Each of us who are lucky enough to live in San Francisco are all too aware that we live in a world-class city. Museums, restaurants, theaters, historical landmarks, stunning views, and tourists all over the place, this city it the real deal. I knew all of this before I made the move from the East coast but what I was never made aware of was the hot mess smack dab in to middle of all this beauty: The Tenderloin.
Honestly, it shocked me. I’d never before seen so many people so down on their luck or without homes or mental stability or, even more shocking, selling and buying drugs in the middle of the day as conspicuously as possible. It hurt my heart, but as my time here wore on and I eventually found myself visiting the TL on the reg, I discovered it wasn’t as scary as it appears.
After a year of living in a Mission apartment with my friends (during their first year of marriage), I decided it was time to venture out on my own. Like many desperate shelter seekers in this fair city, I found myself signing the lease to a studio in the Tenderloin (I even have my own bathroom, guys!). My apartment is awesome. It’s spacious, sunny, comes complete with a walk-in closet and I got it for under a grand a month. This blows people’s minds (though still sounds crazy to me because I could have a whole house in Philly for that much) and most people congratulate me, until I tell them my cross streets and am immediately scoffed at. It happens literally every time. I understand why, I live in the juiciest part of the Tenderloin, certainly not for the faint of heart. But the truth of the matter is, it’s not very scary to live here. Do I see unpleasant things daily, yes, I do, and I know that’s not for everyone, but I’ve also noticed that this neighborhood offers a whole lot more than just wayward souls.
For starters, the Tenderloin is rich in seedy and fascinating history. Yes, it’s always been home to the wild ones, the gamblers, hustlers, prostitutes and bootleggers; why mess with a good thing, right? The TL has been a residential neighborhood since shortly after the Gold Rush and boasted a bustling nightlife in the 19th century. Notorious madam Tessie Wall opened her first brothel on O’Farrell Street in 1898. As with most things in SF, the entire neighborhood was destroyed by fires after the earthquake in 1906. Shortly after, the city rebuilt the Tenderloin district and constructed our now infamous single room occupancy hotels. This affordable housing helped continue to usher in new immigrants and provide a roof for young couples and single people. After the Vietnam War, the TL’s SROs served as shelter for a large number of Southeast Asian refugees. Today, we have the world’s largest collection of single room occupancy hotels, way to go SF!
Before the Castro emerged as the city’s gay haven, Turk and Taylor Sts were the hot spots. In fact, and unfortunately, this neighborhood was also the site of numerous historic confrontations with police on the subject of sexuality. Some of these historic gay bars, like Aunt Charlie’s, still exist today.