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March 21st, 2019

Profiles in Innovation: City Lights’ Ferlinghetti Turns 100


San Francisco has always attracted and fostered creative minds. In step with recognizing the renegade spirit that makes room for new ideas, technology, and design, today we focus on Lawrence Ferlinghetti, whose daring attitude has forever defined the country’s treatment of free expression.

The poet, publisher, painter, playright, and co-owner of the staunchly independent City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco turns 100 years old this month. He is most famous for poetry, namely his collection, A Coney Island of the Mind.

Ferlinghetti is equally famous for his globally-celebrated bookstore, which began as a small publisher and paperback shop in North Beach in the 1950s. By 1957, City Lights became internationally known after a landmark trial sparked the debate over both obscenity and the freedom of the press.

People of the State of California vs. Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Ferlinghetti is responsible for publishing what became the principle manifesto of the Beat writers in 1956: Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg. The book dealt with taboo themes and local police took note.

In a bizarre sting operation the following year, an undercover San Francisco cop went to City Lights Bookstore to buy a copy of Howl. After making his purchase, he swiftly arrested the sales clerk for selling obscene material. Ferlinghetti was away in his cabin in Big Sur, but turned himself in days later. He was charged with publishing obscene material. Luckily, both men were found “not guilty,” as the judge ruled that such expression falls under the First Amendment.

The ruling created “a standard that paved the way for American publishers to print banned books by the likes of Henry Miller and William Burroughs,” according to a 2003 article in the Washington Post. 

The independent publisher and bookshop earned its reputation of powerful publishing that fosters revolutionary ideas, much to do Mr. Ferlinghetti.

City Lights is a must during your trip to San Francisco, which has an eclectic array of books. It’s located in the North Beach neighborhood at the edge of Chinatown. If you go, make sure to stop by Vesuvio Café next door for a drink. The kitschy bar has been around since 1948 and has seen the likes of Bob Dylan, Francis Ford Coppola and just about all the beatniks.


Discover Italian restaurants, cafés and the best parks of North Beach using our handy neighborhood guide. Thinking about a trip to San Francisco? Book your stay at Stanford Court Hotel, located in Nob Hill. We’re a hotel focused on comfort, wellness, and making the most of your surroundings with tech-forward amenities. 


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