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Hidden Beat-era Enclave Could Get National Historic Status

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Conventional ranch structure converted to give it far eastern/Asian appearance. photo courtesy Paul Scolari/NPS
Conventional ranch structure converted to give it far eastern/Asian appearance. photo courtesy Paul Scolari/NPS

You've probably never heard of the Northern California enclave Druid Heights. But you may have heard of some of its past inhabitants: Eastern philosopher Alan Watts, Beat poet Gary Snyder and pioneering lesbian writer Elsa Gidlow.

The Marin IJ ran a fascinating piece about the cluster of 50s era buildings this week. The unusual outpost - whose exact location is guarded - is getting a flurry of attention that could lead to it receiving a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

Local historian Erik Davis, wrote an article about the site called "Druids and Ferries: Zen, Drugs, and Hot Tubs" and described it this way:

The Heights was and is one of those rare places that is known but not known. It was the site of hundreds of amazing parties over the last fifty years and yet remained tucked beneath some freaky beatnik cone of silence, its muddy dirt road still unmarked on many maps. I became, as they say, fascinated, and began to dip into the history of this extraordinary place, whose highs and lows could fill a multi-volume tragi-comic saga, a countercultural Peyton Place.

Structure whose form and building technique modeled on traditional water tank.
Structure whose form and building technique modeled on traditional water tank.

Druid Heights became a part of National Park Service land in the early 1970's. It is getting an unusual turn in the public eye for a number of reasons. This summer the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy offered a rare tour of the area. And in March, the National Park Service received the draft version of a report required for the site to be put on the National Register.

Paul Scolari is a historian for the National Park Service at Golden Gate National Recreation Area. He says the report suggests it has just that significance.


"What seemed to make the place significant is there were these different individuals with different artistic specialties and different political interests and they were coming to gether at Druid Heights," Scolari says. "It appears to have been a place of ferment... The work that they did and the exchanges they had at Druid Heights had an influence outside into the broader society outside of Druid Heights."

Scolari says that in order to make it into the National Register, a place needs to be more than 50 years old. He says now places associated with the counter culture of the 50s, 60s and 70s are starting to meet that criteria.

"We’re starting to look back on this period of history and we’re starting to appreciate what it’s significance might be," says Scolari.

Scolari says the next step would be passing the site on to the California State Parks Office of Historic Preservation for consideration.

If your interest is piqued, the superintedant of Muir Woods told the Marin IJ there will be more tours:

"Tours will be on an invitational basis until we work out how to make it OK for the public to go there," [Mia] Monroe, the Muir Woods superintendent, explained. "But that's what we're working toward, because the consensus is that the story is fascinating both as local and park history."

Scolari agrees. "As a historian who has been studying this property because that’s just what we do, part of our process," he says. "I have found it really interesting... just from the little bit the property has emerged, it does seem to have a constituency and an interest."

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