In Search of Fairfax

The Los Angeles Free Clinic

During the mid-1960s, Fairfax Avenue began to emerge as a counterculture destination due to its proximity to the Sunset Strip, its relatively affordable rents, and Canter’s Delicatessen. The street, according to one journalist, had transformed into “L.A.’s answer to Haight-Ashbury.”  It was within this context that the Los Angeles Free Clinic opened at a dilapidated storefront at 115 North Fairfax Avenue in 1968. The clinic—known locally as the “hippy clinic”—was founded as a largely volunteer-run organization that intended to provide free health services to hippies, runaways, and high school dropouts throughout Los Angeles who did not have access to traditional health care. During its early years, much of the clinics work involved treating sexually transmitted infections and substance-abuse related problems.  By 1970, the clinic’s services expanded to include to legal counseling, job placement, and arts and crafts workshops, all the while treating about 50,000 individuals per week.

Fairfax’s Jewish community’s was largely tolerant of the Los Angeles Free Clinic. As volunteer Barry Leibowitz recalled, the local community typically had a“live and let live” attitude when it came to the clinic. (Historian Rebeeca Baird suggests that Jews, in large part because of their left-leaning politics, supported the goals of the clinic.) And yet, the clinic’s particular location on Fairfax Avenue did occasionally prove problematic. Next door to the clinic was a Jewish senior center; many involved with the senior center were nervous about the kind of clientele (“all these wild-haired youth”) that the clinic attracted. Furthermore, Fairfax High School officials and parents were uncomfortable with the clinic’s offering of free birth control.

During these foundational years, the clinic was constantly struggling with debt and searching for ways to pay for rent, often relying upon rock concert benefit shows, radio marathons, and donations from sympathetic individuals for funding. The establishment of the fundraising-focused Friends of the Los Angeles Free Clinic in 1973, however, help to stabilize the clinic’s finances and support its move to a larger location on Beverly Boulevard.

Sources: Rebecca Therese Baird, “Shelter From the Storm: The Los Angeles Free Clinic, 1967-1975” (Ph.D., Arizona State University, 2016); Noel Greenwood, “Patients Never Get a Bill: Free Clinic Lives Up Its Name Medical Facility Never Gives Patients a Bill,” Los Angeles Times, June 29, 1969; Noel Greenwood, “Free Clinic on Fairfax Picking Up the Pieces: With Co-Directors Revealed as Impostors, Psychologist and Physician Begin Rebuilding Free Clinic on Fairfax Picking Up the Pieces,” Los Angeles Times, December 3, 1967.

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