“You are the universe but society teaches limitation.” – Alan Watts (Druid Heights remembered)

Jordan Sather posted the following quote on FB, and it reminded me of Druid Heights. I did a bit of research and decided to preserve my story and what I found here, so it can be accessed more easily than an old FB post. Any of my own comments will be in Italics like this. ~PB

“You are the universe but society teaches limitation.”

– Alan Watts.

I used to listen to Alan Watts lectures on Sunday mornings on WBCN. in Boston. When I lived in Marin County, I got to visit the home where he died in Muir valley because a friend lived on the property owned by Roger Somers, who I met. A lot of history there.. Unfortunately it reverted back to the park service upon the owner’s death. Here is what I could find..there used to be an archive website that told the story in detail from an insider perspective, but I can’t find the one I saw years ago.

Druid Heights


Brief article:

Inside Druid Heights, A Marin County Counter-Culture Landmark



This is a great article…I have been inside Roger’s Mandala round home..amazing place. My long lost friend Mary ended up renting a small shack on the property there, after being homeless and sleeping in her van, when not rousted by the Mill Valley Police for doing so. (She had a job). I met Mary through Robert and Kristina, good friends who I also lost touch with long ago after they broke up. I used to visit them in Sausalito. They were studying Ayurveda. Robert was psychic and sensitive, a wise but elusive soul I met through rave community. I rode with them up to a CCC campout at Shasta one year.

Anyway, I met Mary through Robert and used to run into her at Whole Foods (she biked a lot and constantly ate organic apples and simple raw foods…she had broken up with a guy who was into bad drugs and got herself healthy after getting away from him).

Sometimes I’d park off the Muir Woods road and hike up to Roger’s property from below to visit her. I hope she landed in a safe place after Roger died, because this historic property, like all the property in this valley, was bought back by the park service. They paid in advance for each free-standing structure, which is why Roger built so many small shacks. I sure hope they didn’t tear down the fabulous Mandala home, or Alan Watt’s library.

Another friend used to be in therapy with Roger’s wife Pandora, who unfortunately, years later committed suicide. This friend had done a 6-hour therapeutic journey on Ecstacy  (Ex) right after her mother died, to process her grief.  It was still legal back then, before raves. Since those days, there has been research that demonstrates Ecstacy can help Veterans cope with PTSD by helping them to process difficult emotions and cope with haunting memories. An Empathogen, Ecstacy can help facilitate the user to get into their heart space and detach from the drama of emotion, while putting everything in perspective and making peace with the experience. Like any drug, it has side effects and should not be used without educated and experienced supervision.

Druid Heights | Marin Nostalgia


Roger Somers and Elsa Gidlow, Druid Heights |  SPACES




Roger Somers (1926 – 2001) and Elsa Gidlow (ca. 1898 – 1986)

Visiting Information

The site is located in Marin County, CA.

Roger Somers and Elsa Gidlow, Druid Heights

The Twin Peaks or Dragon House or Ranch House, 2016

Used with permission of the photographer, Michael Toivonen

Roger Somers and Elsa Gidlow, Druid Heights

About the Artist/Site

Beginning in 1954, a five-acre property located on the southwestern flank of Mount Tamalpais in western Marin County, California served several generations of alternative communities as a retreat and meeting center. Founded by carpenter Somers and British-born gay Canadian-American poet Gidlow on the site of a former chicken ranch, it was christened Druid Heights by Gidlow in honor of her mentor, Irish teacher and revolutionary Ella Young, known as The Druid. Among the luminaries who visited or stayed at the site was Alan Watts, who, with Gidlow, founded the Society for Comparative Philosophy here in 1962.

Somers’ architecture was influenced by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright as well as Japanese architecture, but also made use of vernacular structures found on-site. For example, the library, intended as a repository for Watts’ writings and papers, was constructed out of an old redwood water tank. At its height, some sixteen constructions or designated sites – including a named monumental rock and the Love Garden – graced the property; among these was the Mandala House, a cabin shaped like a lotus flower, and the Moon House, a meditation area with stained glass windows. From the bohemians through the hipsters, the hippies, and other countercultural movements, residents were dedicated to radical artistic, philosophical, spiritual, political, and sexual experimentation, and the site was equally known for its literary gatherings and for its raucous party scene.

