PABLO HEISING -- 'MAYOR OF HAIGHT'
By:  Carl Nolte


Pablo Heising was one of those unique San Franciscans who loved his corner of the city with a passion that was a marvel to his thousands of friends.

He ran the Haight Street Fair for 29 years. They called him the mayor of Haight Street, and when he died of a massive heart attack at the age of 61 last month, the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood knew it had lost someone special.

"He was definitely a San Francisco character,'' said Supervisor Tom Ammiano. "We need people like this who help set the context of the city. He really made a contribution.''

The center of his world was the Haight-Ashbury district near the Golden Gate Park Panhandle, and in the time of his life, the Haight was the center of the counterculture of the 1960s. "He had a romantic view of that era,'' Ammiano said.

He was one of those who still believed in what he felt were the core values of those days: peace, and love, a good time and a deep distrust of the established order. Mr. Heising, his friends said, was open, honest, stubborn, a man with a flair for organizing who would give away his last dollar.

"He was kind of a hippie at heart,'' said Gary Frank, owner of the Booksmith bookstore on Haight. "He did a lot for Haight Street.''

He first got in the fair business helping Harvey Milk with the Castro Street Fair, and then branched out to the Haight. In 2005, he also helped set up the Asian Heritage Street Celebration in the city.

His main effort was the annual Haight Street Fair, which he helped found in 1977. Mr. Heising wanted to recall the Summer of Love in 1967, with booths, arts, crafts and good times, much of it associated with alcohol and other substances.

The fair drew from 50,000 to 80,000 people when it appeared, like a mystical town village that surfaced every June.

When the fair first started, Haight Street had slipped badly from the glory days of the Summer of Love. "The neighborhood was a mess,'' said Lawrence Hultberg, who was there when the fair started. "Stores were boarded up, and there were a lot of drugs and unsavory characters.''

Over the years, gradually, the Haight changed, and the fair helped.

Mr. Heising ran the fair with an iron hand. "Pablo would not always display patience,'' said Hultberg. "Pablo was someone whose path you would not want to cross.''

Yet, his friends said, his anger passed as quickly as a summer storm in the mountains. "He mellowed with age,'' said Hultberg.

After all the years of running the fair, he had decided that the 2007 street fair would be his last. Instead, it will be a memorial to him and his vision of the Haight, organizers said.

Mr. Heising -- whose real first name was Paul -- was born in New York, moved to Los Angeles when he was a teenager, came to San Francisco with the flower children in the '60s, returned to Los Angeles for a year or two and came back to San Francisco to stay in 1970.

He worked at various jobs, lived in a commune, was backstage manager for Bill Graham Presents, and went into the fair business. He lived simply, read books by the ton -- mysteries, literature, books on religion -- and was an expert on baseball.

"He was a driver, a hard worker in public, but he led a very quiet life in private,'' said Slick Sarrow, who knew him for years.

He never owned a car. "He trod lightly on the land,'' said Hultberg.

The Haight gradually turned around and became gentrified, so much so that Mr. Heising could no longer afford to live there. He came to the Haight every morning for coffee, and on the Wednesday before Christmas, his last day, he ordered a cappuccino at a cafe, only to suffer a heart attack. "I think he was dead when he hit the floor,'' said his brother, Bruno.

Bruno Heising survives him, as do his two sisters, Barbara Beedle of Valencia (Los Angeles County) and Linda Wegner of Atwater (Merced County).

A public celebration of his life will be held on Feb. 25 at Kezar Pavilion in Golden Gate Park. "It will be in the Buddhist tradition, said Bruno Heising. "You shed a lot of tears until the tears of sorrow mix with tears of joy and you can't tell anymore which are which.''

This is where Pablo Heising passed away on December 20th, 2006

This is the Cafe Cole Coffee House (@ Cole & Haight Street) where Pablo would go every morning while keeping an eye on the Haight, like a lion would to his territory; making sure that everyone was alright.

The rainbow mural which dates far back in Haight history was in jeapardy a year or two back and Pablo used all of his powers and connections to fight for it to be re-painted. The old mural was saved and here's the result! If you zoom in on the far left corner, their's Pablo sitting in his throne having a cup of coffee and looking at the sports page.

 

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