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Home Free Home: A History of Two Open-Door California Communes

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Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25

Chapter 6
Ye Olde Doublecross

As the summer of 1967 wore on, the Upper House turned into a crash pad shared by all comers. On the night of August 14th, the day before Lou was due in court to face charges of running an organized camp, a motorcycle gang came roaring in shortly before midnight. They stormed the Upper House armed with a rifle and a shotgun, ordering the several Blacks sleeping there to get out and emphasizing their demands with a few shots. Someone hitched to the sheriff's department and seven deputies were sent out to investigate.

FRIAR TUCK: "I was the only one asleep in the Upper House when the back door flew open and the cops rushed in, submachine guns at the ready. Everyone else had split."

RAMON: "This is one of those incidents which I suspect was foisted upon Morning Star by the police themselves. Often groups of bikers camped out by the Russian River and the cops would roust them. It was an obvious and easy ploy for a deputy to suggest they sleep over at Morning Star. So up to the ranch would come the Heavies, to drink wine, yell and scream, freak the neighbors and generally live up to the county's worst expectations. But then, when you fear the worst, that's usually what you get."

The following day, neighbor Ed Hochuli appeared at the county supervisors' meeting to complain of illegal campfires next door and to suggest making smoking illegal at the ranch. A local forestry official at the hearing was less concerned, saying that "other areas in the county were worse." One of the supervisors wondered out loud what the fire danger at Morning Star had to do with them, and suggested to Hochuli that "if you can't whip 'em, why don't you join 'em?"

But Hochuli was on a crusade, and the fire danger was the least of what offended him. Nudity, drugs, laziness and sex outraged his middle class sense of propriety.

On August fifteenth, which also happened to be Sri Aurobindo's birthday, Lou appeared in court and through his attorney Richard Wertheimer began to work out a deal with the District Attorney: he would plead 'nolo contendere' or, in effect, guilty, in return for a year's probation during which time he would try to bring the ranch up to code. The trial date was pushed ahead into September and Lou returned to the ranch confident that things were working out. But Hochuli was not appeased, and continued to gather signatures on the petition. It was this petition, later used as the basis of injunctive action in the superior court, that finally closed down Morning Star.

Dissension continued between Blacks and Whites at Morning Star, a reflection of similar tensions in the Haight-Ashbury. In early September some of the quieter people began to leave when fighting erupted between some Blacks and another motorcycle group. The sheriff's department began to receive complaints regarding numerous violent incidents.

RAMON: "The racial tensions at Morning Star were reflections of a general problem: the majority of Blacks who took acid would bum out. They had been under the thumb of the White Man for so long that the LSD only released all the bitterness and negative feelings. The black man who dug acid was a rarity. They were moving into the Haight-Ashbury angry at their exclusion from the Summer of Love because they just couldn't cool out behind psychedelics. 'Hey man, I'm here and I'm not getting off, and just to show you how much I don't like it I'm going to rip you off.' But that was just some of the men. Some of the sisters, on the other hand, were very mellow."

On September 9th, Lou's attorney Richard Wertheimer visited Morning Star with his wife in order to begin preparing Lou's defense on the organized camp charge. He was positive he could get Lou off if Lou showed a willingness to bring the place up to code and cleaned it up.

"It's certainly not very clean," Mrs. Wertheimer observed. "Somebody just handed me a piece of cake without a plate or anything. I couldn't eat it. They're awfully nice, but the dirt...!"

Later she had to use the bathroom. Since the toilets long since had overflowed, there was no place but behind a bush. Finally they left for Occidental and the facilities there.

On September 12th, Lou and Wertheimer arrived at the Sonoma County courthouse to enter his plea. Lou walked into the patio and stood beneath the full-sized statue of Luther Burbank. He read the inscription beneath the feet of the famous Santa Rosa horticulturalist: 'The Redwood Empire - so far as I have seen, the most perfect spot on earth.' It reminded him of one of the many letters which the Santa Rosa Press Democrat had published regarding the Morning Star controversy:


"EDITOR: Open Letter to Dr. Gottlieb: It is indeed a sad, sad day for this county when a person of your stature and great heart and talent is harassed half to death by the press and the bureaucrats and a handful of irate and self-righteous citizens of this community. But might I remind you, Dr. Gottlieb, that you are in good company, The same press and same petty bureaucrats and same handful of irate and self-righteous citizens of the day also harassed - literally to death - the greatest man this county has ever produced - Luther Burbank.

