Interior of Tenderloin Museum — Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy
With San Francisco changing at breakneck speed, museums that capture the past are becoming more and more important. As old bars and restaurants are replaced with shiny new ones, there's one neighborhood whose rough-and-tumble past might actually be protecting its future.
As the tech boom transforms San Francisco on an almost hourly basis, the Tenderloin – with over 400 buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places – remains mostly protected. (A lot of the credit for that goes to the tireless efforts of Randy Shaw, Executive Director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic.)
And the brand new Tenderloin Museum is a fantastic examination and celebration of all things Tenderloin.
Front desk and entrance area — Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy
Located at the corner of Eddy and Leavenworth Streets, Tenderloin Museum is housed in what used to be the neighborhood's only Red Lobster restaurant. Although the museum itself is only one room, every wall (as well as every vintage cocktail table) is covered with a rich and engaging narrative of this traditionally down-and-out neighborhood in San Francisco.
Be sure to give yourself at least an hour or so to walk through the museum to really consider the importance of this neighborhood. And not just to San Francisco, but to the whole country.
For example, although most people mark the Stonewall riots as the beginning of the gay rights movement, the "Screaming Queens" of the Tenderloin were fighting for gay rights several years before that event.
And, although the Castro ultimately became known as San Francisco's gay neighborhood, it was in the streets and bars and cafes of the Tenderloin that the war for LGBT rights was first fought.
First exhibit inside the Tenderloin Museum — Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy
Highlights of the museum include the many artists who visited, lived in or performed at the Tenderloin, such as The Grateful Dead, Miles Davis and Dashiell Hammett.
An excellent way to bring this history to life is to take one of the walking tours. The hour-long tour includes visits to the site of the Blackhawk Jazz Club – where jazz greats like Dave Brubeck and Thelonious Monk played – as well as Wally Heider Studios, where Santana and also Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young recorded.
The museum summarizes the Tenderloin best: "The 31 blocks of the Tenderloin District are the last bastion of a San Francisco that once was, peopled by immigrants and iconoclasts, artists and activists, sinners and saints. Visit the Tenderloin Museum today and discover the city they don’t show you in postcards."
If you're interested in the true heart of San Francisco – unseemly but necessary aorta and ventricles still attached – make time to visit the Tenderloin Museum.
Exterior of Tenderloin Museum, on the corner of Eddy and Leavenworth — Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy