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For the neighborhood in Maryland, see Druid Heights, Baltimore.

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 in Marin County, California, USA, founded in 1954 by poet Elsa Gidlow, her partner Isabel Quallo and carpenter Roger Somers. The community was a popular retreat for various countercultural movements and a meeting place for many figures of the San Francisco Renaissance.

Mission

Druid Heights was a bohemian community on the southeast flank of Mount Tamalpais in Marin County, California, about a mile from the Pacific Ocean. It was founded by carpenter Roger Somers and poet Elsa Gidlow, along with their partners on five acres of a former chicken ranch. The name Druid Heights was given to the acreage in honor of two female writers, the revolutionary and teacher of Irish lore, Ella Young (the Druid), and Emily Brontë (author of Wuthering Heights).

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.

Located above Muir Woods National Monument, Druid Heights was acquired by the National Park Service in the 1970s and is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

History

Poet Elsa Gidlow and her partner Isabel Quallo, along with carpenter Roger Somers and his wife Mary, started "Druid Heights" in 1954. 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. Gidlow was fond of decorative gardening and organic agriculture, and grew vegetables for the people in the community.

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." 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. 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

"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

There are approximately 16 historic buildings and structures in Druid Heights 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 .
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Water Tank, installed under the supervision of Edward Stiles to hold water pumped from the creek for the benefit, communally, of the 12 residents.

Residents

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