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Sunday

Beat Establishment: City Lights Bookstore May Be Named San Francisco Landmark

Aired June 25, 2000 - 4:25 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDRIA HALL, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Ike was president, Korea a fresh memory, and the most popular pastime was keeping up with the Jones's.

BRIAN NELSON, CNN ANCHOR: But in the 1950s, while many people were scrambling to conform, a handful of others went on the road. Well, now the place where many of them ended up may become part of the establishment they once reviled.

Kim Hunter explains why.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KIM HUNTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If San Francisco's North Beach was the heart of the counter-culture Beat movement, the City Lights bookstore was its pulse. Now decades later, City Lights may be immortalized as a San Francisco landmark. Co-founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti says that's proof literature is still alive and well.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI, CO-FOUNDER, CITY LIGHTS: Being recognized as a landmark, it's sort of a bulwark against the dumbing down of America.

HUNTER: Ferlinghetti opened City Lights in 1953, and soon after began selling and publishing works no other press would touch: books by Michael McClure, Jack Kerouwac and one by Allen Ginsberg that would eventually get Ferlinghetti arrested.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical...

FERLINGHETTI: It had four-letter words in it. And I think maybe they were just as upset by the fact that it was a general attack on modern American consumer society.

HUNTER: Eventually, the court ruled the book had redeeming social value. Ferlinghetti was cleared, and the Beatnik movement thrived. Joyce Johnson, a writer and former girlfriend of Beat poet Jack Kerouac says it was a special time.

JOYCE JOHNSON, WRITER: You'd seen the message addressed to everybody, to open yourself up to experience, to live freely, to not live the constricted lives your parents had lived. HUNTER: The store attracts thousands of visitors each year from all over the world, many who spend hours in tiny rooms and narrow hallways, browsing whole categories of books they can't find elsewhere.

NANCY PETERS, CO-OWNER, CITY LIGHTS: We have one called Commodity Aesthetics, which is our section on popular culture. We have a section on surrealism. And we specialize in jazz and blues.

DAVE BURSTEIN, CUSTOMER: I come from a town of bookstores, loads and loads of them. None of them match this because there is an imagination here.

HUNTER (on camera): The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is expected to grant City Lights landmark status in the next few months. That would protect the building and give cultural recognition to a bookstore that has always embraced the counter-culture.

Kim Hunter, for CNN, San Francisco.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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