In any city other than San Francisco, the term “tenderloin” would be used to refer to a choice and oblong cut of meat. But in our city, it serves as the name for a fifty-block neighborhood in the beating heart of San Francisco’s downtown district. The Tenderloin sits on the flatlands beneath the southern slope of Nob Hill, nestled squarely between the Union Square shopping district and the civic center. Certain areas even riff off the name; “Tenderloin Heights” and “The Tendernob,” for example, both refer to the hazy border between Lower Nob Hill and the Upper Tenderloin.
However, this bustling expanse of city streets, homes, and shops wasn’t always known by its meaty moniker. In the mid-19th century, it bore a classier title to match its reputation as a home for the arts and luxury residences: St. Ann’s Valley. The common name didn’t even begin to cross maps until the early 1930s, though some report that historians started using the name in reference to the neighborhood even in the 1890s.
But where did the Tenderloin’s name come from — and what does it mean, exactly?
As it turns out, nobody quite knows. However, countless theories on the subject range from absurd literalism to comedic history.
See which one you lean towards by checking out the list below!
It’s a Metaphor
Historians at the Tenderloin Museum suggest that the neighborhood’s name roots in its reputation as being San Francisco’s “underbelly.” This verbiage is a play on where the tenderloin cut of meat comes from — the soft, hidden, and sought-after belly muscle. The name frames the Tenderloin as being the unseen side of San Francisco and refers back to the neighborhood’s 20th-century reputation for being home to a host of unseen vices, from speakeasies to nightlife establishments and gambling halls. The community thus stood as the soft underbelly of San Francisco’s 20th-century vices.
It References a Cop’s Joke
This origin story echoes the last. Some think that the Tenderloin copycatted the term from a neighborhood in New York City that was similarly fraught with vice. In 1986, New York City newspaper reporters recorded Police Department Captain Alexander S. Williams as saying: “I’ve had nothing but chuck steak for a long time, and now I’m going to get a little of the tenderloin.” Williams’ statement is somewhat cryptic on its surface, but it essentially refers to the idea that he could earn so much money by accepting bribes to overlook crimes that he could buy a more expensive cut of meat for his dinner.
Some think that the name not only stuck in New York City, but proved so catchy that it crossed the country to settle in San Francisco.
It’s a Straightforward Description
Could the answer be this simple? As it turns out, the Tenderloin is shaped almost exactly like, well, an oblong tenderloin. The mystery behind the neighborhood’s name might simply be that the moniker seemed to fit its geographical outline.
Really, nothing is for sure except for this one fact — the name isn’t going away. In 2011, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) attempted to persuade then-mayor Edwin M. Lee to rename the neighborhood as the Tempeh District. The proposed name would refer to a soy-based meat substitute rather than a butcher’s cut.
The measure didn’t work. To quote one writer for SF Weekly, “Like any pragmatic soul, Lee decided that it would be more productive if the conversation focused on revitalizing [the Tenderloin], not renaming it.”
Given that no one seems to know from where the definitive roots of the name stem, the choice seems more up to personal preference than anything else. So, which story do you think fits best? Let us know in the comments!
The best communities are defined by the efforts of their residents – and in the Tenderloin, work is well underway to make the District a better and brighter place for all.
Longtime residents of the area like Chai Saechao, the 29-year-old owner of Plant Therapy on O’Farrell Street, have dedicated their time and resources to improving life and economic opportunities for those living in the area. The Tenderloin has long faced concerns about cleanliness and overpopulation, but Saechao sees those negatives not as an immutable problem, but as a challenge to overcome.
“Me and the other businesses and trying to make it better,” he explains in an interview with Fox KTVU, “[We’re] trying to do what we love and build.”
Saechao has a deeply-ingrained belief that with enough love and work, the Tenderloin can evolve into something brighter and more positive. He centers on the idea of building positive relationships with those in the community; most of his customers are longtime residents of the area, and he wants them to feel welcome in his store.
Most of all, though, he believes in the Tenderloin’s potential to grow – and he isn’t alone. A growing cohort of entrepreneurs has been setting down retail roots in the sector, adding new jobs and opportunities for economic growth. Only a short distance away, larger organizations are helping residents get a leg up on their entrepreneurial dreams.
La Cocina, a nonprofit organization that aims to provide support and training to women and minority business owners, will be opening a female-led food hall in a former post office on the corner of Hyde Street and Golden Gate Avenue. La Cocina’s goals are twofold; they both hope to help local women grow their food operations into successful restaurants and provide healthy and affordable food options to Tenderloin residents. Once gutted and renovated, the space will support eight vendors: seven full-time kiosks, and one pop-up stand. The city of San Francisco has already promised to provide $1.5 million to the project, and La Cocina intends to raise an additional five million before the project’s official opening in the spring of 2018.
The entrepreneurial energy in the Tenderloin is at an all-time high. As Saechao sums up his own optimism for the area, “There’s a lot happening. I can do a lot of things here.”
There’s a new kind of restaurateur on the rise in San Francisco: women of color, immigrants, and those who’ve previously had difficulty opening restaurants due to lack of help or capital, or both. However, new opportunities are arising to help the disadvantaged break through these barriers.
What was once an abandoned post office on the corner of Hyde Street and Golden Gate Ave in the Tenderloin is expected to become the city’s first food hall. Slated to open in 2019, the food hall will provide fresh, affordable options, an exciting addition to the neighborhood’s options for healthy fruits, vegetables, and organic offerings.
A nonprofit called La Cocina is spearheading the new venture, with a special focus on the vibrant and unique blend of cultures and architecture of the Tenderloin.
La Cocina already has kitchen space in San Francisco’s Mission District, where women in need receive mentorship and advice from the organization. The effort has seen great success as many of the graduates have used what they’ve learned to launch new brick-and-mortar food businesses that have added to the richness and diversity of San Francisco’s food scene.
