Harold Adler has photographed all kinds of characters. Throughout the 1960’s and 70’s, he documented Telegraph Avenue hippies and gangs of young people who hung around the street and called themselves the Red Rockets/Mini Mobsters. He photographed Black Panther gatherings in Berkeley and Oak- land. He photographed characters who were well known at the time but have faded in modern memory, such as General Hershey and General Waste Moreland—street satirists who traveled around to rallies and gatherings like Altamonte and Woodstock.
He also photographed many of the moments that gave birth to People’s Park.
“Throughout my entire life I’ve only photographed things I thought were important,” he said. “I thought what was happening was important. I didn’t understand the historic relevance, I just thought what’s going on was important.”
In the late 1960’s, Adler dropped out of Oakland Junior College and started taking photos full-time. College could not hold his interest in the midst of the revolutions happening all around him. “Every weekend there was something going on,” he said.
When it comes to the birth of the Park, Adler remembers moments of profound beauty interspersed with periods of intense violence. He remembers Michael Delacour driving up to the park with a truck full of sod; a group of protestors tearing down the fence around the park with bull-cutters; children playing on homemade play structures; James Rector being shot and killed.
“The main two words I would use to phrase this whole event are ‘war zone.’ All these events were war,” he said. Adler says that if he knew then what he knows now about how violent the war on the Park became, he may not have taken so many photos.
“I could have been shot,” he said. “My M.O. was I’d take a couple shots and run like hell to somewhere else. I didn’t stay in one place for five minutes.”
Adler now runs Art House Gallery—a gallery and venue in South Berkeley. On May 11, he will be hosting a book release event for Tom Dalzell’s new book, The Battle For People’s Park: Berkeley 1969.
“I think people wanted to have something beautiful and celebrate life in spite of this horrible death going on,” Adler said. “People’s Park is a celebration of life and community. That’s what it was all about really. And it was beautiful for a very short period of time.”
All photos are by Harold Adler.
Alastair Boone is the Director of Street Spirit.