"Luther Burbank dared, as you are doing, to be an individual. His great mind refused to follow the sheep of his day - the conformists, the self-righteous, the ignorant, the prejudiced, and the intolerant. For this sin against society he was publicly denounced, ridiculed and harassed. The whole story is on microfilm at the Santa Rosa Public Library... in copies of The Press Democrat, starting about February, 1926. It makes very interesting reading. A few excerpts, out of context, of course. Mr. Burbank on the subject of youth: 'Children should be permitted to grow up like flowers and plants, without scolding or interference.'

"And during the controversy that raged around Burbank's own religious philosophy, a leading Santa Rosa citizen: 'Mr. Burbank, in a time when the youth of the land is jazz-crazed and breaking away in too large number from religious restraint, should not give voice to such foolish utterances.' And the controversy raged on and on. He was branded infidel, heretic, and a few other things.

"The world does not even remember that 'leading citizen's' name. And now, of course, Burbank is hailed as the great local hero. But a few months before his death, the same element that is attacking you now, was attacking him then. In the country and city he literally put on the map, he died a misunderstood man.

"So take heart, Dr. Gottlieb. You walk in good company, and there are many of us who walk with you.

Rohnert Park"

RAMON: "Burbank was persecuted for his belief in natural selection and other Darwinist views, and now Lou was on trial for his belief in 'divine selection,' that God should select his fellow ranchers."

The Morning Star tribe made a mind-blowing contrast to the usual sterile vibrations of the courtroom. Bare feet, bells and strange clothing bulged the eyeballs of the bailiffs. The judge turned an even deeper shade of his usual irate crimson. Wertheimer conferred in the judge's chambers with the District Attorney and emerged smiling. The deal was all set. Lou pleaded 'nolo contendere' and promised to bring the ranch up to code, for which the county promised to lay off for a year.

"Of course you'll have to clean up the place a bit," Wertheimer whispered to his client.

Lou was delighted. His plea seemed a mere formality which would allow Morning Star to survive another year.

"I pleaded guilty because I felt it was beneath the dignity of the court to try a case involving an outhouse," he told a reporter afterwards. "The majesty of the law has moved on its traditional course. I'll be on probation for a year, and then we'll be in good shape. My plea will have no effect on my guests; they can come and go as they please... We're in a new stage - my probation officer will help us run Morning Star for a year. That's good... It will take ten to twelve thousand dollars to being Morning Star up to code and I don't have it. I'm not working. Does anyone need a bass player?... The county officials have been wonderful, beautiful, excellent - use any superlative you want. I've had wonderful cooperation... If this is bureaucracy, let's have more of it."

At Morning Star, Lou was met by a crowd gathered to hear the results. Relief was evident on their faces as they heard that they had a year's grace period.

"My probation officers are coming out this afternoon," Lou cautioned everyone. "I want you to be polite to them."

Later that day, the probation officers rolled into the front parking lot. They were met by Mystery, a formidable black man wearing only a feather in his natural and a pink ribbon around his huge penis. He was known as having a terrible temper.

"We're looking for Mr. Gottlieb," one of the officials said, trying to appear businesslike.

"He may be upon the hill somewhere," Mystery replied. "But all cars have to stay down here."

The crewcut official repeated his request, and Mystery repeated his.

"Yes, we know you have your rules here, but we'd just as soon speak to Mr. Gottlieb." Finally they drove away in a cloud of dust.

"Wow, those guys sure respect law 'n order," Mystery commented sarcastically.

The officials reentered the ranch via the back driveway which allowed them to park right next to Lou's shed. Lou greeted them warmly. They asked questions about the number of inhabitants in both houses. Lou explained that the population varied from day to day, and they suggested that some sort of regulation might be necessary.

"No, that's what's new about this place," Lou replied. "The Divine is in charge. Perhaps you'd like to help Him run Morning Star for the next year?"

Lou treated them to a lecture on the values of Morning Star, quoting from Robert Theobald's economic theories about the abundance created by the Machine Age, and the necessity of enforced leisure and utopian communities.

"Gentlemen," Lou continued, gesturing over the relaxed naked bodies and piles of garbage. "Here is Utopia. You thought you would never see it? Well, if you know of a better way, tell me and I'll try it."

"Are we ready for you yet, Mr. Gottlieb?" one of the probation officers wondered out loud.