“We thought, as an organization, what can we do?” says Caleb Zigas, Executive Director of La Cocina. “If the marketplace isn’t offering that but there’s clearly demand for these kinds of businesses, how can we manipulate the marketplace?” The former post office in the Tenderloin presents the perfect opportunity to do just that.
While the food hall movement is growing, it is mostly developer-driven, and doesn’t typically lower the excessive costs for would-be business owners. La Cocina has signed a seven-year lease for its food hall at a modest price with the hope that it can mirror the success of other city-sponsored initiatives in other cities–like Pike Place Market in Seattle.
“We think that people have kind of stopped doing those projects,” Zigas says. “We would like to show that there’s not only a good reason to do it, but there’s a good model to do it with, and you don’t need to look to people who are just going to target the highest income earners. There’s a lot of working-class residents who need more places to eat.”
While there is still some fundraising needed for the project, La Cocina is confident about the 2019 opening, and has its eyes on the future development. With seven former graduates of their program in tow and an on-site kitchen, the space will also support community cooking classes, pop-ups, and other events.
Tenderloin residents can expect their new food hall to be a colorful addition to this ever-evolving neighborhood. With fresh options for great, healthy food, the neighborhood is taking its rightful place among San Francisco’s most interesting and attractive destinations, all the while staying true to the roots of its community.
San Francisco has been a progressive capital for several decades, having been called The World’s Gay Mecca for its progressive welcoming of all genders and lifestyles. It’s no surprise, then, that the Tenderloin has been host to some major milestones and landmarks of the LGBT civil rights movement. Here are a few groups and events that define the LGBT history of the Tenderloin neighborhood.
The Daughters of Bilitis
Founded in 1955, the Daughters of Bilitis arose as a social alternative to lesbian bars, and before long grew into something much more for the women of San Francisco and eventually the nation. From offices in the Tenderloin, the DOB printed their newsletter The Ladder which gained subscribers worldwide, with women writing in from as far away as Indonesia. The DOB and the The Ladder were created under the auspices of founders Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, a couple who spent a lifetime advocating for the rights of LGBT people and were the first same-sex couple to be married in San Francisco in 2004. Back in the 1950s, this legal union was nothing more than a faraway dream for the couple, who merely sought to create a safe haven for themselves and women like them.
The streets of the Tenderloin in 1966 were the site of some of the boldest and bravest initial steps of the national gay rights movement. The Vanguard were known for their open protests of discriminatory policies in the streets of the city, and were considered the first gay liberation group in America. But their messaging wasn’t only limited to the neighborhoods they demonstrated in. Named for the organization that published it, Vanguard Magazine bought gay struggles, both personal and political, to a national network of readers. Eventually, their empowered members took part in the founding of groups to provide housing, food, and jobs for runaway LGBT youth that still exist today. For an organization that only existed for a few years, the Vanguard lived up to their name as the foment of a powerful, long-ranging movement.
Compton’s Cafeteria Riot
Three years before the Stonewall uprising, a valiant resistance against mistreatment not unlike the more famous one in New York took place at Tenderloin eatery Gene Compton’s. Transgender patrons had been harassed by staff and police at what was one of the few places they could gather freely (having been unofficially banned from the area’s gay and lesbian bars) and finally fought back in a stand for their right to exist. The corner of Taylor and Turk, the site of the long-closed restaurant, is the site of a commemorative plaque honoring the transgender men and women who stood up for their rights and made their voices heard in August 1966. Recently, a historic transgender district was dedicated within the Tenderloin as the Compton’s Transgender, Lesbian Gay and Bisexual District in honor of those who participated in this revolutionary act of resistance.
This six-story building, now a housing development, became an informal hospice for the city’s gay and lesbian residents suffering from AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. Manager Henry “Hank” Wilson, an LGBT activist, opened his doors to the sick and needy when they were shunned from many other aspects of public life. During a time when the disease was misunderstood and it’s sufferers demonized, Wilson and the Ambassador welcomed with open arms those who needed a safe place to endure the throes of the debilitating immune condition. The building, now in the National Register of Historic Places, still stands proudly on 55 Mason Street in the Tenderloin, honoring those who suffered in silence.
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.
Whether the iconic streetcars, or the Summer of Love, or it’s current position as the center of the global tech industry, San Francisco has had no shortage of claims to fame. Throughout its whole history, the city’s culture has been a magnet for attention, but with one key omission. One aspect of the city that’s gone relatively unnoticed by outsiders has been the incredible food scene. Unnoticed, that is, until recently.
Named “Best Food City in the Country” by Bon Appetit Magazine in 2015, San Francisco stands among the leaders a competitive national restaurant scene, but longtime residents will say this prize is a long time coming. Here are a few extraordinary spots, both old and new, that demonstrate why all eyes are finally on the City By the Bay’s unrivaled cuisine.
Appropriate for San Francisco’s endlessly creative culture, this French-American eatery’s conceptual menu items are both visually and gastronomically inspiring to even the most experienced palate. With an emphasis on regional cultivation of ingredients, the talented chefs under head Laurent Gras create individual experiences for each visitor, with no set menu. Informed by the expertise of local farmers, fishermen, and ranchers, each meal is undeniably imbued with the free spirit of Northern California. Having attained three Michelin stars, Saison stands atop its San Franciscan foundation to live among the top restaurants on the globe, a premier destination for both the city’s international visitors and nearer neighbors alike.
The famed supper club Lazy Bear combines a boisterous family-style seating arrangement with a world-class cutting-edge menu filled with creative creations that change nightly. What started as a regular dinner party among friends is now a $280 a head 14-course extravaganza. Diners get their seat at the space’s long tables not by reservation, but by purchasing tickets online in frenzied sales which often sell a month’s worth of meals in less than a day. It might sound like buying a concert ticket, and rockstar chef/owner David Barzelay is a marquee-worthy frontman.
