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