But preservationists and LGBTQ advocates who support the rehabilitation of Druid Heights say that the agency has done little to prevent the site from vanishing into oblivion. They get the sense that the NPS doesn’t even want people drawing attention to the place.“It's high time for the NPS to take responsibility for preserving this site of national significance for LGBTQ history, women's history, and bohemian and countercultural history,” LGBTQ historian Gerard Koskovich said. “The apparent federal obfuscation, foot-dragging and practice if not policy of demolition by neglect with regard to Druid Heights is a scandal.”
“The apparent federal obfuscation, foot-dragging and practice if not policy of demolition by neglect with regard to Druid Heights is a scandal.” —Gerard Koskovich, LGBTQ historian
You think I should be constant to one mouth?
Little you know of my too quenchless drouth:
My sister, I keep faith with love, not lovers.”Eventually, Gidlow did choose to be constant to one mouth: that of Isabel Grenfell Quallo, a waitress who had charmed her way into the circles of actors and artists in New York. By then, Gidlow had been living in the Bay Area for nearly two decades, doing freelance writing and dipping into political work. Though they’d missed each other during a trip Gidlow took to the city in 1946, the two began exchanging letters on the insistence of a mutual friend. Eventually, Quallo crossed the country to visit Gidlow—and never left.“For almost five years, excepting a couple casual encounters, I had not been in love nor made love,” Gidlow wrote in her autobiography. “With Isabel, I felt at once any relationship would not be casual.”
In 1954, with the help of a loan collateralized by a friend—it was incredibly difficult for “single” women to get credit at the time—Gidlow purchased 5 acres of mountainous forest land in Mill Valley, Marin County, about 15 miles from San Francisco. She moved into the previous owner’s cottage with Quallo and dubbed the property “Druid Heights”: “Druid” was a reference to the ancient Celtic priests—“heights,'' to Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights.
“I knew here was the place to realize a dream that had been germinating for a long time, ever since a child sat beside a brook dreaming it.” —Elsa Gidlow
Wanting Druid Heights to be “a place for the growth of the spirit,” in addition to her cabbages and camellias, Gidlow often took in young women to mentor. One of her protégés was sex workers’ rights activist Margo St. James, who moved to Druid Heights in 1970. Gidlow’s mentorship inspired St. James to found Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics, or COYOTE, an early organization advocating for the decriminalization of sex work.
“The world is a ball full of wiggles, and human beings must outgrow the idea of trying to straighten it out.” —Alan Watts
In 2017, Toivonen founded the group Save Druid Heights to preserve the once-thriving Bohemian community; its Facebook group has grown to over 1,400 members and counting, and it maintains the most extensive database on Druid Heights history to date. When he first informed Ranger Monroe about the group’s creation, though, Toivonen said he got the sense that the NPS didn’t want people publicizing the property.In an email to Toivonen, Monroe stressed the tricky balance between preservation efforts and respecting existing residents’ privacy, and claimed that “drawing further attention” to Druid Heights “makes it increasingly difficult for us to do our job.” “I think getting support and connections is helpful but not necessarily what's needed at this time but appreciate all the legwork you've done,” she wrote. (Monroe did not reply to a request for comment on the email.) Toivonen also noted there are no placards or pamphlets in the park indicating that Druid Heights is a resource there, or even that it exists.“How can you get the public [to] engage in an often rather wonky process of preserving a place if you don't really want the public to know much about it?” Toivonen said.
“I’m just amazed it's sitting here and being allowed to rot.” —Michael Toivonen
When the plan finally came out in 2014, it presented a handful of different possibilities for how park staff might approach Druid Heights, regardless of Register eligibility. (Notably, the GGNRA management plan contains no mention of Gidlow, solely attributing Druid Heights' relevance to Watts.) One option called for demolishing virtually all of Druid Heights to prioritize natural resources; another, which the NPS indicated it preferred, called for the property’s preservation “to the extent practicable,” with limited public access. Although the agency settled on the latter option in January 2015, by all appearances it’s letting the site return to nature.By the time the 2014 management plan came out, Druid Heights had already undergone a lengthy review process known as Section 106, which requires federal agencies to actively identify and consult with key stakeholders, before reaching any final decision on actions that would affect a historic property.
“We have to prioritize among hundreds of historic structures, some which are used much more actively, for the funding we are allocated to best serve our agency's mandates and the millions of visitors we receive each year.” —Julian Espinoza