The clean, casual layout and relatively modest prices at this New American eatery shouldn’t scare off those into haute cuisine: AL’s Place may sound like a greasy spoon, but their globally-inspired menu provides for a cosmopolitan dining experience. This vegetarian-friendly menu features bold takes on old favorites, like chickpeas in smoky romesco sauce, and kimchi stew with yellow-eyed beans. Carnivores, there’s ribeye steak and cured trout for those who can’t go without their meats. In all, the unpretentious setting and world-class dining may seem a contradiction, but that kind of melange perfectly suits San Francisco, a cultural capital with international flair.
The Tenderloin beats to its own drum. Tucked between the Civic Center’s array of cultural and government institutions and Union Square’s fashionable shopping area, some visitors might miss the one-of-a-kind sights and experiences. Yet, one walk through the neighborhood is enough to make one stop and marvel at its unique history and character.
One beautiful aspect of the Tenderloin you’ll undoubtedly notice is the street art. It’s a testament to the neighborhood’s creativity, resilient nature, and free-spirited people.
As more and more works of art pop up on walls and buildings around the area, residents eagerly look to see what’s new. Even those just passing by are easily taken in by the sights. These are just a few of the more noticeable and treasured pieces painted on and around the Tenderloin streets. The pieces themselves are each linked here-just click on their title to see a picture. However, they’re all best experienced in person!
Location: 580 Geary Street
Year of Completion: 2017
The 70-foot tall pair of brain flowers were painted along the top seven floors of The Alise, a hotel in the neighborhood. The anonymous street artist who spray painted the piece is known only by the name, ‘Believe in People’ or ‘BiP’ for short. This bit of mystery lends a mysterious air to the Geary Street landscape, a fitting atmosphere for the intriguing neighborhood it resides in.
Location: Corner of Golden Gate Avenue and Hyde Street
Artist: Johanna Poethig
Year of Completion: 2011
This post office building mural depicts the vibrant mix of cultures and communities that reside in the Tenderloin and neighboring areas. An aesthetically delightful piece, Johanna Poethig’s mural does more than just please the eyes; it speaks to the strong character of the area.
As Poethig wrote in her blog while painting the piece, “The composition is a layering of a musical score, a garden of cultural architectural motifs and hummingbirds that fly in large to intimate scale throughout the design. A light-hearted greeting to a heavy-hearted site. The hummingbird’s heart is half of its weight. It brings delight, energy and hope when it appears.”
Location: Corner of Mason Street and Eddy Street
Artists: A group of students at the Academy of Art
Year of Completion: 2013
Head to the Briston Hotel, and you’ll see a mural of a group of musicians playing inside the once-famous Breakers Cafe (it’s sadly gone now). The work is a tribute to the neighborhood’s deep history as a center of jazz music, arts and culture, and entertainment and nightlife.
Without a doubt, this mural is a must-see. After viewing it, you may be in the mood to head to a speakeasy and enjoy a cocktail or two (have a blast!).
Location: Jones Street and Golden Gate Avenue
Artist: Mona Caron
Year of Completion: 2010
Mona Caron, a renowned San Francisco-based street mural artist, brilliantly depicts life in the Tenderloin with this masterpiece. The painting brilliantly captures the true daily scene in the neighborhood.
As Mona Caron writes about the mural, “almost every little figure within the painting is based on a real person who regularly frequents that street corner.” The mural depicts not just present realities, but also alludes to memories of the past and visions for the future. Needless to say, you’ll get swept into the scene as soon as you look at Windows into the Tenderloin.
Location: 1485 Bush Street
Artist: Zio Ziegler
Year of Completion: 2015
An incredibly visual painting, Zio Ziegler took inspiration from architecture, literature, and French modernism when working on The Woman Who Believes in Magic and Found It. Ziegler states that each of his paintings, including this one, lack a singular explanation, and “the viewer is faced with self-reflection of his or her own life and internal pursuit.”
This mural fits in perfectly in the Tenderloin—a neighborhood that’s been one of the few refuges in San Francisco for the down and out. The Woman Who Believes in Magic and Found It speaks to the hope of people who come here.
Experience all of the Tenderloin’s street art
These pieces are just the tip of the iceberg. From creatively painted utility boxes to murals of whales, green fairies, and robots, the Tenderloin neighborhood is truly brimming with street art from every angle.
Known as the TL or The ‘Loin to locals, the Tenderloin neighborhood in San Francisco offers huge street murals, cheap eats, and pre-war apartment buildings that often share walls with hip bars and five-star restaurants. From its historic buildings that harken back to its vivid past to its innovative new developments, the history of San Francisco’s Tenderloin District is a colorful blend of ambition, sin, and vision.
The Tenderloin is located on a 50-square block wedge on the southern slope of Nob Hill, between the Union Square shopping district to the northeast, and the Civic Center to the southwest. Its historical boundary on the north is Nob Hill’s Geary Street, and aesthetic continuity with that adjoining neighborhood has grown in recent years as the Tenderloin has seen an increase in renovation and beautification projects.
Before the Tenderloin first got its moniker, it was known as “downtown”. Though no one is really sure where the name comes from, there are many bawdy speculations. One theory suggests that the neighborhood’s “soft underbelly” of vice is comparable to the soft tenderloin cut of beef. Though the neighborhood carries a layered, complicated history, it’s resilience and agility is renowned.
Beginning and Beginning again
The Tenderloin initially emerged as a respectable residential neighborhood as an influx of upwardly mobile people settled in San Francisco after the California Gold Rush. In the late 19th-century, the neighborhood was known for its vibrant nightlife of theater, opera, fine dining and upscale brothels.
