Michael Kindman(Michael and Carol enjoying a day on the Land)
Intro by Court
For the last two years I have been working on a project focusing on the counterculture and in particular the Underground press. My intention was to create a visual history…a peoples history – an alternative history of the counter culture in its many manifestations.
While doing my research I discovered an excellent book, Smoking Typewriters by John McMillan. I kept running into the name Michael Kindman. Eventually I began to wonder if it was the Michael Kindman I had known during Land times – I did some more research – sure enough- it was Michael.
Not only was it Michael, but he had written his autobiography – My Odyssey through the Underground Press; and on top of that he had written extensively on his experiences on the land. The frosting on the cake was that Michael Kindman went to battle for The Land residents via the underground press. The Grapevine was the Underground paper in Palo Alto in the late 70’s.
Pau Krasner wrote the forward to Michael’s auto- biography. Krasner was a founding father of the Underground Press. The Realist created by Krasner, was a satirical – yet serious newspaper in the early 60’s that often dealt in the counter cultural arena.
“By 1969 there were some five hundred underground newspapers. Altogether according to Newsweek’s estimate they distributed 4.5 million copies – “to radicals, hippies, racial minorities, soldiers and curiosity seekers.”
"Michael Kindman’s revealing memoir, My Odyssey through the Underground Press, will take you through his adventures in the larger context of an evolutionary jump in consciousness, from hippie to the New Age; from a control freaks cult to individual freedom from sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll to a spiritual revolution. Ultimately this book will serve as a multifaceted slice of countercultural history". The first issue of The Paper was dated Dec. 3, 1965. Michael began his college career as a freshman at Michigan State University in Sept. 1963.
Michael “Mica” Kindman was a legend of the Vietnam era underground press – He was a founder of The Paper, the first underground paper in East Lansing, Michigan, as well as one of the first five members of the Underground Press Syndicate (UPS), which was the first nationwide network of underground papers in the country.
Patsy and I have attempted to make it easier for potential researchers and community members to access information on the end times at The Land by creating specific headings and adding photographs.
Let the Journey begin,
Court and Patsy
PS Thanks to Mark Schneider, for his assistance in making this all happen
Experts from Michaels book, My Odyssey through the underground press
I spent a few weeks getting to know the people who lived in a large rural commune in the Palo Alto foothills known as “The Land.” A close friend of one of my carpenter buddies lived there, and through him I began hearing of the difficulties the commune was facing from the threat of eviction due to a complicated ownership dispute. The Land had been part of Palo Alto mythology for a number of years; I first heard of it when I was working on my dump-truck engine at the Briarpatch garage several years earlier. Now I decided it was time to get to know these folks and their struggles. I was invited to one of their Sunday-morning public breakfasts, found myself enthralled and quite relaxed in their company, and gradually became a familiar member of the circle of regular visitors. I spent a number of evenings and whole weekend days drawing various residents out on the subject of how their community came to be, on the details of the legal entanglements they were caught in, and on what their intentions were if they could find a way to resist eviction and stay on.
I borrowed photographs and drawings from several of them and put together a lengthy front-page piece for the December Grapevine, in which I presented their view of the dilemma and their wishes for a happy resolution. The headline, “Digging in at The Land,” was set in bold white type, superimposed over a dramatic half-page silhouette picture of Land residents confronting a bulldozer sent onto the property at dawn in an ill-fated attempt to destroy their homes. The article jumped to the centerfold and beyond of a twenty-four page issue, our biggest ever where I included a brief-as-possible summary of the five separate, overlapping legal actions that were then pending, concerning the title, occupancy, and use of the property. All in all, it was the longest and most detailed single article to date in the Grapevine, and it was intended as the start of a series, which would go on to tell the history of how the community developed, as well as a continuing account of their current problems.
