Five. Chronicle Books. pp. 171–. ISBN 978-0-8118-5698-0. 
  25. ^ Cochrane, Michelle (11 December 2003). When AIDS Began: San Francisco and the Making of an Epidemic. Taylor & Francis. pp. 21–. ISBN 978-0-203-64446-1. 
  26. ^ Jane, Ian (October 26, 2011). "Grateful Dead Movie". Rock! Shock! Pop!. Retrieved 17 June 2013. 
  27. ^ Frost, Mark (22 September 2009). Game Six: Cincinnati, Boston, and the 1975 World Series: The Triumph of America. Hyperion. pp. 106–. ISBN 978-1-4013-9481-3. 
  28. ^ Chambliss, William J. (3 May 2011). Police and Law Enforcement. SAGE Publications. pp. 160–. ISBN 978-1-4129-7859-0. 
  29. ^ Moreno, Michael P.; Brunnemer, Kristin C. (2 September 2010). Term Paper Resource Guide to Latino History. ABC-CLIO. pp. 222–. ISBN 978-0-313-37933-8. 
  30. ^ Mesquita, Bruce Bueno de; Smith, Alastair (2011). The Dictator's Handbook: Why Bad Behavior Is Almost Always Good Politics. PublicAffairs. pp. 10–. ISBN 978-1-61039-045-3. 
  31. ^ "Golden Dragon Massacre". San Francisco's on line Ambassador. Retrieved 15 June 2013. 
  32. ^ "Live from San Francisco". Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  33. ^ Allan Bérubé (1 September 2010). "Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War II". Foreword (Univ of North Carolina Press). ISBN 978-0-8078-9964-9. Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  34. ^ "San Francisco in the 1970s". Roosesevelt University. Retrieved 15 June 2013. 
  35. ^ "Thirty years ago, the White Night riots inflamed San Francisco". The Bay Area Reporter. Retrieved 15 June 2013.