Can you believe I am what once passed for counterculture in Davis? Neither can I. Of course counterculture standards are stricter in Berkeley— more on that in a moment. But there it was, a picture of my dome staring back at me from glossy pages of UC Davis Magazine under the title “The Summer of Love Lives On.”
I never thought of myself as a hippie. In high school, I was the guy with tape on his glasses proudly wearing a plastic pocket protector to physics class. But my first two years at UCD had loosened me up more than a little, so in the spring of 1972 I joined a band of merry pranksters who had been plotting to build their own student housing.
“Back to the land” had replaced the counterculture mantra “turn on, tune in, drop out.” I wanted to be a part of the “back to land” movement even if it was on a three-acre corner clipped from a campus barley field. It wasn’t like patching together your own funky cabin on a woodsy commune, but it did make me feel self-reliant at age 20.
Our summer of building the domes had severe up and downs. We were a bunch of rag-tag iconoclasts, impatient to get things done, dealing with a highly-structured, status-conscious, university bureaucracy, which is slow-moving by design. We were working with some new and unproven technology, and very few of us had much, if any, construction experience.
The construction site in full-flower was something to behold — science fiction in a farm field. There were no trees, save for a fringe of recently planted pines. The site was dominated by a giant mold that we’d constructed for manufacturing the 14 one-piece fiberglass domes. The mold looked like a rustic, rotating, radio telescope pointing north. Nearby were a rig for spraying fiberglass and another rig for spraying foam and all sorts of 55-gallon drums. Round-concrete floor-slabs in various stages of construction dotted the landscape. Transportable walls called core-units, with a kitchen on one-sided and bathroom on the other, were being manufactured four at a time on a primitive open-air assembly-line.
Fall rolled around, school started and the place still looked like a construction site. As an after-thought some of us tried to get some academic credit for what we’d accomplished. We found a professor willing to grant us a few units of independent study if we did something academic like write a paper or make a presentation at a conference. We balked a little; we’d already done a ton of practical work. But we had color slides and making a presentation seemed like the path of least resistance, so we signed up to make a presentation at a counterculture-inspired alternative housing conference at the architecture school at UC Berkeley.
This is where I learned what passes for counterculture in Davis may not pass in Berkeley. Being young kids from the youngish university in the hinterlands, we were placed last on the agenda. Presenter after presenter showed slides of the funkiest hippie homes made of materials found in the woods or salvaged. A very folksy, driftwood staircase was a big hit.
We were up next. Our adviser, by this time in a full-blown panic, said, “Why don’t you guys just show the slides of the funky cabinets, lofts and ladders you each built inside your domes and not show the construction site photos?” But we’d put a lot of work into our presentation on the construction of the domes and would not be deterred. We began with slides of the sci-fi construction site I described above. There was silence save for the audible sound of jaws dropping. Then we started talking about our use of new technology and about the manufacturing techniques we’d developed. Silent disbelief turned into open hostility. The stink-eye glares we received were meant to convey one message: “You kids from Davis are not part of the counterculture as we define it in Berkeley.”
I suppose we weren’t. We were innovative; that was lost on the Berkeley audience. I’m still proud of what we did 38-year ago, five-years after the “Summer of Love.”
I’m happy so many people have enjoyed living in the domes we built in what’s now a forest. And I’m amused that the domes at Baggins End are today now more than ever a hub for counterculture in Davis.