McKinley is a block west of Martin Luther King Jr. Way. It runs four blocks south from Addison to Dwight.
Washington School backs onto McKinley. Just north on McKinley from Washington School is the home of Howie Gordon. He has been adorning the outside of the house for about 20 years.
Gordon first came to the house on McKinley in 1969. He was a student at Antioch College working for the Department of Labor in San Francisco on what Antioch called a co-op job. Work experience was part of Antioch’s vision of a well-rounded education.
Upon arriving in the Bay Area, Gordon visited a friend who was moving into the McKinley house. As he arrived for the visit, a caravan of hippies was leaving the house for a weekend in Mariposa. He went along. When they got to Mariposa, he was introduced to the joy and beauty of hippie culture. This was for him!
The house on McKinley was part of a commune. Michael Rossman and Karen McLellan were the – what do we say? – anchors of the commune. Rossman was a Very Central Figure in the Free Speech Movement.
The house at 2233 – the subject of this post – and the house just to the north (known as “The Green House”) as well as the cottages behind the houses made up the commune known as the Dragon’s Eye. The focus of the commune was educational reform. Rossman wrote that it “had a working focus, loose enough to leave some members in only or barely supportive roles, but tightly-focused enough to involve most of the twelve to sixteen permanent residents in coordinated activities in the educational reform movement. Our commune was networked with other communes of workers in ed reform from Philadelphia to Urbana, Illinois to San Diego. We hosted travelers and groups from these affiliated communes and were so hosted in turn, sometimes even exchanging personnel. Most of the funding for these ventures came from cooperative student governments, but Dragon’s Eye and other such communes also managed to work the institutional grant interface well enough to have several projects modestly funded. We participated regularly in anti-war activities, other civic protests, the building of People’s Park and its defense and the planting of the BART strip as Ohlone Park after People’s Park was destroyed; we played music and sunbathed naked in the yard; we consumed a fair variety and quantity of weed and psychedelic agents fairly responsibly and fruitfully; we held street picnics, went to dances in the Haight Ashbury and elsewhere, and helped to organize the closure and public festivity of Telegraph Avenue.” (Quoted from “The District Goes Radical,” http://mshhig.com/radical.php).
Gordon met his wife Carly at her commune in Santa Fe when the Dragon’s Eye bunch visited there in 1971. They married five years later just after dawn the backyard of the McKinley Street house in Berkeley. The ceremony they devised involved water. The scheduled sword dance was called off. A rabbit did a second service in Pittsburgh. NOTE: the “rabbit” is a typo. Obviously. I missed it. Gordon begged to keep it in – he likes the image of a rabbit-led wedding. So there it is.
The Dragon’s Eye commune faded. Gordon and Carly stayed in the back cottage. In 1983 they bought the house. In 1986 they moved into the front house and raised a family.
Back to the stuff on the outside of the house:
I asked if there was a special story behind this man. Nope, other than the fact that he is aging well. If you put art outside, it ages. “Nature reclaims” is a Gordon mantra.
This belonged to Whoopi Goldberg, who until the summer of 2015 owned a house across McKinley. Her mother and then brother lived in the house. Whoopi wrote: “When I was in Berkeley, both he and his wife Carly became my family, and when my mom and brother Clyde moved to Berkeley, the same thing happened. His family became their family too.” When she sold the house, Gordon handled much of the house-emptying garage sale. This eagle’s for you, Whoopi.
Gordon started putting stuff outside the house for a simple reason. He ran out of space inside. And that, my Quirky Berkeley friend, is an invitation inside the house. I know that Quirky Berkeley at least pretends to concern itself only with material culture visible from the street, but it would have been rude not to go inside and take a look. And having seen what I saw, it would be rude not to share with you.
Just inside the front door is the Athenian Room. We met Gordon’s daughter who was a graduate of the Athenian School. The room is the people and creatures of the world.
A plea here, before the photos. I finally figured out how to load a big picture on the post. If you click on the photo, you will get a full-screen version. I recommend this. These photos really pop!
I don’t know what to say about this room. It is staggering.
But what about grandchildren? Are the little figures not a temptation that cannot be resisted? Well, yes. “I call them Urban Renewal.” Nothing lasts forever. Don’t sweat it. So he made sure there were no swallowing threats or pointy things and just lets what happens happen. He tells a story of cleaning out his mother’s room when she died and finding her false teeth. That was an epiphany – all things pass and when they pass, they pass. So don’t sweat the grandchildren and the figures.
And then Gordon took us upstairs to his bedroom.
Brace yourselves. To borrow from the Perfect Prose of Rebecca Martinson, tie yourself down to whatever chair you’re sitting in because these photos are an e-ticket ride, especially when you click on them to make them full-screen.
Do you get the drift? Take note of the rack of clothing in the left rear corner. All Pittsburgh sports uniforms – Pirates, Steelers, Penguins, and Pitt Panthers. Gordon is a Son of Pittsburgh. Wherever I turn around there is somebody from Pittsburgh – Ed Hill, the Firestones, Burton Morris, the Trachtenbergs, Jenny Marston’s in-laws, and now Howie Gordon.
Gordon’s wife Carly likes the absence of clutter. The shelves above the bed are supposed to divided evenly between his clutter and her absence of clutter. He is an imperialist! The shelf in the upper right of the photo is hers. Nothing on it.
Wow. OMG. OMG – WOW.
Gordon wrote me: “You never know what is behind these Berkeley doors.” If these walls could talk, they would sound just like Howie Gordon. And they would tell you a story that makes Berkeley what we are, a quirky paradise.
There is direct lineage in this house back to the Free Speech Movement.
This house was part of one of the better-known communes in Berkeley.
There is quirky stuff outside. And lots more inside.
A complete package!
And Howie Gordon is a funny and wise man.
What a package!
I asked my friend for his verdict. He was almost in a trance looking at Gordon’s work space in his bedroom. He looked up and spoke –