The Thumbnail Book Reviews

by John Q McDonald --- 4 April 2010

Memories of Drop City

The First Hippie Commune of the 1960's and the Summer of Love

by John Curl

Drop City was among the first of the hippie communes and intentional communities that spread across the country from the mid-1960s and into the 1970s. Some of those communes still exist, many were transformed by the necessities of communal survival. Of those that professed a no-rules kind of existence, probably all have long since vanished. Drop City was one of these. Notable for its early use of the geodesic dome and Zome architecture, Drop City won one of Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion awards. It was founded by a group of artists who, rather than dropping out, performed what they called Drop Art (thus the name). The community was dropped on to six acres of desert prairie in southern Colorado. The group built its domes of wood and steel panels cut from the roofs of junked cars. There were various designs and sizes, and in photographs of the place at its height it looks like a fleet of spacecraft landed on a barren plain. John Curl was among the early residents of the commune. This book is his 2007 memoir looking four decades back to life in those crazy times.

Curl starts in New York and quickly heads west. There, he settles into Drop City, helps build the domes, and befriends its prominent figures, Curly, Clard, Lard, Drop Lady, Poly Ester and Rabbit. He tells a straight ahead story of life as a Dropper, the community, some of its conflicts, and the nacent communities it spawned across the southwest. Drop City's experiment, though, began to collapse with pressure from the outside world. It was just before the Summer of Love. Hippies were becoming a massive social movement. At least some residents wanted to make Drop City a model for the new hippie future, but before it had really come together and stood on its own. The primary villain in Curl's tale is Rabbit, or Peter Rabbit, an enthusiastic and, as portrayed here, self-absorbed figure who lived in a small dome and failed to do his part in building the others. Instead, he wrote. He styled himself a leader of the leaderless commune and sent out dispatches from Drop City, soliciting the attention of the underground and mainstream press. Time and Life magazines published photos of the domes in the desert. Curl tells us Drop City's inhabitants were deeply skeptical of this attention, at least until Drop City could really show some success. Ultimately, the massive pressure that was thus invited upon this one plot of land, rickety domes and nonexistent infrastructure, was what caused Drop City to implode.

This is now a common story for the communes of the time. Surely, there were many contributing factors and John Curl, whose dropper name was Ishmael, casts a somewhat ambivalent light on Rabbit. He seems to like the guy, but throughout this memoir Rabbit appears key in the dissolution of Drop City's experiment. He is a well-known character type, the enthusiast whose conviction that he is on to something big and unique drives him to step over and on others. Peter Rabbit, who still lives in the southwest, had an opportunity to tell his side of the story with his book, Drop City, published in 1971 and now out of print. Dropper Ishmael has a small puzzling role in Rabbit's story, which is more non-linear, though Rabbit did seem to accept some responsibility for what happened to Drop City. This book is full of adventure, love and tragedy. In the end, Curl sets Drop City into the context of progressive movements in the 1970s and looks back with a refreshingly critical eye on what went on there. Drop City was a key step but not one whose loss needs be regretted. Its lessons in collective action did somehow survive, if in other forms. The land Drop City once stood on now bears few, if any, signs of what went on there nearly forty-five years ago. Curl's memoir is an engaging and necessary document. Its iUniverse imprint shows it to be a self-published work. The writing shows some of the seams of its research and could use some editing, but, as a document, it deserves wider availability, perhaps along with Peter Rabbit's book as counterpoint.

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See Also: [Drop City by Peter Rabbit]

[Other books on Counterculture & the 60s]

[Other History, Biography and Memoir]