Begin Legal Battles:
Property Owning, City of Palo Alto positions, Residents Response
The Longtime owners, Alyce and Emmett Burns, an elderly Republican couple (she an agricultural heiress, he a disbarred lawyer) had lobbied to annex the dramatic 750 acre hilltop property into the City of Palo Alto years before as a precursor to a development plan that included a cemetery and a cattle ranch as well as housing, but had defaulted on the large assessment for utilities improvements that went with the annexation. They eventually agreed instead to sell to Donald Eldridge, a millionaire businessman of Democratic, progressive leanings, in a complicated deal in which title would transfer gradually as he paid off the $2 million cost in installments. He took full title to about 150 acres right away, and provisional title to the rest pending completion of the payment
Eldridge gave permission for a peace activist to use the several informal buildings in the more developed “frontlands” for workshops and a small residential commune, at no cost to them. This move had quickly become the entrée for a much larger group of social experimenters to move into the “backlands” and form a community there, living first in tents and tepees, and later in several dozen shacks and cabins they built with recycled materials and increasingly sophisticated building skills. Hundreds of people had lived there over the years, and thousands had visited. The current population was about fifty. Eldridge had affirmed his tacit support for their presence at times over the years, particularly since he thought their being there both enhanced the chances of environmental preservation and discouraged the possibility of more serious vandalism, but he had otherwise kept a very low profile. The city had attempted halfheartedly over a period of time to enforce its building codes in order to outlaw the houses and evict the residents; an article by two of the residents in the Grapevine a year earlier had solicited community support.
The agreement for sale of the property had broken down after the city changed its zoning for the foothills, which increased the minimum parcel size for homes and thus in effect diminished the value of properties. This action precipitated a dispute between Eldridge and the Burnses, as Eldridge withheld further payments until he could be sure of the value of what he was buying; he sued the city for relief, following the lead of other landowners similarly affected. The Burnses, in turn, refused to grant Eldridge title even to the acreage he had already paid for, and ultimately foreclosed against him for title to four-fifths of the total acreage. A court gave them the right to purchase this portion of land back at a foreclosure auction, thus causing Eldridge a loss of over a million dollars. The foreclosure decision was on appeal in state courts.
The foreclosure left the community of residents without its angel, and the Burneses began attempting eviction. Their bungled attempts to serve notices of eviction, and their perceived propensity toward violence when they didn’t get their way, precipitated the current crisis. A collective of civil rights lawyers was providing the residents with excellent legal help at minimum cost, and the eviction struggle was proceeding slowly and methodically through the courts. Meanwhile, the city was teaming up with the Burnses and the courts to crack down again on the building-code violations; the residents were responding with a campaign to persuade the city to liberalize its building code to allow for such “owner-built” housing in rural areas, as several other cities and rural counties in Northern California had already done, with the encouragement of the administration of Governor Jerry Brown. And, in the wings, a local regional-park district was expressing interest in purchasing the entire property to add to its open-space holding, if it could ever be obtained with a clear title and without a bunch of rowdy residents.
Michael’s hit on The Land:
My article was the first time this entire complex struggle had ever been explained in one place, along with a description of the resident’s visions and hopes. They were grateful for the support, and I was grateful for their friendship. I saw in my connection with them a chance to make myself part of a functioning community that offered some of the benefits, and few if any of the authoritarian drawbacks, of the community I had left behind at Fort Hill. It was clear I was compensating, and seeking a way to balance out my earlier experiences. Here was a group of long-haired relaxed men and strong, self confident women easily accepting me into their ranks and welcoming my inpute. The Land offered a chance to be in a communal setting where free expression, spontaneity, and relaxation were the norm. I chose to over look internal dissentions and difficulties as I developed my alliance with them, and I especially failed to see the degree to which the relaxed exteriors of most of the men masked rather traditional values and role-model limitations. I attended Saturday-night dances in the “Long Hall,” the large meeting space that was the community center of the “frontlands,” and there I finally learned to cut loose and let my body dance to rock –and roll-music, an ability that had evaded me for years. I was also interested in the fact that so many of the men, and some of the women, of “The Land” made their livings doing carpentry and other construction work; I started seeing visions of collective enterprises.
|Michael far left back
January Grapevine Brief update on Current events:
The January Grapevine contained a relatively brief update on current events, telling of the latest legal entanglements between the attempts to evict the residents, and the residents’ response of asking the courts to hold off until the ownership dispute had moved further along. There had also been some allience-building done with members of the Palo Alto city council, in hopes of thus dampening the enthusiasm of the city staff to pursue the enforcement of building and health-code violations.
February Grapevine History of The Land:
The February Grapevine included my anticipated long article on the history of “The Land” starting from a brief reference to its sacredness for the now-extinct local Indian tribes, through its development as a Republican political-organizing retreat from the 1920’s through the 1940’s through the period of purchase and attempted development by the Burnses, their sale to Elbridge, the disagreement with the city as its intentions for the foothills gradually shifted from encouraging development to encouraging open space and conservation, the early use of the property for antiwar organizing and the shift that gradually took place over several years to a more generalized countercultural community, complete with faction splits, influence on the larger antiwar movement at several key junctures (Daniel Ellsberg spent time there, for example, just days before he began copying and releasing to the public the Pentagon Papers) and critical roles in encouraging and hosting several of the socialist-minded enterprises that served the larger Mid-Peninsula community.
