Laguna on Acid

The Great Hippie Christmas Invasion of 1970

Twenty-eight years ago: crazy times in the U.S. of A. President Richard Nixon orders the invasion of Cambodia, touching off massive anti-war demonstrations. At Kent State, the National Guard opens fire on unarmed demonstrators. In Los Angeles, Charlie Manson is on trial. Timothy Leary-busted in Laguna Beach for possessing pot-is sprung from prison with the help of the Weathermen and then flees to Algiers to shelter with the Black Panthers. The My Lai trials begin. Everywhere you look is weirdness, madness, contention and not a little despair.

Orange County-even more conservative than today-has placed its school districts under "anti-agitation" procedures. Rallies are held to warn of the "Communist influence" in the protest movement. What was then The Santa Ana Register runs a story headlined, "Profile of a Hippie: Uses Pot, Has No Job" ("Most hippies smoke pot, live out of wedlock, have no visible means of support, think the 'establishment' is way off-base and like to do their thing, which they call 'unity-a state of brotherhood for peace'").

In many ways, it was a battlefield. And upon that battlefield was played out the Great Christmas 1970 Hippie Invasion of Laguna Beach, when the Age of Aquarius actually dawned for a moment-sort of-and Sunshine Acid rained from the skies-literally-and Bob Dylan, like a restless King Harry before Agincourt, may-or may not-have wandered the misty pre-dawn fields of Laguna Canyon just before the dark ranks of the police moved in, singing "Here Comes Santa Claus" as they routed the last of the '60s.

Laguna Beach was probably the only place in Orange County where it could have happened. It was smaller then, less congested, almost rustic. Homes didn't cover every hillside; condos didn't overshadow the beaches. There were rich folks-a lot of them movie stars-with big houses, but you could still rent a place for $50 or $60 per month. There were fewer tourists. There were actual starving artists and bohemians left over from the Beat Age, and a lot of hippies who had fled the Haight found a home here. People would sit on the sand at the foot of Broadway and toke up. There was a free clinic. Krishnas in saffron robes chanted. People played music on the streets.

One woman recalls a party she attended as a teenager. It was the usual sort of thing: black lights, lava lamps and Hendrix on the box. The cops showed up to quiet things down. One officer held his baton up to the black light: "PEACE AND LOVE" was lettered along the barrel.

But even in funky Laguna Beach, many businessmen and civic leaders grew impatient with the hippies who had adopted their town. The businessmen wanted tourists all right, but tourists who bought in their shops, stayed in their hotels and ate in their restaurants, not these longhairs who panhandled, flashed the peace sign, sat on rocks and played their harmonicas when they weren't off having wild, wanton sex.

People were starting to talk about how to get the hippies out of Laguna.

In the midst of all this, in the fall of 1970, a young man named Curtis Reid threw the I'Ching and learned that "holding together brings good fortune." And he had a brainstorm: he would invite every longhair and hippie and flower child in the nation to a Christmas festival in Laguna Beach.

It is late on a recent fall afternoon. The air shimmers with that peculiar brassy luminescence that falls on land near water. On Coast Highway, as it climbs south from Main Beach, the traffic has thickened. Across the street, a Rolls Royce makes its stately way out of the Albertson's parking lot. Shoppers on the sidewalk mainly consist of well-tanned women and their razor-cut men. There's a small knot of shirtless boys and tank-topped girls with skateboards and surfboards. The sounds of hurrying traffic are undercut with the light, white jazz of some nearby early happy hour.

It had taken a little investigation to find this shop, a narrow, unassuming place, its front peeling and weathered, its windows grimy. Opening its door, you pass from that brassy sun into old shadows. Inside, dust motes drift in a draft that occasionally stirs the few racks of tie-dyed shirts so they shiver like bats hanging in a cave. There is an odor of mustiness and incense. A glass case contains jewelry inscribed with "Love" and "Peace." On the walls hang air-brushed art of waves and stars and the Grateful Dead.

"Curt [Reid] was, I guess, about 20 or 21," says Kent Kelley, the shop's owner. "He had lived here a long time, had a shop called Things, and was involved with a restaurant called Love Animals, Don't Eat Them. And one day-it was, like, in the fall-he came into the shop I had at the time and told me about the festival. I was the first person he told."

(I was never able to track Reid down. "He's off on his own new trip somewhere," I was told.)

Kelley is 49 now, a man of medium height with a slight middle-aged paunch, his graying hair falling to his shoulders; he is standing there in his jeans and tie-dyed shirt. "Laguna was great then," he says, his hands waving a graceful chandelle in the air. "Hippies and hermits and artists and surfers, and it was all too bohemian for the rich people. You could get a place to live for 40 bucks per month, and a lid was 7 bucks."

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