The street sign on the corner of Haight and Ashbury streets here is perched atop its pole.
That may not seem like an important bit of news, but in the old days, that sign was stolen so often by souvenier-seekers that the city just stopped replacing it.
It has been good news, not bad news, that has helped Haight-Ashbury lose its standing as a tourist attraction. It is fast becoming just another (albeit fascinating) San Francisco neighborhood.
A renaissance of sorts has taken place in this former mecca of the dropped-out generation. People on the streets are no longer out-of-towners, but San Franciscans eating, drinking and shopping in what has become the newest chic neighborhood.
Gone are the droves of drug addicts, misfits and lost souls who wandered aimlessly along Haight Street, main street of a nieghborhood immortalized by the music of the the mid-1960's, including that of San Francisco's Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead.
Instead, there are new groups of leather-jacketed, short-haired, bluejeaned men -- mostly gay -- walking the streets and wandering in and out of new, trendy shops. Typical of the changes is one long-time local stationary store, which changed its name to Reflections and covered its walls and windows with metallic, art-deco signs and displays.
Gays are moving into the Haight in record numbers, according to city officials, and turning around entire blocks within a few short months. The pattern is the same: They will buy up a series of well-worn Victorian houses, renovate them and clean up the neighborhood. The result: real estate values begin to soar.
For some people -- notably blacks and other minorities who are residents of the neighborhoods being renovated -- the trouble has just begun. The rapid increases in real estate values have resulted in soaring rents and taxes, and many elderly and poor people are being forced to leave their long-time homes.
According to city officials, many do sell their homes to speculators for some profit, only to see the buyers turn around six months later and sell the houses for considerably more money.
It has been a long, tough road for the Haight since the days of "flowers in your hair," and many of the locals are glad to see the iron gates come down from the fronts of grocery and liquor stores, even if it means higher rents.
Figures from the city planners' office reveal that the average sale price of a house in the Haight was $46,207 in 1970, jumped to $80,109 in 1975 (a 75 percent increase) and soared again to more than $125,000 as of this week. It should be noted that single-family houses in San Francisco are the most expensive in the country.
There are other numbers from a recent professional marketing study that demonstrate the dramatic changes in the Haight. The percentage of people living in that neighborhood who earn more than $15,000 went from 15 percent in 1970 to more than 25 percent last year.
Perhaps more important, though, has been the change of the age distribution of Haight residents. The percentage of people under 19 has dropped by 34 percent and 20-to-24-year-olds by 19 percent. At the same time, the population share of 25 -to-44-year-olds has increased by 46 percent.
And the commercial vacancy rate on Haight Street itself has dropped from 40 percent in 1970 to virtually nothing today. Of the merchants who moved their stores into the Haight during a recent five-year period, 47 percent said they did so because it was a "good area," "getting better," or "coming back," planners said.
Other statistics paint an even rosier picture for the future of the Haight. In 1970, only 14 percent of the homes there were occupied by their owners. Today, more than 55 percent are owner-occupied.
"I am pleased by the rejuvenation of Haight Street," says mayor Dianne Feinstein, "because it is enabling the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood to once again be a productive and livable community. The sight of new storefronts, increased pedestrian traffic and more attractive homes along Haight Street shows us that we can rescue neighborhoods from urban decay with intelligent planning and the committment of local residents."
In fact, the rebirth of Haight has a great deal to do with progressive city planning. Audrey Owen of the city planning department has been that office's liason with the Haight-Ashbury community and is looking to buy a home in the area herself.
"There is a remarkable grass-roots cooperative effort going on here," Owen said. "For the first time in years the Haight-Ashbury Merchants Association and the traditionally more liberal Neighborhood Council are working together to plan for the future. They are working on a detailed Haight Street master plan that could be a landmark in neighborhood planning."
Owen said that a city study revealed that in one recent one-year period, 62 new businesses opened on Haight Street and gross receipts for local merchants soared by $3.8 million during the same period.
In an effort to control this rapid commercial growth, the community has asked the city planning department to prohibit any commercial activity above the ground floor on Haight Street, and to ban the opening of any new bars, Owen said.
A recent city survey revealed that there were nearly three bars on every block of Haight Street and the city Board of Permit Appeals recently upheld a planning board veto on the opening of a new bar, paving the way for a likely street-long moratorium on bars.
"People want to make sure that there are adequate local services before we begin attracting people from other areas of the city," Owen said.