"Gentlemen, make yourselves at home," Lou invited. "Go anywhere, ask questions and look around. I must return to my practice session." He settled himself at the piano and a Bach fugue floated across the landscape.

Suddenly a whole new procession of county cars drove up, officials popping up everywhere. The judge was seen climbing over Hochuli's fence, a supervisor walking up the driveway. The sheriff appeared along with five deputies, reporters, photographers, building inspectors, health officials and juvenile officers. Altogether a small army of thirty or more descended on the ranch. Their mission: to close down Morning Star once and for all.

"Welcome!" Lou called, once more emerging from his studio. "Gentlemen, welcome to Morning Star!"

The sheriff minced no words in getting down to business. "Mr. Gottlieb, we are here to tell you that you must vacate your property of its guests in twenty-four hours or you and they will be subject to arrest."

Lou was flabbergasted. Only three hours had passed since he was assured Morning Star would have an unmolested year to pull itself together.

"I haven't even been probated yet," he complained. "I'm beginning to wonder if I had the best attorney in town."

Juvenile officers fanned out over the property looking for underage kids. They found two sixteen-year-old girls whom they took into custody. Undercover agents wandered about trying to look inconspicuous but giving themselves away by the big grins on their faces. One policeman took a photo of Mystery and his beribboned dong.

"Hey! That's obscene!" another shouted.

"Hell no, it's art," the photographer answered in his own defense.

In spite of the prevailing carnival atmosphere, the officials continued to do their jobs. As the building inspector readied his 'condemned' signs, cigarettes were handed out to the 'natives'.

This house is deemed unsafe for human occupancy

He posted all the buildings except for Lou's studio (renovated by Lou's carpenter friend Pete, it more or less satisfied the code). Morning Star was now officially condemned. Other notices announced that everyone had to vacate the premises within twenty-four hours. The deputies threatened the ranchers with arrest for all kinds of misdemeanors if they stayed.

"It will be extremely difficult to comply with all these regulations," Lou told a reporter. "I don't know whether it isn't better to go to jail."

The probation officers began to pressure Lou into making an announcement that everyone had to leave, threatening to revoke his probation if he didn't comply.

"I can't do that," Lou replied. "I've never denied anyone access to this land. It's like the Indians - it's land held in trust for everyone to enjoy."

"Lou, what should I do?" one Morning Star rancher asked.

"It's up to you, baby," Lou replied, and began singing 'Let My People Go' to express his frustration.

A reporter asked the assembled officials what they would do if the people refused to leave.

"We'll have to take them off by the truckload," one of the supervisors answered.

At last the county cars left, and a meeting was called to decide upon a course of action.

"Can they take our children?" Pam Read asked, with Adam Siddartha on her lap.

It was agreed that the county could. Parents and children should obviously leave. This depressed everyone, and there was a moment of silence.

"Let's have a party," a voice suggested to cheers and universal agreement. What else was there to do?

On September 14th, Lou returned to court. Charging he had been doublecrossed by the prosecution, he wanted to change his plea.

"Mr. Gottlieb misunderstood what was said," the District Attorney argued. "We never gave him a year to clean his place up. We can't allow anyone to violate the law for a year."

The judge took Lou's motion under advisement, saying that no public agency at that time had the authority to close the ranch. "Just because a public health officer rules that the buildings on the ranch are uninhabitable, that doesn't mean they are. This must be determined through litigation. At this time, the only person who can tell anyone to leave Morning Star Ranch is Mr. Gottlieb."

"Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the party was gaining momentum. Two rock groups, Almond Joy and The Steve Miller Blues Band, set up and began blasting in all directions. About three hundred and fifty people gathered to boogie. One resident flutist hooked into an amplifier to jam with the musicians. Food, grass and beer was in abundance, the latter a supposed cover-up for the considerably more potent chemicals being passed around. Shel Silverstein reporting for Playboy appeared on the scene, taking notes for an article on communes.

By mid-afternoon, the police showed up. They were welcomed by a naked Near who danced up and put flowers under their windshield wipers. They left quickly, perhaps afraid their presence would precipitate a riot. The orbiting consciousnesses at that gathering floated far beyond their sphere of influence.

On September 16th, a superior court judge, on the basis of affidavits from the building and health departments plus Lou's own 'nolo contendere' plea, issued a temporary restraining order. Mr. Gottlieb and his friends were told to stop doing all the things which Mr. Hochuli thought horrendous. Copies of the order were passed out to anyone the deputies found on the ranch.

