In the mid-'70s, Lake Claire was a tiny, forgotten neighborhood in a state of advanced decay. The homes, largely occupied by elderly widows, were falling into ruin; yards were overgrown with kudzu. Real estate values were in the toilet. Insurance companies were refusing to renew homeowner policies.
And yet, the woebegone area -- barely two dozen small streets just east of Candler Park -- had a strong appeal for a certain segment of the population. The folks who began trickling in looking to put their roots down were not so much urban pioneers as fellow travelers.
Tom Burgess was lured here in 1978 when he spotted a sign tacked to a telephone pole pointing the way to a Wiccan gathering. "I thought, 'That's where I got to go to get a house,'" he says.
The one he found on Arizona Avenue cost him $5,000.
"The neighborhood was a ghetto," he recalls. "The reason I moved here was it was on the edge, there was no law here and people who were a bit different could find a home."
Today, the entry-level price tag to move here is at least a quarter-million dollars. By most people's standards, Burgess and the other longtime residents of Lake Claire have lucked into a gold mine. The delicious irony is that, here in Atlanta's hippie haven, most of them couldn't care less.
"People tell me, 'You're lucky to have found this neighborhood,'" says Doug Barlow, who moved to the area in 1977. "And I say, 'No, we built this neighborhood.'"
He's referring to the nonprofit B.O.N.D. credit union, which was created to finance mortgages on local homes that no bank would touch. Then there's Sevananda, the largest community-owned co-op in the Southeast. And the diverse collection of neighborhood shops and restaurants, such as the wildly successful Flying Biscuit. For many, the jewel in the crown is the Lake Claire Community Land Trust, two acres of land that neighbors saved from development and opened as a place for recreation and meditation.
"There's a Buddhist tradition of finding your place, and there's a real sense of place here for us," Barlow says. "I moved here for the community values; people now are moving here for the property values."
In the late '60s, Barlow and his contemporaries -- call them the Grooviest Generation -- set out to change the world. In many ways, they were successful, but once the Vietnam War ended, their primary rallying point was gone. Iran-Contra, the oil embargo, the snail darter, NAFTA, pot legalization -- none of the subsequent liberal causes have carried the same idealistic urgency as Vietnam.
Along the way, most of the original hippies packed away their Earth shoes and Iron Butterfly albums, cut their hair, got real jobs and joined mainstream society, re-classified as Boomers.
Many of those who kept their freak flags flying and remained faithful to the hippie lifestyle turned inward, creating their own communities, growing their own vegetables, and working to change, if not the world, then at least their small corner of it.
But with war in Iraq looming, and the prospect of Americans once again coming home in body bags, the spirit of the hippies has taken on renewed meaning. Driving around Lake Claire today, it's impossible to go half a block without passing a yard sign insisting, "War is not the answer," or seeing the peace symbol displayed on the front of a house.
The growth of the largest anti-war movement since Vietnam has spurred many Lake Claire residents to dust off the protest skills and moral outrage they first developed when LBJ was in office.
And yet, while most people here are opposed to the war, they may differ in how they express that opposition.
Ted Brodek, who's taken part in most of the recent Atlanta anti-war demonstrations, has been an activist ever since his student-protest days at Emory during Vietnam.
"At that time, we didn't believe you could trust anyone over 30. That's kind of embarrassing now," says Brodek, who is 60. "Now there's more cross-generational support and coordination."
His wife, Ann Mauney, is a leader of the high-profile Georgia Peace Coalition, which recently raised more than $30,000 to print a full-page anti-war resolution in the AJC.
Others, like Tom Burgess, have seen their youthful idealism fade over the past two decades as they felt abandoned by a mainstream culture increasingly obsessed with quarterly earnings, designer-label consumerism and convenience without consequences.
"We are older hippies and I'm not as radical as I used to be," he says. "There was an innocence back then and we felt a certain camaraderie in our righteousness, but I'm not sure direct political action works. Is there any Left left? I think we've all been compromised and we should go back and read Marx."
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