The starry-eyed Flower Children who once flocked to the Morning Star Ranch outside Occidental have long since gone their separate ways, the remnants of their experiment in communal living bulldozed by county work crews decades ago.
But the land that supported their enthusiastic foray into cooperative, material-free existence endures — a slice of history and heaven in the redwood-studded hills of west Sonoma County.
And it’s for sale, with an asking price of $2.5 million.
The children of late folk musician Lou Gottlieb, who in 1965 welcomed any and all comers to his 31-acre Graton Road ranch, have decided it’s time to sell the land, which their father once famously sought to deed to God. The move was rejected by a Sonoma County judge.
“Of course there’s an emotional component to it,” said Tony Gottlieb, 63, a son who lives in Nashville. “But the reality of it is none of Lou’s children are ever going to live there, and we all have our own children, and we’re all getting older. And at some point, as the executor for the estate, it finally came to us it’s time for us to let go of it.”
He described the ranch as a “primeval, fantastically beautiful property,” with three parcels suitable for several homes, a garden, perhaps a hobby vineyard and other agricultural uses.
And it comes with a colorful history that sets it apart.
A one-time egg ranch, the Morning Star commune was for a brief but memorable period in the late 1960s a counter-culture destination for young idealists drawn west by San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury hippie scene. It proved a symbol of the era — one that put west Sonoma County on the map and onto the cover of Time magazine as a place to “do your own thing.”
One of two such communes in the area — the other was Wheeler Ranch off Coleman Valley Road — Morning Star was a refuge known for certain indulgences of the time, including nudity and drugs, as well as spiritual reflection, creative expression, simple living and liberation from societal norms.
Its leader was Louis “Lou” Gottlieb, a bassist and arranger with a Ph.D. in musicology, and a founding member of the Limelighters folk trio, formed in 1959. Finding swift commercial success, the group spent several years recording and touring before a near-fatal plane crash in late 1962 prompted Gottlieb to take a break from performing.
He and his wife, Lee Hart, had purchased the west county property about a year earlier from an activist poet named John Beecher, who had raised thousands of laying hens and a small flock of sheep on the property.
It was a remote, idyllic spot, bordered on the north and south by Dupont and Graton roads, with redwood trees, a clear creek, sloping meadows and an apple orchard that stands today. The former chicken coop served as a piano room and studio in which Gottlieb practiced, hoping to launch a second a career as a concert pianist.
A haven for free spirits
When Gottlieb, then 43 and a one-time Communist, declared the ranch “open land” in 1965, friends and like-minded strangers gradually began to gather in numbers and personalities that were manageable at first. Several structures stood on the property and later makeshift shelters were added. Members also worked a vegetable garden.