Portions of Druid Heights were acquired by the National Park Service in the 1970s with the intent of protecting endangered species and the watershed of Muir Woods, but in 2006 they evicted everyone from the property except those retaining life estates. Technically part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the Park Service can take no further action until the passing of the last residents, although a study by the GGNRA has concluded that Druid Heights meets the criteria for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places and would make an ideal artists’ retreat. Given its degradation, with most of the buildings crumbling and abandoned, it can be considered threatened.

A local group, Save Druid Heights, has organized a Facebook page, and is actively working to preserve what is left of the physical site, as it celebrates the creativity and innovation of those who lived and visited Druid Heights during the years of its flowering.

~Jo Farb Hernández



There is a facebook group Save Druid Heights.

In the late 90’s, I went to a party on a large old boat in Sausalito once, and some of the people affiliated with Druid Heights community were living there, which is where I learned about the website that I can’t seem to find, that documented the stories. I knew Mary and Roger before that, mid-90’s. If I find the link (if the page even still exists) I will add it here.


7 thoughts on ““You are the universe but society teaches limitation.” – Alan Watts (Druid Heights remembered)

  1. Jean Varda
    “In approximately 1948 Varda and British-born artist Gordon Onslow Ford acquired an old ferryboat called the Vallejo. They permanently moored the Vallejo in Sausalito, across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. Using materials scavenged from a closed-down wartime shipbuilding operation, they remodeled the ferryboat into a studio for Onslow-Ford and a studio and living quarters for Varda.[13] The writer and Zen Buddhist popularizer Alan Watts took over Onslow-Ford’s space on the ferryboat in 1961.[14]

    Varda turned the Vallejo into a kind of salon. He was an excellent cook and would regale guests with stories at dinners. His costume parties were famous. On Sunday afternoons he would take friends out on one of his homemade sailboats. Throughout his life he continued to create collages.[14]

    In 1967 he was the subject of a short documentary film by Agnès Varda entitled “Uncle Yanco.” Agnès Varda referred to Varda as Uncle in the film because of the difference in their ages, but in fact she was Varda’s much younger first cousin. She was the daughter of Jean L. Varda, who was a brother of Varda’s father, Michel.

    Varda died after suffering a heart attack upon arriving by plane in Mexico City, where he had gone to visit Alice Rahon.”

  2. HERE IT IS! the website article I was trying to find! There was another site that led me here, that documented the restoration of the Vallejo, but it may no longer exist.
    Druids and Ferries
    Zen, Drugs, and Hot Tubs
    by Erik Davis – Tribes
    September 21, 2006 • 11 years ago
    This adaption from The Visionary State appeared in the May 2005 edition of the cool freak rag Arthur.

    • I actually took a hot tub with Roger and my friend Mary (not Roger’s wife, who was known as Pandora) once on the property. He used Eucalyptus leaves in the water to disinfect it. From the above link:

      “…One time Stiles used a redwood industrial process tank and a modified flash boiler to construct a hot tub, now a crenellated ruin crumbling into the hillside behind his home. He opened it up to everyone at Druid Heights, and one day he came by to discover a nubile Judy Collins soaking away. “I thought of it as a good thing,” he says with a smile. Another visitor was a local dentist who commissioned Stiles to build an improved model in his backyard, which is how the first full-time, filtered, self-regulating Marin County redwood hot tub was born. Stiles built about thirty tubs over the years, but when demand sky-rocketed after a 1971 Sunset magazine article appeared, he chose to retire. “I wasn’t interested in it as a business. I thought tubbing was an important social phenomenon. When people get naked together, they no longer carry the pretensions of their careers or identities. It was a great equalizer.”…”

      • THE ORIGIN OF THE GOOD OLD REDWOOD HOT TUBS! !! My former roommate Nandano (R.I.P.), who I met in massage school, worked at and later co-owned Shibui Gardens, which originally had 3 redwood hot tubs. Later, they were required to replace them with fiberglass to meet sanitation standards.

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