Meanwhile, Hochuli called a meeting of irate neighbors at the local Harmony Union elementary school. Public officials as well as Morning Star residents were invited. It seemed a bit anticlimactic, inasmuch as the most recent court order was in effect an eviction notice, but Hochuli decide to go ahead with the meeting "so that other areas of the county can learn from what happened to us."

At 10 a.m., some two hundred and fifty 'straight' neighbors and fifty of the Love Generation filed into the sunny school courtyard. Anyone wearing a knife was asked to leave it outside. The Morning Star people formed a circle, holding hands to "pray that we make it." Their adversaries looked on with a mixture of curiosity and disgust. "Hypocrites," muttered one old man. Others saw the hippies as alien creatures, spacemen from another planet. Still others saw them as untouchables, dirty and diseased. The culture shock reverberated on both sides. For many neighbors, this was their first close-up view of the ranchers. They saw a great deal of hair and colorful assemblages of rags, bells and beads, jeans, blankets, embroidered and patched shirts, all with a distinct odor of country funk and often barely modest.

It brought to mind early confrontations between the Europeans and the indigenous inhabitants of this continent. The white men saw only dirty, smelly savages who obviously had no right to the land where they had lived for so many generations.

Hochuli got up and recited his list of grievances: bad sanitation, dangerous fire conditions, theft, trespassing, threats to local citizens, gunfights, harboring of juveniles and criminals, nudity, obscene behavior and heavy traffic on the county roads. Finally, he lambasted local officials for their sloth in dealing with the situation.

"Grow your hair long and don't take a bath," he sneered. "Then you don't have to obey the health laws and you can set a fire anywhere you want."

A health official took the podium in his own defense. He traced his department's activities at Morning Star, concluding that "It's our feeling that we have done everything we can. We have not operated on a double standard, and as of this Friday morning, a restraining order has closed Morning Star Ranch."

This brought loud applause from most of the audience. Next it was the District Attorney's turn.

"I think my office has taken an aggressive stand on this thing, and we will continue to do so. If they don't comply with the restraining order, then they are in contempt of court." A round of still louder applause broke out.

A woman asked why the hippies could walk through town wearing miniskirts or bedspreads. The District Attorney suggested this was a question of fashion rather than a legal one.

The sheriff stood up. "We'll certainly do everything we can to protect law and order."

The same supervisor who earlier that week had suggested that the hippies might have to be carted away by the truckload took the podium: "The right of private property is a sacred constitutional right. However, with these rights certain duties are implied... My only regret is that the present situation is costly to you and me as taxpayers. Our many county departments have spent time and effort - effort that could and perhaps should have been spent on more creative projects."

Finally Lou was given a chance to speak.

"One thing I don't want to do is to make anyone afraid of what's happening," he began.

Taunts from the audience interrupted him. The moderator then asked him to keep his comments short. So Lou began again by saying that four years earlier he developed a "terrible allergy to the rat race."

"Get him outta here!" someone yelled form the back of the crowd.

"Let him speak," a few others replied.

For a third time he launched into a discussion of Morning Star's alternate life style. "It's a kind of religious revival. Let me have the year that the Probation Department was going to give me. Everything will be brought up to code... Relax, let go, folks. I'm telling you, things are getting tenser and tenser. Three days at Morning Star is better than a three-month vacation in Las Vegas."

Several people complained about articles stolen from their homes.

"Whatever it is, I'll pay for it right now," Lou answered.

Another complained that he had sold his home in the Haight-Ashbury "to get away from the hippies, the colored people and (making motions with his hands) the fairies."

"I won't point him out," one lady said. "But one of these gentlemen from Morning Star is wearing my husband's coat."

Lou asked her to identify him, but she refused. At last Hochuli made some concluding remarks.

"The restraining order is a reasonable conclusion to a dangerous and perilous situation. Though Morning Star is now officially closed, it is important that other areas (of the county) learn from our experience, so that they will know what to do when it happens to them.

"Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that we are in a struggle for our children's minds. They must not be exposed to such an obscene floor show. Look at Mr. Gottlieb. Look at these people!"

The front row of Morning Star residents stood up, laughing.

"Take a look. Are these the people you want to guide your children?"

The audience chorused a big 'No!'

"I don't want to guide your children, anyway," said a bearded young man.

The meeting broke up, the neighbors having something to talk about for the next week or two.


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