The Druid Heights Artists Retreat has been hidden under the shade of majestic redwoods in Muir National Park for almost six decades.
Hundreds of thousands of tourists and locals have frequented these sublime woods since the 50’s, yet few know of the retreat’s existence only a mile or so off the beaten path.
When the world was on the brink of a second world war, lesbian poet Elsa Gidlow, was suffering the devastation of a broken heart. So, as one does, she hitchhiked her way from New York’s Greenwich Village to The Bay Area.
In the ’50s, Gidlow bought five acres in the woods of Muir with Roger Somers. Though she founded and named the retreat Druid Hills, it was Somers, a musician and builder, who proudly set the stage by building unconvential unique habitats.
Deemed as a sort of countercultural Peyton Place, Gidlow and Somers were soon followed to the Heights by other poets, philosophers, intellectuals, and activists.
British philosopher Allan Watts, who lived among them, described their collective experience, in one of his books, as “no longer the humdrum and harassed little personalities with names, addresses and social security numbers.”
Throughout the years other luminaries such as Dizzy Gillespie and Neil Young passed through the retreat.
When the land upon which the artist’s colony exists was bought by the Park Service in the ’70s, the original owners, all living at the time, were given the legal right to live there for the remainder of their lives.
Ms. Gidlow envisioned Druid Heights as becoming a haven for female writers and artists after her death.
Catharine MacKinnon, who lived at the Heights during her years as a law professor at Stanford, told the NYT it should remain a hamlet for creativity. “It was a spiritually sustaining place. I think Elsa’s idea should be honored,” she said.
Such visions currently hang in the balance. The Park Service is contemplating the cultural significance of Druid Heights for qualification to be on the National Register of Historic Places. The Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy has even sponsored walks to the retreat.
If this comes to pass, the names of those who lived there will soon be attached to status far beyond addresses and social security numbers. Their names will echo, larger than life, “cultural status.”