Owsley “Bear” Stanley III held many titles, including Grateful Dead sound engineer, the world’s foremost LSD chemist, prisoner #15084-148, and the resident of 2321 Valley St. in Berkeley, CA, also known as the “Troll House”. The two-bed, one-bath storybook cottage in Berkeley’s Poet’s Corner neighborhood is now up for sale for $899,000.
Bear lived at the house during the 1960s, including the 1967 Summer of Love that saw hundreds of thousands of youths migrate to San Francisco. Owsley in part helped fuel that migration by turning on an entire generation of musicians, artists, and authors with his potent LSD. Just as Owsley’s chemistry helped fuel the countercultural movement, so too did the Troll House as it brought together the society’s luminaries including Ken Kesey, Ram Dass, and more.
Rhoney Gissen Stanley lived at the Troll House—though she insists they never called it that—with Owsley until he went to prison for three years beginning in 1969 after authorities raided his LSD lab in Orinda. She recalled to Berkeleyside stories of riding around the block on the back of a Hell’s Angel’s motorcycle and dancing before the walk-in brick fireplace with Ram Dass. The house’s unofficial mascot was an owl named Screech—named after the noise Rhoney made when she first saw it—who lived up in the rafters after continuously escaping his cage.
“Most of the time memories are about trauma, pain and unpleasant stuff,” Rhoney, who wrote Owsley and Me: My LSD Family, said. “We remember the hard stuff rather than the easy stuff. I had no bad memories [of the cottage]. I only had good memories.”
The famed San Francisco Fox Brothers Construction Company built the 1,238 square-foot house in 1928. It features a brick path leading to the front door, stained-glass windows, a cylindrical chimney, and small troll-sized doors scattered throughout, a possible reason for the nickname. It was author Charles Perry who coined the name Troll House in a 1982 Rolling Stone profile of Owsley. Perry once roomed with Stanley and chronicled the rise of his LSD empire.
“The Troll House, as some people called it, was a regular stopover for the transcontinental psychedelic elite,” Perry wrote. “There was usually somebody trying to sleep on the pillow-strewn floor while the 24-hour-a-day party lurched along. I dropped by every week or so to see the latest wrinkle: ether-extracted THC, the advance copy of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or whatever.”
In 1990, the house passed to another member of the artistic community when longtime Oakland Tribune editor Belinda Taylor purchased it. While living there, Taylor wrote Becoming Julia Morgan, a play about the Bay Area architect. Belinda’s daughter—who now owns the house following her mother’s death in 2018—said Belinda’s “most productive creative times were in that house.”
The Troll House holds a Berkeley Historical Plaque but is still not an official landmark, meaning future owners can renovate it however they wish. Two similar Fox Brothers cottages in Berkeley are listed in the National Register of Historic Places, per Berkeleyside. Rhoney hopes to one day establish the house as a historic monument.
“Wouldn’t that be cool?” she wondered. “If I could set up a trust. … I don’t know. I don’t know how I’m going to buy it. But it’s going to go for a million dollars?”
Red Oak Realty will host an open house at the Troll House at 2321 Valley St. in Berkeley from 2–4:30 p.m. tomorrow, May 22nd. Visit the company’s website for a gallery of images and more information. Scroll down to check out a promotional video for the home prepared by Red Oak Realty, loaded with corny 1960s wordplay.