However, that incarnation of the Tenderloin was almost entirely destroyed in the great earthquake and fires of 1906, thanks to the high concentration of wooden buildings. One of the few surviving structures, the Hibernia Bank Building, still stands at the corner of McAllister and Market Streets.
Instead of abandoning the area, the neighborhood immediately rebuilt with hotels and apartment buildings–many completed by the following year. A number of those hotels and apartments still exist today.
Soon, however, the district would become known for more than just rebuilt structures.
Roaring 20’s, booze, and graft
In the early half of the 20th-century, the Tenderloin developed a reputation as a center of excitement, thanks in no small part to an abundance of vice. During Prohibition in the 1920’s, the neighborhood sprouted various halls for gambling and billiards, as well as illegal speakeasies. Though these establishments were mostly avoided by the average citizen, they drew in a diverse collection of the well-to-do, thrill-seekers, and opportunistic bootleggers.
Noir and the arts
It was most likely the Tenderloin’s ‘bohemian’ attitude that lent itself to attracting great artists, writers, and musicians to the district. Famous detective writer Dashiell Hammett, for one, made the Tenderloin his stomping ground.
His fictional detective character Sam Spade was given Hammett’s real-life apartment address at 891 Post Street. In fact, the Noir classic The Maltese Falcon takes place almost entirely in the mysterious world of the Tenderloin.
In the mid-20th century, the Tenderloin was also a hot spot for musicians and nightlife in its many bars and clubs. It was also the location of the Musician’s Union Building on Jones Street. The Black Hawk club at Hyde and Turk Streets brought in Jazz greats such as Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and many others.
The New Settlers
The Tenderloin encompasses what is officially known as San Francisco’s “Little Saigon” on Larkin Street between Eddy and O’Farrell, where a concentration of Vietnamese Americans live and do business. Little Saigon is known for its bustling bahn-mi sandwich shops and popular inexpensive lunch spots.
Many Southeast Asians relocated to the area after the Vietnam War in the early 70’s. At the time, the neighborhood had a high vacancy rate and cheap rent made it a good place for the new settlers to build community and start their new lives. The Tenderloin, in that regard, has always been a place for reinvention.
Throughout its history, the Tenderloin has been called home by a great many people, not only immigrants. The LGBTQ community, for example, has been a staple of the neighborhood for decades. Long before the Castro was San Francisco’s most prominent gay neighborhood, the Tenderloin was where the LGBTQ made a flourishing community for themselves, and they continue to help shape San Francisco as a city.
Bring in the New
In recent years, efforts have been made to bring new resources into the Tenderloin with an eye on making the neighborhood safer and bringing new life to some of the more run-down areas.
Developers have stepped in to fill rows of vacant buildings and storefronts with housing, retail, bars, and restaurants. Investors along with neighborhood groups have undertaken large urban renewal projects such as fixing up playgrounds, beautifying parks, and designating historic areas.
The history of the Tenderloin is a complex and bold story that should be told. And in 2015, the Tenderloin Museum opened with a focus on preserving the history of this diverse and unique neighborhood.
A walk down the Tenderloin’s Market Street is like a stroll through a futuristic, corporate enclave. The street now serves as a home to tech companies Zendesk, Zoosk, Wework, Uber and Square. On the floors above the famed rock concert venue the Warfield Theater you can find Spotify and Match.com. At Ninth and Market, in the art deco former Furniture Mart building, is Twitter’s global headquarters. What was once a stretch of shabby or abandoned structures is now home to fully-outfitted office buildings and hordes of fresh-faced tech workers.
The Tenderloin has welcomed a half-dozen large tech companies over the past nine years; businesses like Uber, Twitter, Yammer, Zendesk, Zoosk, Spotify, Microsoft and Square have a sizable presence here, as well as numerous smaller start-ups. Prospering tech companies who’ve settled here have brought millions in additional revenue to the city, and the industry is credited with adding over 10,000 jobs to the greater Tenderloin area during the last decade.
Twitter kicked off the Tenderloin’s tech craze when it chose the area in 2011. It revamped its historic 1930’s home, outfitting it with lavish amenities like a roof garden, state-of-the-art cafeteria, five kitchens, a game room, and a yoga-and-pilates studio. In 2013, Spotify moved from a co-working space in the Financial District to fill three floors of the Warfield building, which had long stood empty. Wework exists among a bevy of small businesses on Taylor Street. Many Tenderloin tech companies have taken up residence in buildings that were formerly vacant, or at least in need of some serious TLC and, as a result, the Tenderloin’s downtown area has undergone a major revitalization.
Offering affordable rents for businesses and employees alike, the Tenderloin has proved a perfect fit for the companies. But the area is attractive for reasons beyond monetary considerations. These fast-growth, high-powered companies are increasingly hiring young software developers and other techies who prefer city-living over the suburban cushiness of Silicon Valley. And the Tenderloin is about as centrally located as it gets. Union Square is to the east, Nob Hill to the north, and Civic Center and the Van Ness corridor are to the west. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s easily accessible by multiple forms of public transportation, too.
Corporations inhabiting the Tenderloin are also provided with a unique opportunity to “give back” by engaging directly with the community. Tech giants and startups that are committed to social responsibility have enjoyed working with local nonprofits on urban renewal projects and employee volunteerism, and many have pledged to hire locally and further diversify their workforce.
In 2015, Del Seymour, affectionately known as the unofficial “mayor of the Tenderloin,” founded Code Tenderloin, an organization that partners with area tech companies to mentor and train long-time residents for IT or customer service roles. So far, Code Tenderloin has placed several hundred graduates in positions at companies like Twitter, Zendesk, Spotify, AirBnB and Wework. Such initiatives have ensured that, despite the changing face of the Tenderloin, the neighborhood’s new residents are committed to true citizenship in the neighborhood, rather than displacement of existing residents.
