Druid Heights

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Coordinates: 37°53′21.174″N 122°33′52.9596″W / 37.88921500°N 122.564711000°W / 37.88921500; -122.564711000

Druid Heights was a bohemian community on the southwest flank of Mount Tamalpais in Marin County, California, about a mile from the Pacific Ocean.[1]:267–268 It was founded by carpenter Roger Somers and poet Elsa Gidlow in 1954 on five acres of a former chicken ranch. The name Druid Heights was given to the acreage by Elsa, probably influenced by Elsa's mentor the writer, Irish revolutionary and teacher of Celtic mythology and culture, Ella Young (the Druid).

The community was a popular retreat and meeting place for three countercultural movements in the United States, including the Beat Generation of the 1950s, the hippie movement of the 1960s, and the women's movement of the 1970s. It also, through the efforts of Elsa Gidlow, became a meeting place for many famous figures of the San Francisco Renaissance including her friends Kenneth Rexroth and former resident of the heights, Pulitzer Prize winner Gary Snyder.[2]

Located above Muir Woods National Monument, Druid Heights was acquired by the National Park Service in the 1970s[3][4] and is currently under review for a proposed listing on the National Register of Historic Places.[5]


Poet Elsa Gidlow and carpenter Roger Somers started "Druid Heights" in 1954.[4] Accessible by a dirt road connected to Muir Woods Road, Druid Heights occupied a five-acre ranch formerly known as the Haapa Property. Somers, a free spirited and hard working craftsman was influenced by Japanese architecture and American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. He built many of the structures with the help of organizational skills and common sense from the unique and revolutionary furniture designer Ed Stiles.[6] Gidlow was fond of decorative gardening and organic agriculture, and grew vegetables for the people in the community.[7]:136

The Society For Comparative Philosophy, begun in 1962, was established here as a non-profit by Elsa Gidlow and Alan Watts aiming for a broad vision approach to, "studies of humanity's relation to nature and the universe."[2]:360 The converted ferry boat Vallejo was then purchased to "be headquarters for the Society and site of seminars and other events," and the Heights could therefore be kept a closely guarded secret enjoyed by insiders and invited guests.[2]:361 The Society fell on hard times after the 1973 death of Alan Watts, but in his name and with the help of a solid board of directors, it revived and continued until Elsa's death in 1987.

Buildings and structures[edit]

"With [Gidlow's] skill as a gardener and [Somers'] as an architect they transformed this area into a paradise, a Garden of Eden...All this they accomplished with imagination and muscle...It has what people who are only rich find so frustrating, because you cannot buy it with money."

Alan Watts[1]:268

There are approximately 16 historic buildings and structures in Druid Heights[5] with the most important structure, poet Elsa Gidlow's own house, now near ruin. Remaining structures include:

  • Cloud Hidden, a large rock named by Alan Watts.
  • The Library, constructed in 1972 out of a redwood water tank, initially to house the books and papers of Alan Watts .[2]
  • Mandala House, a cabin shaped like a lotus-flower. It was originally built by Stiles for Elsa Gidlow's sister, then improved and rented to Alan and Jano Watts from 1970 until his death there in 1973.[2]
  • Moon House, meditation area with stained glass windows
  • Love Garden, filled with plants brought there by Elsa Gidlow from her other house, 'Madrona' in Fairfax, California and tended by Elsa with the help of countless friends.[2]
  • Water Tank, installed under the supervision of Edward Stiles to hold water pumped from the creek for the benefit, communally, of the 12 residents.[2]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Watts, Alan (1972) [2007]. In My Own Way: An Autobiography, 1915–1965. New World Library. ISBN 1577315847.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Gidlow, Elsa (1986). Elsa, I Come With My Songs: The Autobiography of Elsa Gidlow. San Francisco: Druid Heights Press. ISBN 0-912932-12-0.
  3. ^ Oldenburg, Chuck (2012). "Druid Heights". The Mill Valley Historical Society.
  4. ^ a b Davis, Erik (May 2005). "Druids and Ferries Archived March 18, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.". Arthur. 16.
  5. ^ a b Brown, Patricia Leigh (January 25, 2012). "Oasis for Resisting Status Symbols Just Might Get One. The New York Times. A15.
  6. ^ Mill Valley Historical Society (2012). "Druid Heights Archived April 15, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.". The History of Homestead Valley, 2012 Articles.
  7. ^ Watts, Alan (1973). Cloud-hidden, Whereabouts Unknown: A Mountain Journal. Pantheon Books. OCLC 532215