The 1970s SF Street Artists Movement (How It All Started)

The 1970s San Francisco Street Artists Movement

by Michael Addario

This is the story set in the 1970s of San Francisco “Hippie” Artists who thought it would be “groovy” to sell their Art on the street.

You most likely heard of the Women Rights Movement, the Black Rights Movement, the American Indian Rights Movement, the Gay Rights Movement and the Farm Workers Rights Movement , etc., etc., etc. But have you heard of the San Francisco Street Artists Movement? Unless you were in San Francisco during the 1970s or a Street Artist, most likely you have not. 

Short film of the 1970s San Francisco Street Artist Movement  :

 The San Francisco Street Artists Guild Presents, The San Francisco Renaissance Street Fair, July 15,1971 

“You will see many youth who wear their hair long like my people, come and join the Tribal Nations to learn their ways and wisdom.” 

Ancient Hopi Indian Prophecy


1971 Street Artists on Beach St., San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf. 

The San Francisco Street Artists Movement was a Civil Rights Movement for Artists and Craftspeople similar to the others. A story set in the 1970s San Francisco when Artists were fighting to be free of hassle and arrest, to show and sell their art on the streets of San Francisco. The photo at the top of the page taken in 1972 shows the members of the San Francisco Street Artists Guild with one of their attorneys Robert Kanter in front of San Francisco City Hall celebrating passage of Article 24, the first Street Artists Ordinance. If the Artists thought this would be the end of their troubles, they were mistaken. This was only the beginning of a very long ongoing struggle. As Supervisor John Barbagelata (a conservative Republican) stated years later on a radio talk show in 1975: “Really, the treatment of the Street Artists is about as shabbily as I’ve seen any group treated since I’ve been a supervisor. And they been BSed, misled, they been to hundreds of public hearings trying to sell their ideas and they were very reasonable. But you know when you are squashed and crushed enough, then you have to rise up….”

To get an idea of what the Street Artists were about, please view this short film of the San Francisco Street Artists of 1971:


Photo above: 1971 Street Artists Guild Co-founder Warren Garrick being arrested for selling his Art at San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf.

Before the Internet, smart phones and personal computers how were these Long Haired Hippies Street Artists able to fight against formidable foes, overrule powerful San Francisco Supervisors, in addition to their political benefactors, the Downtown Merchants and Fisherman’s Wharf Merchants Associations to convince the citizens of San Francisco that the Street Artists would as then Mayor Joe Alioto said “…continue to give San Francisco that little touch of color I think they really give this town.” 

Artists in the streets of major cities have always been part of the European landscape. Mayor Alioto and other notable politicians such as; Mayor George Moscone, Supervisor John Barbagelata and Supervisor Harvey Milk were well aware of this and were supporters of the San Francisco Street Artists Movement.

Civil Rights Attorney and the first Black San Francisco Supervisor, Terry Francois, participated in the nationwide boycott against Woolworth’s stores for refusing to allow Blacks to sit at lunch counters in addition to San Francisco establishments for not showing Blacks homes in exclusive White neighborhoods. Yet, Francois along with then Supervisor Dianne Feinstein and Supervisor Quentin Kopp appeared determine to prevent Street Artists from exercising their First Amendment Rights to sell their Art on the streets of San Francisco.

Above: a 1971 San Francisco Chronicle news account of Street Artists being arrested. Please note the headline “It’s Not a Pretty Picture” is not a quote, but a somewhat subliminal pejorative comment about the Street Artist’s Long Haired Hippie appearance.

San Francisco merchants and so-called liberal politicians were quoted in the San Francisco newspapers referring to Street Artists as “parasites”,”hippie element” and “unfair competition” and the “Street Artists and vendors may have a place in San Francisco, but that place is not on the city street or public parks” and insisted that they be arrested repeatedly. Constant curmudgeon Supervisor Quentin Kopp stated: [Supervisor] “Medelson’s proposal starts from the premise we’re talking about Artists; these people are just peddlers.” Days later Supervisor Kopp upon introduction of another restrictive resolution stated “…refuses them [Street Artists] permission to use any public street, sidewalk or public park, square or avenue.” One Arts Commissioner upon hearing that the San Francisco Arts Commission would be tasked to oversee the Street Artists stated that it was a “demeaning imposition” on the Arts Commission. Further stating: “It’s a matter of a public nuisance, not of artistic judgment.” San Francisco Deputy City Attorney Milton Mars told the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper he has been “getting a lot of heat” from the merchants who consider the “vendors to be pests and a threat to their businesses.” In addition to prominent Chronicle columnist Herb Caen stating the term Street Artists was “self-cancelling phrase.” 