The Swedish software company Zendesk, which landed in the Tenderloin in 2009, is largely credited as one of the most ardent community supporters and has served as a model for corporate participation in outreach efforts. The company’s ethos holds that supporting local residents in need is equally as important as product development and revenue generation. Its CEO volunteers at a local soup kitchen, and employees regularly show up to work early so that they’re able to volunteer throughout the workday. It hosts monthly events for neighborhood children and approximately 93 percent of its San Francisco-based workforce volunteer within the community.
The influx of techie residents enjoy cultural activities to rival any other neighborhood in San Francisco. The Tenderloin is home to one-of-a-kind attractions like A.C.T’s Strand Theater, the wacky International Museum of America, and the Warfield Theater, and its top-notch gastro-destinations include The Market, Dirty Water, and an assortment of Vietnamese hot-spots.
As Tenderloin continues to transform into a hyper-urban, hip alternative to Silicon Valley, expect to see more tech companies flocking to the area, more 20-somethings prowling the streets, and more great bars, restaurants and attractions opening as a result.
When people who don’t live in San Francisco think about transportation, they most likely picture the iconic cable car or the Golden Gate Bridge. But the history of transportation in the City by the Bay encompassed the evolution of innovation and growth throughout its history. Within every cable, track, steam engine, and horse lays the story of how the city moved and continues to move with the times.
There was an era when San Franciscans didn’t travel much by land, as many locations were easier to access via ferry. But as time progressed, things changed. In 1850, however, the ferry was still a way to get to the East Bay. A small steamer named “Kangaroo” shuttled passengers between Oakland and San Francisco only twice a week, which by today’s standards is a very long time to wait indeed. It wasn’t until 1875 that the first official ferry service had its maiden bon voyage from the then-new ferry terminal in the Embarcadero.
Though commuters still travel via ferry today from the Embarcadero, it would be the battle for the roads in San Francisco that became significant for years to come.
Because the following year, Mission Plank Road–now Mission Street–opened for horse and rider traffic from California and Kearny Streets to the Mission Dolores District. Later in 1851, other routes and omnibus (a sort of stagecoach) companies became active. Thus leading to a competition that may have been bad for business but good for customers because fares decreased. As the city evolved and expanded, there began a move towards developing methods that did not include a horse, though things moved slower then.
Nine years later, in 1860, the SF Market Street Railroad began trials on Market and Valencia Streets to 16th Street. The line offered regular hourly service by July of that year. The project was mired in difficulty because preparing for the tracks required significant cuts to dunes that were sometimes upwards of 60-feet. Initially, railroad franchise permits only had the rights for mule or horse-service but eventually, the State allowed railroad companies to employ steam in 1961. The hard work was worth it for builder Thomas Hayes as popular events like horse racing attracted visitors and transit companies alike.
Further changes brought citizens closer together, with more affordable fares that meant any San Franciscan could ride up Clay Street Hill to access what was then somewhat of an elite enclave. With advances in transportation lines came legislative and worker issues. Yet, while the back-and-forth occurred between companies obtaining franchises to build more methods of transportation, the City still continued to ‘move’ towards its current iteration. Starting with the opening of the Powell-Mason line, which is the most recognizable San Francisco cable car, the foggy city really started to resemble the ‘face’ it currently shows.
Though not mentioned in nostalgic depictions of SF is how Muni’s history was woven into SF history more than two decades before the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. Now, a well-worn friend of visitors and commuters alike Muni–for better or worse—is the unsung local hero that should also be mentioned here—if only to remind us that San Francisco also considered utility as well as beauty in its architectural and engineering executions.
On the topic of beauty, there can be no talk about the evolution of San Francisco without the Golden Gate Bridge. The majestic cable suspension bridge, with its burnt sun-colored hue is a breathtaking reminder of the power of the architectural imagination. At the time of its opening, in 1937, the bridge was the longest and tallest suspension bridge in the world. As beautiful as it is utilitarian, the bridge opened a path usually only accessible via ferry. In a sense, it is proof that the city has always attempted to connect lands separated by water.
Such could have been the case when in Alameda County, Contra Costa County, and SF county approved a nearly $800 million construction for a Bay Area Rapid Transit system (BART) in the early 1960s. The project took over a decade, and BART now shuttles approximately 129 million trips a year.
Though this timeline is just a brief, concise history of the evolution of transportation in San Francisco, we can see the trajectory of its growth. With a land area of under 50-square miles, residents of the diminutive city have always had an almost bullish determination to make its mark. Now, as it enters an age when many of its methods of transportation need revising, it’s clear, based on its history, that San Francisco is up to the task.
San Francisco has gone through multiple iterations throughout its lifetime, but more so in the last decade. As tech giants have poured into the Bay Area, developments to accommodate its needs are a constant sight along its city streets; listing all of them would be no small feat. Instead, here are five changes coming down the pipeline by initiative.
The Mission District, a San Francisco neighborhood known for its forearm-sized namesake the “Mission burrito” and its rich Latino history, has seen maybe the most change in the last ten years. But even as the city transforms, its socially conscious spirit remains–especially within communities that warrant it the most.
Enter Mission Economic Development Agency.
Known as Meda, this nonprofit espouses a mission to “strengthen low-and moderate [sic] income Latinos families by promoting economic equity and social” through its community developments. The agency is spearheading the development of at least six low-to-mid housing projects in the Mission and surrounding areas within the next two to three years–a move that will put approximately 733 affordable units in the district.
California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC) consists of four of the oldest San Francisco hospitals. Affiliated with not-for-profit Sutter Health, CPMC and Sutter Health facilities have serviced the Bay Area since the 1800s. With the construction of two new hospitals over 80 percent to completion, the additional hospitals will meet stricter earthquake safety standards. Employing 120 seismic “viscous wall dampers” will make the medical facilities as being among the “safest and greenest hospitals in California”. Due to open early next year, the facility will add 11 floors and 274 acute-care beds.
