Coconut Grove

Echoes of the Summer of Love can still be heard 50 years later in Coconut Grove

Hippies playing guitar on June 18, 1967.
Hippies playing guitar on June 18, 1967. Miami Herald File

It was the summer of 1967, and a cultural revolution was in full swing on the streets of the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco. Music blared. Drugs shared.

Throngs of young people gathered for the “Summer of Love.”

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Miami had its own Summer of Love, taking root in the earthy artist village that was Coconut Grove. On the 50th anniversary of the historic summer that changed youth culture, historians and locals tell stories of a different Grove back then. It was a hippie hangout before the fancy shops, hotels, cocaine, condos and cafes arrived in the 1980s, ‘90s and over the past decade.

The Grove of the 1960s was Miami’s center of counterculture.

“There was always, always music,” said Sandy Pukel, who owned the Oak Feed health store in the Grove. “And always people. People drumming together, people playing guitars. It was a sharing kind of experience.”

Young people with lots of hair (and not a lot of clothes) descended on Peacock Park, where they mirrored what was happening in San Francisco. They strummed guitars and passed weed wrapped in rolling papers from head shops on Grand Avenue. The “love children” hung out in “piles” in ways the Grove had never seen before, said Miami historian and author Arva Moore Parks.

“There was a lot of drugs going on that had not gone on in the past,” Parks said. “It was hippies with peace signs, young men without shirts. The women had long hair and long dresses. It was an interesting time.”

The Grove was a natural nucleus of counterculture, Parks said, because “people were used to speaking their mind in the Grove since the beginning of time.”

According to historian Paul George, the modern Coconut Grove was born in 1882 in Peacock Park when artists, naturalists and writers settled in area cottages. Hip, eccentric people created “a vibe of acceptance.” Tennessee Williams, Robert Frost and Alexander Graham Bell found haven in the Grove, which was, and still is, known for its lush landscape and sparkling views of Biscayne Bay.

In the ‘50s, beatniks read poetry in coffee shops downtown. They set the foundation for a counterculture that started to appear in the next decade.

“It was all part of the groove,” said George, who works with the HistoryMiami museum in downtown Miami. “Every ingredient you needed for a counterculture haven was in Coconut Grove.”

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The late 1960s and early ‘70s was a period of “massive change” in the Grove and the anti-war sentiment rung loud through the village.

Vietnam War protestors chanted phrases like, “Hell no, I won’t go” in the park. They opened the Grove’s first T-shirt shops and bought paraphernalia at a short-lived head shop called “The Joint,” which boasted a logo of a comically large marijuana cigarette.

They ate beer-steamed hot dogs from Lums and drank fresh juice from Granny Feelgood’s, which opened a few years later. They glided along the sidewalks in rented ware from Sandy’s Skates, brushing shoulders with Dr. Tim Leary, the psychologist known for promoting psychedelic drugs, and Dr. John Lilly, who studied isolation tanks and communication with dolphins.

It was in the Grove where “love children” saw The Doors’ Jim Morrison unzip himself during a concert at Dinner Key Auditorium on Bayshore Drive.

“The counterculture begins when writers and naturalists and artists came to the Grove,” George said.

Not only did the young creatives feel welcome in the Grove, but the Grove welcomed them back. Free kitchens fed hundreds in the 1960s and ‘70s, and churches like St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church welcomed “hippie” vans to park on the property.

“They were really ahead of their time in terms of the idea of inclusivity,” George said. “This church had a progressive leadership at that time, and they really took the message of Christ and the gospel to reach out and be all encompassing for all people.”

One flash point of the Grove’s Summer of Love was the Coconut Grove Arts Festival, which was born out of a 1963 theatrical production of “Irma la Douce.” Charlie Cinnamon, the late publicist for the since-closed Coconut Grove Playhouse, took a page from from Paris’ soulful Latin Left Bank and promoted the show by inviting artists to display their work across from the theater.

Organizers didn’t expect a large turnout, but an estimated 20,000 people showed up. The festival became an annual fixture, and eventually moved to its permanent location on Bayshore Drive. Today, the event attracts around 120,000 people during Presidents’ Day weekend for three days of creativity and time spent outdoors in ways that harken back to the ‘60s.

“The festival represented the older artists and brings their art to the Grove,” said festival president Monty Trainer. “For three days, we have that laid back bohemian community on the water, with the parks that are all part of the festival. People come to the festival to enjoy what the Grove used to be about.”

Trainer, famously of Grove fixture Monty’s, moved from Gainesville in 1968 to start his first restaurant. He picked the Grove because it reminded him of his laid-back childhood on the waterfront in Key West.

“There was nothing pretentious about it,” he said. “You could walk and run on the water. I used to bike all through the Grove and look at all the houses. That was so nice to be able to have a free spirit. You could be athletic, be artistic, it was wide open.”

In 1969, his namesake restaurant opened for business. Before it was a family restaurant, it was a watering hole for young people. The recording studio across the street brought big-name visitors like Jimmy Buffett and Freddie Neal, and the restaurant’s outdoor patio hosted live calypso music every week.

Health food guru Sandy Pukel remembers it well.

In 1970, Pukel and two friends opened the Oak Feed natural food store in the second-floor on Oak Street, which became an instant success.

Bob Marley, Bob Dylan and Michael Jackson stopped by the shop, which had a 40-foot carrot on the building’s facade and was known as the “center for anything alternative,” Pukel said.

Pukel employed people who shared similar values for healthy, all-natural foods. The store was open 365 days a year, and set a mission to “help people get back into nature.” Pukel even had one employee who wouldn’t touch the food after handling money, because he didn’t want the food to get “money vibes.”

“It was a philosophical mission,” he said. “I still do that today. It’s the same thing.”

Pukel and his friends spent their off time hanging out with other free spirits in Peacock Park, sharing music and food from hippie communes.

For the free spirit, not much has changed. Every day, he drives his carrot-orange 1972 Super Beetle from Coral Gables to Grove, where he goes to the gym and visits his children and grandchildren.

“I’m part of the Grove.”

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