Dian's Reflections of Synanon in San Francisco in the 60's

Seawall Warehouse at Sansome and Lombard - circa 1960

A conversation with Dian L. - I am not sure why Synanon opened a facility in a condemned Sansome Street warehouse in the San Francisco Bowery.    However, when I got there, Synanon was the hottest thing going on the San Francisco scene.  I've been doing some reading lately about human development. It seems that prior to the 1960's, people did not talk about their feelings. It simply was not done. And in my experience to this day, it really doesn’t happen in England.  At any rate, with the popularity of Freud's writings, and the wealth of a post-war populace, Americans used their leisure time to explore their innermost feelings.

Explorers of the human self-discovery movement bounced from the Esalen Institute, a humanistic alternative education center at Big Sur,  to experimenting with LSD, to psychotherapy, etc.   And then there was Synanon, where people were sitting in circles, saying all things verboten.   Swearing, talking about sex, talking about money and more!   Initially I was a most reserved participant who eventually found it most exhilarating to say the unsayable.  A new-found freedom.    

The Synanon Game Club attracted a colorful group of locals who jumped in to participate in this leading edge game phenomenon.  It just happened.  

One memorable day Shim Titlebaum, a Synanon old timer, invited his friend Allen Ginsberg, a Poet who frequented North Beach coffee houses, to conduct one of our noon seminars.   He brought another poet and friend, Peter Orlovsky.   Allen taught us all how to chant. “Hari Om Namah Shivaya”  Peter kept rhythm with finger cymbals.  Jack Hurst, the facility director, arrived in time to be horrified by this unusual event (not sure why).   After that unique event, Jack closely screened all noon seminar guest speakers.

We survived on the generosity of the community. Many local businesses appreciated having a self-help therapeutic community in town. After all San Francisco was hippie central. We were ground zero, at the beginning, the middle and the end where many young people had a revolutionary time while some fell prey to drug use and addiction.

Every Tuesday Eli the baker, drove to the warehouse door and opened up the trunk of his Cadillac to deliver wonderful, delicious day old pastries.

Joseph Magnin's store donated hundreds of pairs of women's shoes every three months.  We all had thousands of dollars of shoes and no stockings. Synanon Hustlers, our professional team of donation-seekers, drove to the San Jaoquin Valley to inspire farmers to give us their “not-for-market” produce.  We ate an abundance of artichokes during the season, two or three times a day.  In '64 the hustlers landed 6,000 lbs of lamb. So we ate a lot of lamb.

Another unique donation I recall. The gay movie theatre up the block gave us movie passes. I remember seeing "Scorpio Rising" by Kenneth Anger, a sort of biker, S&M, gay, leather affair.

Dan Sorkin - San Francisco Radio Celebrity

As I mentioned, our clubhouse was located in a condemned warehouse.  So, someone thought, why not create an event that will attract new supporters. The Synanon Street Fairs were invented to generate money to purchase new digs.   Dan Sorkin, a SF Radio talk show host, played a big role in promoting these street fairs, host at the end of Lombard Street .   

I didn't work on the '67 one, but was brought up for the 1968 fair.   John Maher (who later start Delancey Street) was in charge of the 1968 fair. Under the pressure, John had one of his frequent breakdowns. So Mike K. (the LA Movie Ad guy) was drafted to take over operations. Since Mike and I had worked together on a variety of graphics projects, he drafted me to assist in San Francisco.

One of these days I will dig up some of the old printed materials we created for fair. One periodical I do remember is the Synanon Scene newspaper, edited by Nikki Hodges, we circulated throughout the Bay Area to promote the fairs. 

Some of the squares, who were big supporters included Stan Berney, Dan Garrett (local lawyer & recovering alcoholic) donated legal services. Dick Bullis, who owned car dealership donated a Mustang we featured as the prize item of our raffle tickets.

Scott Beach, a comedian and actor played bit parts in American Graffiti, Mrs. Doubtfire, Tucker and Stand By Me. In need of a place to help his wild and wayward teenage niece, Scott brought her to Synanon.

To give you a snapshot of Scott, he was known for a variety of antics. In a mini-bio you can find online, it is told that in 1966 he was originally hired as host of the Newlywed Game by Chuck Barris. Beach was hired to warm up the audience. On his first day, Beach sang anti-Vietnam War songs...the next day he was let go.

Hap and Mary Kliban could be spotted at the Seawall on a regular basis. Hap was a popular cartoonist. Hap created one fantastic Street Fair poster we spread around the city:

But why we opened a facility in a condemned San Francisco warehouse, I cannot explain. I just know that we generated enough funds to make down payments on two White Elephants: the shuttered Oakland Athletic Club and the forgotten San Francisco Dutch Boy Paint Factory. But that is another story.

Dian L.


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