San Francisco is about to see green–both in sustainable housing and revenue. With the construction of a 420-unit, 450,000 square-foot building brimming with retail space, parking and modern amenities like a rooftop terrace, spa, golf simulator and more–all compliant with the Build It Green Multifamily Building rating system–the complex at 150 Van Ness is set to become the green standard for SF. The complex is set to finish in about a year from now.
According to a recent survey: public transportation is a major problem for Bay Area residents. In the poll, 70 percent of residents cite a “great need” for expansion and an end to service issues plaguing Muni, Caltrain, and BART. These undependable transit systems have led to an uptick in car commuters, making streets more congested. There is a dig happening underneath the streets of South of Market (SoMa), Union Square, and Chinatown that promises to alleviate these issues in a major way. When finished, the Central Subway project will allow the T Third Line trains to provide an alternate link around the busiest streets in the city. By providing this link between downtown and the T-line, the Central Subway Project aims to alleviate at least some of the “great need”.
Senator Dianne Feinstein’s and East Bay Congressman Mark DeSaulnier’ letter to the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) was a plea for alternate routes from to San Francisco–including a second Bay Bridge. The letter suggests that traffic has caused soul-crushing economic and quality of life issues. The two officials promise that life would be much more “tolerable” with their proposed change in infrastructure. And structural engineer Roumen V. Mladjov backs them up, at least about needing a second bridge to alleviate traffic.
Said Mladjov in a SFGate op-ed, “ [W]e need an additional bay bridge. Let us consider the statistics: Since 1990, the region’s population has increased by 27.5 percent to 7.68 million today. It is projected to increase by another 21 percent to 9.3 million by 2040. Traffic on our roads and bridges increases proportionally: the 300,000 vehicles per day on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, will increase to some 363,000 vehicles by 2040. The attraction of the Bay Area means this growth will not abate.”
Whether the MTC will act is still TBD. But one thing is for certain: San Francisco, always a city on the grow, isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
Five Tenderloin Hot Spots
A small neighborhood nestled between Union Square and Civic Center, the Tenderloin is a San Francisco favorite for visitors and residents alike. Beloved for its affordable housing, artsy vibe, lively bar and restaurant scene, and incredible roster of galleries, there’s no shortage of great places to check out in this neighborhood. Iconic, vibrant and a little gritty, the Tenderloin has always attracted artists.
Author Dashiell Hammett has used the neighborhood as the setting for many of his novels, and it was a destination for several Beat writers in the 1950’s. Its Black Hawk nightclub saw performances by jazz legends like Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk. The neighborhood’s murals and galleries have garnered national attention, and it also encompasses part of the theater district, including destinations like the Orpheum, Golden Gate, Curran and Geary.
It’s no surprise, then, that our favorite spots in the Tenderloin are places that reflect the neighborhood’s artistic heritage and eclectic style. Here are just a few must-visit places in an enclave that’s edgy and teeming with cultural assets:
THE place to go if you enjoy caramel, chocolate, or chocolate and caramel mixed together. Hooker’s is a haven for all who enjoy a salty, buttery, bite-sized treat with their afternoon coffee. These amazing caramels don’t get stuck in your teeth and have been featured on the Cooking Channel and the Martha Stewart Show. They’re handmade, produced in small batches, crafted from the finest ingredients, and not-to-be-missed.
A home goods mecca offering a chic blend of items, from sleek furniture to rugs, lighting, pottery and other objects d’art. Here you can find a marble table that doubles as a Ouija Board, cloud-inspired chandeliers consisting of nests of frosted globes, and “feathered” resin skulls by the French artist Laurence Le Constant.
Now open by appointment only, this quirky bookstore is worth the extra effort. Stocking a stunning supply of rare and out-of-print books, the store specializes in first-edition paperbacks, particularly literary classics and pulp fiction detective novels. The store employs a unique organizational system, with oddball categories such as “Juvenile Delinquency” and “Catholic Guilt.” It also offers vintage posters and magazines. It’s a great destination for collectors, readers drawn to the obscure, and those looking for fun, rather exotic gifts. And, if calling ahead proves too inconvenient, there’s always Argonaut Bookshop, an antiquarian book store specializing in the history of California and the American West.
So many great bars have emerged in the Tenderloin over the past few years, but this is one as playful and offbeat as its surroundings. Royale features rotating musical performances by local bands, art exhibits along the walls that are changed out monthly, a changing menu featuring the food of the city’s best pop-up kitchens, and eccentric events like opera singing contests, drunken spelling bees and Beatles karaoke.
Fantastic restaurants and varied cuisines are abundant in the Tenderloin, and the neighborhood has standout purveyors of Burmese, Ethiopian, Asian fusion, Afghan, Creole, Southern, Thai, Japanese, and other types of food. But it’s still best known for one of its longest-standing neighborhood staples, Saigon Sandwich. A cheap, takeout-only, no-frills Vietnamese sandwich shop, Saigon Sandwich may not have a website, but it’s consistently featured on San Francisco “best of” lists and has been called possibly “the best banh mi in America” by The New York Times. The pork and the combo are both standouts.
After that, there’s plenty more to explore in this ever-evolving area. Be sure to check out the Tenderloin Museum for a full picture of the district’s colorful past, and you won’t need to look far to uncover a slate of great restaurants, bakeries, galleries, rooftop bars, and more.
This neighborhood has been home to its share of shining personalities in San Francisco’s long history. For many musicians and music lovers, the Tenderloin was a place where they could pursue their passion free of judgement or worry. The pretension-free atmosphere in the area ended up being the perfect setting for some of the most forward-thinking and beloved works in American history. For the greats who performed live, recorded their albums, or just jammed at local clubs, the Tenderloin will remain an inexorable part of their history, and they a cherished aspect of the neighborhood’s long and nuanced narrative.
