By Jim Miller
In the first part of my interview [at the San Diego Free Press] with Peter Zschiesche, he discussed Golden Hill past and present and described what he calls “the Golden Hill vibe.” Much of that feeling came out the politics and culture of the late sixties and early seventies. In this second and final installment of our interview, Peter talks about that time period and outlines some of the key places and players that made Golden Hill a vital, progressive community.
What was Golden Hill like in the late sixties and early seventies?
Golden Hill was an old low-rent working class neighborhood just east of downtown in the late ’60s and early ’70s– full of big old houses that renters could share and with lots of space in a residential neighborhood. In those days it was a diverse, low-key place where a diverse group was willing to live among each other and get along – mostly.
All around Golden Hill and within it, the social and political movements were heating up – not like in many other bigger cities – but among those circles of students and others who were listening, responding, organizing, etc. In Golden Hill you found several manifestations of the ’60s social movements – in fact more than its share – which gave the neighborhood a growing reputation of being one place the “Left” was in the house. The politics that seemed to unite them all was being against the Vietnam War and for the rights of all to be included in the democratic processes of our public life.
What kinds of places were in the neighborhood?
Coop members began buying food in bulk from various places and then bagging it for coop members each week or so. Honey came from Encinitas, eggs from an egg ranch near Warner Springs, bread and veggies from OB People’s Food, etc. Later this effort grew beyond any one house’s willingness to be the coop’s staging area, so it relocated at least twice – to the small building that is part of the church on 30th and Ash then to a storefront over on Beech Street. The coop lasted several years but eventually fizzled out when the critical mass of volunteers moved on to other things. A similar fate fell to a short-lived childcare coop on Fern and Date. Fast forward to these days when we have a host of local farmers’ markets, including one in Golden Hill, and CSA’s for folks to get good, fresh food using an alternative system…..which was the idea 40 years ago but without the institutional support to make it last. Good food at last, good food at last!
Was there an intellectual/political center for movement folks?
Later, in the early ‘80s, with the advent of Judy’s Big Kitchen on Grape Street in, yes, what we all knew then as “Golden Hill,” there also came the Grass Roots Cultural Center almost next store – at the corner of 30th and Grape, where So Childish, a children’s store, is today. As far as I know the Center was started by folks active in solidarity with progressive struggles in Central America. The Center featured not only the movement literature of the times but also held progressive cultural events that drew folks from all over San Diego. With the Big Kitchen next door, this was truly the progressive center of the area during the ‘80s.
What about the alternative press?
During this same period, up in the heart of Golden Hill the Fanshen Printing Collective set up shop in a neighborhood garage with two presses and plenty to print. No print shops in town would print activists’ leaflets, pamphlets, posters, etc., so they organized their own. (For lots of details see Carla Kirkwood’s comments on the O.B. Rag’s recent article on the passing of Dave Davis, a radical printer in the day.
From Fanshen’s presses came the San Diego Convention Coalition’s organizing literature (see the pamphlet cover here). Fanshen printed lots of stuff including “Space Flutes and Barrio Paths” from the Chicano Studies Department at SDSU (remember Alurista?) and“Goodbye To All That” from feminists both on and off SDSU’s campus.
This Collective supported activists in the Labor movement with their caucuses’ flyers advocating for more democratic, militant unionism. Then there were the Wildcat, Waterfront Worker, and the Solar Strike Special (a long series of pamphlets by the San Diego Solidarity Committee in 1975).
Perhaps most unique to San Diego was their printing of anti-war literature for the Movement for a Democratic Military (MDM) and the Center for Servicemen’s Rights (CSR) that were organizing anti-war sentiment within the large contingent of active duty military.
But Fanshen’s reach also went beyond San Diego when its printers helped set up a new print shop for the United Farm Workers in Keene, California during that same period. Their main task was to create a UFW-printed version of the union’s constitution, itself a milestone in our Labor movement during those years.
The print shop went on to print the newsletter of the UFW, El Malcriado, and other union literature.
During those years the garage where the presses operated was firebombed by the radical right, which was headquartered in north San Diego County (home to Tom Metzger). They survived and continued to print until the Collective members went their own ways towards the end of the decade.
Was there any one event or protest that stands out to you as particularly important for the Golden Hill Left during this time?
When the Republican Party decided to hold its 1972 party convention here in San Diego it looked like a safe bet – this was after the riotous Democratic Party Convention in Chicago in 1968. However, that decision became the focal point for the anti-war, anti-establishment Left to organize a large, national, anti-war presence at the convention. With its big houses and resident activists, Golden Hill homes would provide early meeting places for folks to begin organizing themselves for the “big event.”
It was during this process that self-identifying activists took the identity of “Golden Hill” as a distinct group of organizers and helped create a greater consciousness of this area as one home of the Left during those years. The coalition itself soon rented offices in the older part of downtown that is now the Gaslamp District, but at the time was not far from the Crossroads nightclub that featured some of the best blues that San Diego offered. The Republican Party pulled up stakes and moved their convention to Miami!
I did not remember all this by myself and want to thank several old friends who together helped me recreate even this small part of what was going on at the time in “Greater Golden Hill.”