The City’s Merchants were determine to see the Street Artists disappear and created a letter writing campaign directed at the Mayor, Supervisors and Police Chief. When the Street Artists sued the Police under discovery they were privy to the letters the Merchants had written about them. One such letter was not only filled with falsehoods, it was extremely hateful and discriminatory.

Received Board of Supervisors San Francisco Received 1971 Dec 13 am 9:26

                                             John J. Tringali & Co.                                                

insurance Brokers

Russ Building

San Francisco, California 94104

Telephone 392- -5498

 12 – 10 – 71

To: The Board of Supervisors

To hell with the term “Street Artists”

These people are nothing but the “crud” of society, vagrants & welfare seekers and all from out of town.

They are freeloaders, contributing absolutely nothing to our society but trouble, aggravation and misery.

They are the misfits & the carrier of hepatitis & venereal disease, wanting something for nothing.

They speak of pollution –  they are the very heart of it. They make the City look & feel dirty.

Approve what they are doing & the City will be flooded with them. They are making a slum of this City.

Why should I as a businessman pay property taxes, garage tax & license tax & gross receipts tax to see these “pigs” get & do everything free. They are not paying their way as citizens taxpayers.


Business is bad enough, having these creeps doing business & taking business away from someone else.

We don’t need them – We don’t want them – Get Rid of them!

John J Tringali

 May 17, 1971, SFPD arrest Street Artists and confiscate their Art at San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf. 

Please note the photo’s caption disparaging description of the Street Artist’s art.

“Arrests were all peaceful… only the victims’ [Art buyers] artistic sensibilities were hurt.”

Some San Francisco Supervisors bowing to the Merchant’s pressure would only begrudgingly concede to the Street Artists being confined to the Embarcadero Plaza (later renamed Justin Herman Plaza) which at the time was a windy plaza overshadowed by the exhaust belching double decker Embarcadero Freeway. In 1975 Supervisor John Barbagelata again stated during a call-in radio talk show : “… but you see Terry, [Supervisor Terry Francois] the real blame is not on the Street Artists. They were pushed around a lot for three years. They were put down on the cold Fulton Street Embarcadero Center, treated like animals, actually as far as I’m concerned….”

Apparently, then Supervisor, Dianne Feinstein, was more concerned about the Merchants than the Civil Rights of the Street Artists when she stated: “I will not vote for any sidewalk permits where the Merchants are opposed.”

San Francisco Supervisor and former Marine platoon sergeant Terry Francois appeared obsessed with exterminating the Street Artists from the streets of San Francisco. In one particular newspaper headline framed:“City Hall Busts” and “Raucous Hearing” at the Board of Supervisors when three Street Artists were annoyed and frustrated that a restrictive amendment was illegally added to the agenda without their knowledge, requested that it be delayed until their Attorney could be present. Consequently, Supervisor Francois ordered them arrested for speaking past their allotted time. Then Francois apparently slipped when he blurted out his true intentions, stating: “The Street Artists don’t have our support for peddlers’ permits no matter how many times they come in here yelling.”

Street Artists Guild Co-founder Bill Clark made the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle being arrested while giving testimony at City Hall.

Yet there was one at the Arts Commission that was a friend of the Street Artists. Brand new Art Commissioner Ray Taliaferro on Dec. 22, 1971 stated: I do feel that we are experiencing a tremendous cultural and artistic renaissance right here in The city. And as an Art Commissioner I will bring before the full commission on January 3 proposed legislation and recommendations so that the city might take a positive view of encouraging, promoting and protecting these very, very fine Artists and Craftsman. And I will also propose at that time, that the city set up a center for the Art and Crafts. This would be a building where all kinds and forms of the Arts might be able to flourish and be nurtured. And I will also ask there be specific streets designated, not street that are out of way, type streets, but streets that are right in the main. In conjunction with the Merchants so that the Street Artists might have as good a crack at this free enterprise system of ours, as do all the other Artists and Merchants. 