Before hippies transformed the streets of the city, another movement was well underway in the Tenderloin, one that turned old musical traditions upside down while inventing a few of its own. Those chasing the latest sound of the mid 20th century might have found themselves taking in the sounds of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and countless others at the Black Hawk jazz club at the corner of Turk and Hyde. While the club is now a parking lot, live albums from Monk, Davis, and others including Dave Brubeck keep the old sound alive for a new generation of listeners.
The sounds that would shake the nation weren’t just performed here-they got committed to record in the Tenderloin as well. The legendary Wally Heider Studios (still in operation today as Hyde Street Studios) located on 245 Hyde Street, right across the street from the Black Hawk, saw some of music’s biggest names turn their ideas into enduring legends. Albums like Santana’s Abraxas, Van Morrison’s Tupelo Honey, and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Green River (just to name a few) were put to wax here, cementing San Francisco as a beacon of rock and roll visionaries thanks to the welcoming they found in the Tenderloin.
At those two beloved sites, what is now music history was once vibrant and breathing. For a new generation of creators, the Tenderloin remains a place where they can build their dreams. The Center for New Music on Taylor Street functions as a hub for the incubation and nurturing of vital new voices, and the Great American Music Hall on O’Farrell hosts top touring acts right in our humble ‘hood. For a taste of the old and new and everything in between, the Tenderloin serves it up choice.
While it’s only a few blocks long, the Tenderloin’s Little Saigon area is jam-packed with Vietnamese culture. As the heart of the immigrant community from the small but significant Southeast Asian nation, this area has the taste of the region, with reasonably priced delights for a variety of appetites.
Saigon Sandwich Shop
It’s not a Vietnamese enclave without some world-class Banh Mi, and visitors to the Tenderloin will find no shortage of options. For our money, the best Vietnamese sandwiches can be found at the Saigon Sandwich Shop, and judging by the lunchtime lines out the door, we’re not the only ones. For around $4, their overstuffed offerings are an unbeatable deal, with a flavor that keeps their loyal customers patiently waiting, lunch hour after lunch hour.
Kien Thanh Coffee Shop
If you’re looking for some authentic old-country beverages, look no further than this mom-and-pop operation on Eddy Street. Their Vietnamese Tea and Coffee brings the flavors of Saigon to San Francisco at prices that’ll agree with any budget. Finger foods are priced to move here as well, but without lacking quality or that homemade care. Whether you’re new to the neighborhood or a lifelong resident, the friendly service here means you’ll always feel at home.
This contemporary restaurant’s wide-ranging menu and healthy fare make it a great option for visitors looking for more than a quick bite. While their noodle bowls there a main attraction, the entire menu from pho to the braised pork brings authentic Vietnamese flavor in abundance. Unpretentious but high in quality, Tin is worth the walk over to the other side of Mission Street. Be warned, dinner hours begin at 5:30 and seats fill up fast, so you’ll want to get there early.
Pho Tan Hoa
If you’re like a lot of people searching for great Vietnamese eats, pho is number one on your list. Little Saigon’s finest just may be found at Pho Tan Hoa on Jones Street, where a large bowl will get you way more meat than most joints at a wallet-friendly price. If you’re new to the area, you’re more than likely to end up a regular after your first visit thanks to their great service and unbeatable broth. Grab some cash before you arrive, because they don’t take credit cards. With pho this good, they don’t have to.
Hai Ky Noodles
Hold onto that cash, because you’ll need it at the Tenderloin’s favorite noodle shop as well. Whether served in your soup or dry on the side, Hai Ky’s specialty is one of the true highlights of Ellis Street’s edible offerings. The variety is another great feature, as their Chinese/Vietnamese hybrid menu serves up favorites of both nations well enough to keep foodies of all stripes coming back for more.
Heart of the City Farmer’s Market
Feeling inspired to try your hand at these Vietnamese favorites? You’ll find the ingredients you need at San Fran’s only nonprofit farmer’s market down on United Nations Plaza at the southern end of the neighborhood. The freshest produce, meats and seafood you can find in the area can serve as the raw materials for your own take on banh mi, pho, and an almost infinite number of concoctions. Don’t worry-if you feel like leaving it to the experts after you’ve tried your hand, there are plenty of options right here in the Tenderloin.
For San Francisco residents new and old, the Tenderloin is a source of endless fascination. This colorful and historical neighborhood has seen its share of characters, crusaders, and creators, and the stories contained here could keep even the most jaded visitor on the edge of their seat.
Luckily, we’ve got a spot dedicated to chronicling the history of this exceptional spot, right nearby on Eddy and Leavenworth Streets. The Tenderloin Museum, opened in 2015, hosts a rotating set of exhibits focused on the people and events that make this often-overlooked neighborhood the rightful center of attention. For those who live here or are just passing through, this vivid history is not to be missed.
Situated across from the legendary Black Cat jazz club, the musical history of the Tenderloin is on display with pieces celebrating the diverse group artists who’ve come through the area, from Thelonious Monk to Jefferson Airplane. Aside from entertainment, the Museum has a dedicated focus to the history of political and social activism that has centered on the surrounding streets.
The Museum’s walking tours offer an up-close look at the Tenderloin’s historical and current hotspots. Far from gawking tourism, these treks are guided by longtime residents who know the streets like the backs of their hands. Their passion for the neighborhood comes through and compellingly ties the legacy of the past to the pulsating present.
A gift shop featuring the work of local artists rather than the expected mugs and calendars is an appropriate way to wrap up your visit, letting all who come through these doors engage with the still-vibrant character of San Francisco’s most fascinating neighborhood. The Tenderloin deserves a museum as unique as itself, and thankfully, it’s got one.
