Because it’s such a vibrant and ever-changing place, one might be forgiven for assuming the Tenderloin doesn’t feature majestic architecture to match the best of San Francisco. But this neighborhood carries a somewhat surprising amount of visual history that easily rivals the more written-about corners of the city.
After the epochal 1906 earthquake demolished most of the city’s classic wooden structures, new building codes established concrete as the medium of choice for sturdier, safer buildings. This shift in materials provided a bittersweet opportunity for the area’s, and the world’s, most talented architects to redefine the look of the City By the Bay, and the Tenderloin was no exception. These are just three of the many highlights of the neighborhood’s remarkable architectural face.
650 Geary Street
Built in 1917 as a temple for Shriners, this mosque-like construction boasts incredible window ornamentation with Byzantine-style archways and striping, topped off by a majestic dome. In 1976, the old Alcazar Theatre on O’Farrell Street moved to the Geary location, with interior renovations taking place in the early 90s. It was designated a San Francisco Historical Landmark in 1989, but it’s not the only example of highly creative design to be found on this street. In fact, much of Geary Street features this highly adaptable style, with unique takes on the old Turkish motif that make a stroll down this upper Tenderloin block feel like a jaunt to Istanbul and back.
302-316 Eddy Street
The story of the neighborhood isn’t complete without including the many hotels and boarding houses that have historically populated this area. Hosting countless travelers, artists, and others passing by throughout the years, the Tenderloin has long been known as a place where one could take up for a night, a week, or the rest of your life. As a district filled with hotels of varying size and capacity, it’s only fitting that the Tenderloin hosts one of the city’s most elegant and historic such buildings. Designed by architect Alfred Henry Jacobs, creator of the former Granada Theater on Market Street, the Hotel Herald was once known as the best value one could find: a guaranteed window view in a grand Romanesque building, whose lobby burst with life from the majestic jungle plants placed all around. The Herald, along with several other Tenderloin lodgings, is now included in the National Register of Historic Places.
Golden Gate Theater
1 Taylor Street
Once it opened in 1922, this Art Deco-styled theater became the city’s premier venue for traveling acts of national and global renown. From Nat King Cole to the Three Stooges, Frank Sinatra to Roy Rogers, countless iconic entertainers wowed Tenderloin crowds under the theater’s sky-blue ceiling for much of the 20th Century. Conversion to a movie theater in the 1960s preceded a full restoration to a live performance stage that draws in premier entertainment to this day. The fully refurbished theater continues to host traveling Broadway casts and cutting-edge performing arts, further cementing the Golden Gate as the destination for top-quality entertainment in the area. In 2013, the uppermost levels of the Golden Gate building were converted into a collaborative workspace where approximately 200 small companies and startups do business. The Tenderloin’s next tech breakthrough may well originate in the historic theater, allowing this majestic building of historic San Francisco to foster the forward-thinking minds of tomorrow.