When the Street Artists went directly to the voters for a Street Artist’s Initiative and its Proposition ‘J’ was passed, the Police were forced to issue Peddler’s permits to Street Artists. Since Article 24 the first Street Artists Ordinance was passed on May 1972 two years earlier, the San Francisco Arts Commission had been screening Street Artists who sold at one location, the Embarcadero Plaza. Possibly in a direct attempt to undermine the new law, staff at the Arts Commission refused to screen any new applicants under Prop. J and the Police haphazardly granted permits to any person requesting one, even ones that hadn’t been screened. Now many Vendors were calling themselves Street Artists and within a matter of a few months 1500 descended on Union Square in Downtown San Francisco. The chaos that ensured even had Mayor Alioto who was a supporter of the Street Artists quoted in the newspapers stating: “I’m not going to see Union Square made into the Haight – Ashbury.”

Attorney for the Street Artists, Robert Kantor stated: “I sincerely wish to work with Mr. Roth, I think his idea of a nonprofit corporation is indeed a possibility, if there were financing available through that type of program. I think it would be possible to create a center for the arts and crafts.  But I might say that is only … and let me emphasize this, it’s only, by recognizing who these people are, these people called Street Artists, the fact that they want to sell at least now and perhaps forever in some limited capacity in various free and open locations, not a fixed location.” March 23, 1972

Long Haired Hippies

The Street Artists Movement was directly preceded by the Hippie Movement in San Francisco’s Haight – Ashbury district and was closely identified with the so-called Hippie’s beliefs, appearance and lifestyle.  

Dr. Louis Jolyon West, a visiting professor at the Stanford Center for Behavioral Sciences in 1967 did a 12 month study on the Hippies in the Haight. Along with seven other researches he open up a “Pad” where he painted and decorated it with flowers and posters. He claimed that he and his seven member team did extensive interviews with the people that lived in the Haight and also the Police Chief, the Health Director and assorted City Officials.

In his speech he might have revealed the root causes of the discrimination against Street Artists, when he presented it to the elite, predominately White, Commonwealth Club: 

Commonwealth Club Moderator:

“Our speaker today has chosen a subject which has been probably the most cussed and discussed subject in San Francisco for quite some time. Hippies, Teenyboppers and the Asphalt Sherwood Forest…”

D. Louis Jolyon West:

“…I should perhaps say, parenthetically at this point, that the Hippies are almost 100% White and that the Negroes in the Haight Ashbury do not take kindly to them, at all.  As one [unnamed] Negro leader put it, in tones of unmistakable bitterness; all we want for our people, is what these kids have given up.”

Dr. Richard Allen who was a co-researcher with Dr. West on the Hippies authored an additional paper:

“Bishop Pike has heralded the Hippies as comparable to the early Christians, while others see them as a diseased band of useless, filthy, drug taking gypsies, the quintessence of parasitic degeneracy.”

Later in Cambridge Mass. Dr. Allen was interviewed with a Dr. Faderman about Hippies.


Dr. Faderman why do so many people seem to get so enraged about Hippies?

Dr. Faderman:

“Well, it appears that most of the Hippies are from middle class, well bred, well educated families. They often have several years of college, if not a full college degree. And they’re attacking the very culture that they came from. It’s not a case of the minority groups saying: I want into the beautiful, middle class, American technological cultural. It’s members of that same cultural saying: I want out. It stinks! I want to move into a cultural which has values that I prefer. Its people who know what the cultural is, saying: they don’t like it. And this, I think, is what infuriates the main critics of the Hippie subcultural. Go to: Interview starts at: 15:05

Then California Governor Ronald Reagan was fond of drawing laughter when giving a speech he would disparage Hippies by saying, a Hippie:

“…had a hair cut like Tarzan, walks like Jane and smells like Cheetah.”

Consequently, if qualified young White men and women were identified with the Hippie Movement they were discriminated against, and not able to get jobs.

 1975 Street Artists at Union Square San Francisco. Photo: Bill Koska

Subsequently, Long Haired Hippie Artists formed The Street Artist Guild with founders Warren Garrick, Frank Whyte and William J. (Bill) Clark volunteering their time and money, of which they had very little, to fight for their Rights. They found a sympathetic ear with Attorneys Peter Keane and Robert Kantor who believed in their cause, and worked mostly pro bono, supplemented with meager donated funds and payments of Street Artist’s art. There were petitions, pickets, public hearings, news conferences, artists meetings, press releases, lawsuits, propositions, concerts, marches with makeshift coffins, police harassment, arrests and jailing with the confiscation of the artists’ work, restraining orders, fines and attorney fees.