Looking for engrossing activities in the SF area? Check out our look at 5 Hidden Gems of San Francisco to get to know this great city even better!
Every big city has its tourist magnets, and ours is no exception. Golden Gate Park, Union Square and Fisherman’s Wharf are spectacular places to visit, but locals know that there’s much more to San Francisco than what’s listed in the travel guides. When you’ve exhausted the city’s tried-and-true must-sees, you’ll find that every neighborhood has its secrets, and those hidden places are well worth seeking out. For a break from the urban grind, San Francisco has thousands of fun escapes tucked within its winding streets and jagged cliffs. Here are five of them:
This sculpture, constructed on the tip of a jetty in the San Francisco marina, is actually a musical instrument played by the Bay itself. Constructed of PVC organ pipes, the Wave Organ emits sounds that change with the tides. The jetty, which extends from the Golden Gate Yacht Club, also overlooks the Golden Gate and Alcatraz and offers a panoramic view of the city.
This massive art installation is constructed from 37 reclaimed Monterey cypress trees and stands 100 feet tall, rising above the secluded Bay Area Ridge Trail in the Presidio forest. The unhealthy trees were felled as part of a reforestation project and repurposed by Goldsworthy into the sculpture, which can be seen from downtown on clear days.
Nestled within the Cayuga Terrace neighborhood, this whimsical park is best known for its colorful sculptures of imaginary wooden creatures and totem poles. But if that’s not enough to entice you, the park also includes a children’s playground, walking trails, basketball and tennis courts, a ball diamond, and more.
For a truly mind-bending experience, make the trip to this psychedelic attraction on Pier 39. Great for all ages, the mirror maze is lit with black lights, causing it to glow with neon colors. Covering 2,000 square feet with 77 mirrors, the maze is filled with twists and dead-ends that will disorient and delight.
Along the Coastal Trail in Lands End park is a hidden labyrinth nestled within Eagle’s Point. Constructed with stones, it was modeled after the traditional walking labyrinths of monasteries. Except for a spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge, walking the labyrinth is a solitary experience that feels like it’s unraveling at a remote corner of the world. A peaceful and contemplative experience.
There’s plenty in this city just waiting to be discovered by old and new residents alike. It’ll take nearly a lifetime to check out everything there is to see, so get out there and explore!
It’s been a Bay Area icon since opening in 1937, and arguably no span in the world has captured global imaginations as powerfully as the Golden Gate Bridge. Towering brightly, perched above the often turbulent San Francisco Bay, the bridge reminded Depression-era America that great achievements were still possible. Despite its familiarity to most Americans and San Franciscans, there’s still a great deal of history lost in popular imagination. These are just a few lesser-known facts about this incredible landmark.
Plans Were in the Works Since 1872
While the bridge is an exemplar of the Art Deco era in which it was built, plans for a connection between the city of San Francisco and Marin County had been in the works for 65 years beforehand. It wasn’t until technology improved that real feasibility testing could occur in 1919, and the 4-year construction process was underway over a dozen years later in 1933.
The Original Color Ideas Were Quite Different
If the U.S. War Department (as it was known at the time) had their way during the planning stages, the bridge would be painted in black and yellow stripes rather than it’s immediately recognizable burnt orange. Concerns about visibility in the foggy San Francisco Bay gave rise to this bee-striped assertion, but the builders’ aesthetic opinions won out and the current color (known officially as “International Orange”) was deemed visible enough to be safe for passing ships.
Fundraising Was a Group Effort
As state and federal money were more difficult to come by in the belt-tightened 30s, residents of the six counties comprising the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District approved $35 million in bonds with their homes and businesses as collateral to get the bridge built. Because of their foresight and generosity, the bridge stands as a monument to the power of community to achieve and built the extraordinary.
It’s 50th Anniversary Almost Ended in Disaster
To celebrate the bridge’s golden jubilee in 1987, a mass celebration was expected to draw about 50,000 visitors to the closed roadways. Instead, over 300,000 crammed onto the Golden Gate, flattening the curved span to the highest level of strain ever seen. While there was no danger of collapse, overcrowding concerns mean that such a gathering hasn’t been attempted since.
The Summer of Love. The Jefferson Airplane. The Grateful Dead.
It’s a testament to the enduring cultural legacy of San Francisco that just a few words are all that’s needed to conjure up images of those legendary days. The days when this corner of San Francisco had the eyes of America on it, a place every young person with a dream of finding something new found themselves irresistibly drawn.
Iconic as they may be, those names don’t tell the whole story of this fair city. A slightly different set of strivers would set up shop in the Tenderloin, then a spot where the street-smart found themselves easily at home. Smack dab in the middle of it all, 285 Turk Street has seen plenty of changes throughout the years.
The origins of the Tenderloin name are fuzzy, with some believing it comes from “on the take” cops of the old days, who were able to afford the pricier cut of meat thanks to the lucrative market in graft and bribery. Today’s Tenderloin is a long way from those gritty days, and the cultural impact of the years since then have molded this neighborhood into something uniquely San Franciscan.
Those intervening years saw some of the defining art that made the Tenderloin come alive. Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and others recorded live albums at Turk Street and Hyde’s renowned Black Hawk club, whose atmosphere suited jazz greats at their smoky best. Detective fiction writer Dashiell Hammett found inspiration here as well, giving his grizzled detective Sam Spade his Maltese Falcon residence on 891 Post Street, a short walk from 285 Turk Street.
Today’s Tenderloin residents, it’s fair to say, aren’t quite the rough characters who populated the tales (and police blotters) of the mid-20th century. Now a hub for tech and innovation, the San Francisco area has become a magnet, not for flower children or troublemakers, but the dreamers and creators of a new 21st century. For those looking to make the Tenderloin their own, 285 Turk Street is an appropriately forward-thinking place to call home.