In recent years, all this had given way to the anarchic community now filled the entire property, committed to as free-form a lifestyle as feasible. My concluding sentence said: “Most of the residents seem to agree that two things about The Land are special – the chance that each person’s life is his or her own business, which no one else can control or interfere with.” Needless to say this attitude made for a fun life, but in the current circumstances made it difficult to stay focused and together through the complex demands of the legal struggle.
March Grapevine Eviction Drama:
The March Grapevine again included an article on recent developments in the eviction drama. During February, the judge who was hearing the numerous preliminary motions from both sides decided to take a look for himself to verify or deny the Burnses’ claim that serving each resident with an individual proper eviction notice was impossible because of the way they lived. The judge and his assistants, and the Burnses and their lawyers, and a group of residents and observers such as myself spent several hours walking through the backlands, getting acquainted, and checking out what it was about the residents’ life at “The Land” that made it special and worth defending and preserving. The only practical result of the tour was the opportunity it gave the Burnses representatives to continue serving individual eviction notices.
|Mark with eviction notice
Last Grapevine Article
Both Owners negotiate with Open Space:
Somehow I also managed to produce yet another article on The Land, this time reporting on the complex negotiations now actively under way to sell the entire property to the regional park district if the ownership and eviction disputes ever got settled. Both the Burnses and Eldridge, the two disputing owners, had signed agreements with the park district promising to give the district first dibs on the land if the other disputes could be cleared up. In the process, an internal struggle within the district’s staff had precipitated the resignation of its longtime land negotiator thus giving more political influence to its general manager, who we found generally distasteful.
This heroic effort was indeed my and Carol’s last for the Grapevine, so I did not get to write the follow-up articles over the next several months, as the drama of The Land intensified and finally came to a dramatic conclusion.
Eviction Papers, Sierras Death, and Bulldozers:
“The Burnses eventually succeeded in serving the residents with an adequate and legal set of eviction papers, and the case came to trial in county court. It was a sideshow that went on for weeks and drained everyone involved of a great deal of personal energy that all became focused, tragically, on the three-year-old daughter of two of the residents most involved in the eviction fight. They left her one day in the care of another resident, one of my close work associates who was also one of little Sierra’s closest friends. He took her to the beach for the day and photographed her wistfully staring out to the ocean and the sky, then took her back to Struggle Mountain the associated commune nearby the Land that had once been Joan Baez’s and David Harris’s home. While he had his back turned briefly, Sierra fell into the doughboy swimming pool; by the time she was discovered she had suffered brain damage and nearly drowned. She was taken to the intensive-care unit of Stanford Hospital and remained there in a coma for several weeks while the eviction fight continued.
The Land’s residents and supporters found ourselves conducting simultaneous vigils at both the hospital and the courthouse. We lost both fights. Sierra’s body eventually gave out without ever regaining consciousness, and the eviction fight was lost. The Burnses proceeded to complete their sale of most of the acreage to the Mid-peninsula Regional Open Space District, and collaborated with the city officials to conduct the eviction and nearly simultaneous demolition of all the buildings of both the “front-lands” and backlands,” which occurred with great fanfare during October 1977. Donald Eldridge also completed his deal with the Open Space District although I’m unable to remember how that transaction related to his continuing appeal in the state courts for some satisfaction on all the money he had invested.
When the demolition occurred immediately following the eviction, they were carried out with what we perceived to be great contempt for the still relatively pristine nature of the land. A large hole was dug next to each building, and the debris unceremoniously bulldozed in and buried, causing what seemed completely unnecessary long-term damage to the environment. The spring box and gravity distribution water system that had been built many decades before, and had been lovingly revived and maintained and extended by residents was completely destroyed, leaving the land without any usable water source as it entered its new life as an open space resource for the people of the area. Then entire property was fenced and kept off-limits to the public for a number of months while the Open Space District cleared up the mess it had made and developed walking trails, marker signs, parking lots, and the like. Former residents and friends of The Land, including myself, did obtain special permission to return to the property, the next Easter Sunday to have one more experience of what had become a traditional celebration on a particular hilltop, but it was a small and bittersweet victory.
In Memory of Michael Kindman