The founding members of the Street Artists Movement were forced to type up press releases and petitions on manual typewriters, mimeograph copies, physically drop off the press releases at the newspapers around town and wait at home for snail mail or sit by the phone for an important call. Remember it was in the 1970s before spell check, voice mail or even answering machines. They personally gather thousands of signatures from San Franciscans that were supportive of their cause for two city propositions. The Street Artists paid for their Attorneys, their fines and their bail from their own pockets. All of this was accomplished on their own time that they volunteered and were not able to make any money selling their art. In fact, they were losing money that they could ill afford. More importantly the Street Artists Movement never asked or received a dime in support from the City of San Francisco.

 “Death Of The Street Artists” Protest in front of San Francisco City Hall. Photo: Carl Buhler

Unbelievable as it may seem today, in early 1970 women students were protesting under the threat of arrest to change Berkeley University’s policy of disallowing women from joining the men-only Karate class so that they would be able to protect themselves. Authorities at Berkeley told the women if they felt threatened, they should have a man escort them across campus. Women were also barred full access to the Press Club of San Francisco. When women journalists protested they had the Press cover it, with one male journalist being interviewed saying that in his opinion “women having full membership rights at the Press Club. It’ll never happen.” Update: it happened. And Women also protested to have the newspaper cease segregating Job Want Ads into separate male and female categories. As you will see the founders of the Street Artists Movement overcame overwhelming obstacles and prejudices like the ones described above and included women and gays on their boards. A rarity in the 1970s America. 

In April 1971 Street Artist Guild Co-founders Frank Whyte and Bill Clark were arrested while gathering signatures for a petition on the steps of San Francisco City Hall. Mayor Alioto sent his aid to propose a meeting. As it states in the Street Artists Guild’s April 19 meeting minutes: “There was considerable discussion” of who and how many Street Artists should attend this meeting with the Mayor. Street Artists Guild Co-founder Bill Clark stated: “…that at most there can only be 3 people from the Guild plus their Lawyers.” Clark further stating: “…moved that the meeting pick a 3rd member and that it be a woman.” The Guild’s weekly meetings followed parliamentary procedures where issues were agendized, discussed, and voted on. Meeting minutes were kept and distributed to the Street Artists that were not present. 

These Street Artists were willing to sacrifice all that is inherent with a normal life and job. As a Street Artist there would be no steady paycheck one could rely on to pay the rent, they had no banking or checking accounts and credit cards were a rarity even for the middle class at that time; unheard of for a Street Artist to possess one. At that time, the Street Artists Guild’s only requirement if a Street Artist wanted to join the Guild’s Steering Committee was that you must: have a home phone and a permanent address. No one back then could have imagined that today most people would carry mobile phones that could beam images and sound around the world in seconds.

For Street Artists there were, and are still; no paid holidays, no paid sick days, no paid vacations, no pension, no paid social security, no paid medical, no paid dental, there are no benefits at all, other than the satisfaction of having a man, woman or child light up when viewing their art and be willing to part with some of their money to possess and cherish it.

Contrary to other Rights Movements, the Long Haired Hippie Street Artists that suffered this wrath, unrelenting harassment, discrimination and arrests; never blocked a road or passage, never had a sit-in, never had a riot, never threaten anyone, never were disrespectful, never resisted arrest, never threw a rock or bottle at police, never drew a weapon, never started a fire, never made a bomb (which was a somewhat common practice of radicals in those days) never turned over a police car, never destroyed property, never espoused violence of any kind, and they never hurt anyone. 

Yet, Street Artists were disrespected, discriminated against, had their art and crafts confiscated and were criminalized when all they wanted was to receive Peddler Permits so Artists could work and sell their art legally. The Street Artists did the opposite of even some politicians and were respectful. Passive resistance known as Flower Power and acts of non-violent civil (periodically somewhat comical) disobedience were the Street Artist’s weapons of choice.

 A strong testament to the artists that participated in the San Francisco Street Artists Movement.

Thank you for your support

Michael Addario