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Tuesday, August 25, 2015
URBAN EXPLORER / IMAGES OF THE TENDERLOIN
The Tenderloin District, San Francisco
A SALUTE TO
THE WORK OF SAN FRANCISCO PHOTOGRAPHER HENRIK KAM
Art is where
you find it.
the creation of websites we habitués of the Internet can mine remarkable sites
for art, especially photographic art.
Case in point:
San Francisco’s St. Francis Foundation has a website that is populated with a
remarkable collection of photographic images.
taken by veteran San Francisco photographer Henrik Kam.
of Kam’s images here is the rough and tumble Tenderloin district of the city
newspaper columnist Herb Caen called affectionately: Baghdad by the Bay.
For a more comprehensive example of Kam’s work go to his blog:
and click to his website for remarkable images of modern San Francisco:
Tenderloin took its name from an older neighborhood in New York with similar
characteristics. There are several explanations of how that neighborhood was
named. Some said it was a reference to the neighborhood as the "soft
underbelly" (analogous to the cut of meat) of the city, with allusions to
vice and corruption, especially graft.
popular explanation, probably folklore, attributes the name to a New York City
police captain, Alexander S. Williams, who was overheard saying that when he
was assigned to another part of the city, he could only afford to eat chuck
steak on the salary he was earning, but after he was transferred to this neighborhood
he was making so much money on the side soliciting bribes that now he could eat
tenderloin instead. Another version of that story says that the officers who
worked in the Tenderloin received a "hazard pay" bonus for working in
such a violent area, and thus were able to afford the good cut of meat. Yet
another story, also likely apocryphal, is that the name is a reference to the
"loins" of prostitutes.
Tenderloin borders the Mission/Market Street corridor, which follows the
Spaniards' El Camino Real, which in turn traced an ancient north/south Indian
trail. The Tenderloin is sheltered by Nob Hill, and far enough from the bay to
be on solid ground. There is evidence that a community resided here several
thousand years ago. In the 1960s, the area was excavated to develop the
BART/MUNI subway station at Civic Center. During the excavation, the remains of
a woman dated to be 5,000 years old were found.
Tenderloin has been a downtown residential community since shortly after the
California Gold Rush in 1849. However, the name "Tenderloin" does not
appear on any maps of San Francisco prior to the 1930s; before then, it was
labeled as "Downtown", although it may have been informally referred
to as "the Tenderloin" as early as the 1910s. The area had an active
nightlife in the late 19th century with many theaters, restaurants and hotels.
Notorious madam Tessie Wall opened her first brothel on O'Farrell Street in
Almost all of the buildings in the
neighborhood were destroyed by the 1906 Earthquake and the backfires that were
set by firefighters to contain the devastation. The area was immediately
rebuilt with some hotels opening by 1907 and apartment buildings shortly
thereafter, including the historic Cadillac Hotel. By the 1920s, the
neighborhood was notorious for its gambling, billiard halls, boxing gyms,
"speakeasies", theaters, restaurants and other nightlife depicted in
the hard boiled detective fiction of Dashiell Hammett, who lived at 891 Post
Street, the apartment he gave to Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon.
mid-20th century the Tenderloin provided work for many musicians in the
neighborhood's theaters, hotels, burlesque houses, bars and clubs and was the
location of the Musician's Union Building on Jones Street. The most famous jazz
club was the Black Hawk at Hyde and Turk Streets where Dave Brubeck, Miles
Davis, Thelonious Monk, Gerry Mulligan, and other jazz greats recorded live
albums for Fantasy Records in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
consisting almost entirely of single-room-occupancy hotel rooms, studio and one
bedroom apartments, the Tenderloin historically housed single adults and
couples.After World War II, with the
decline in central cities throughout the United States, the Tenderloin lost
population, creating a large amount of vacant housing units by the mid-1970s.
Beginning in the late 1970s, after the Vietnam War, the Tenderloin received
large numbers of refugees from Southeast Asia—first ethnic Chinese from
Vietnam, then Khmer from Cambodia and Hmong from Laos.
cost vacant housing, and the proximity to Chinatown through the Stockton Street
Tunnel, made the area appealing to refugees and resettlement agencies. Studio
apartments became home for families of four and five people and became what a
local police officer called "vertical villages." The Tenderloin
quickly increased from having just a few children to having over 3,500 and this
population has remained. A number of neighborhood Southeast Asian restaurants,
banh mi coffee shops, ethnic grocery stores, video shops, and other stores
opened at this time, which still exist.
Tenderloin has a long history as a center of alternate sexualities, including
several historic confrontations with police. The legendary female impersonator
Rae Bourbon, a performer during the Pansy Craze, was arrested in 1933 while his
show "Boys Will Be Girls" was being broadcast live on the radio from
Tait's Cafe at 44 Ellis Street. On New Years Day in 1965 police raided a Mardi
Gras Ball at California Hall on Polk Street sponsored by the Council on
Religion and the Homosexual, lining up and photographing 600 participants and
arresting several prominent citizens. One of the first "gay riots",
pre-dating the Stonewall riots in New York, happened at Compton's Cafeteria at
Turk and Taylor Streets in August 1966 when the police, attempting to arrest a
drag queen, sparked a riot that spilled into the streets. Prior to the
emergence of The Castro as a major gay village, the center of the Tenderloin at
Turk and Taylor and the Polk Gulch at the western side of the Tenderloin were
two of the city's first gay neighborhoods and a few of these historic gay bars
and clubs still exist.
apartment where Dashiell Hammett wrote The Maltese Falcon was once in the
boundaries of the Tenderloin at the corner of Hyde and Post. Both the movie and
book The Maltese Falcon were based in San Francisco's Tenderloin. There is also
an alley in what is now Nob Hill, named for the book's author (Dashiell
Hammett). It lies outside the Tenderloin because the boundary was defined with
borders different from today's. Some locations, such as Sam Spade's apartment
and John's Grill, also no longer lie in the Tenderloin because local economics
and real estate have changed the character and labeling of areas over time.
2008, the area was designated as a historic district on the National Register
of Historic Places.