Tenderloin, San Francisco, California

Tenderloin, San Francisco, California

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The Tenderloin is a dense residential, retail and nightlife neighborhood in downtown San Francisco. While it may have a rich history and a diverse and artistic community, there is significant poverty, homelessness, and crime. It is known for its immigrant populations, single room occupancy hotels, ethnic restaurants, bars and clubs, alternative arts scene, large homeless population, public transit and close proximity to Union Square, the Financial District, and Civic Center. The 2000 census reported a population of 28,991 persons, with a population density of 44,408/mi² (17,146/km²), in the Tenderloin's 94102 Zip Code Tabulation Area, which also includes the nearby Hayes Valley neighborhood. [ [http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/GCTTable?_bm=y&-context=gct&-ds_name=DEC_2000_SF1_U&-CONTEXT=gct&-mt_name=DEC_2000_SF1_U_GCTPH1_US25&-tree_id=4001&-redoLog=true&-_caller=geoselect&-geo_id=85000US941&-format=ZI-1&-_lang=en] ]


The Tenderloin is a historic place full of preserved hotels from the early 20th century, some of which have been renovated into boutique tourist hotels and others into supportive housing. Squalid conditions, homelessness, crime, drug sales, prostitution, liquor stores (more than 60 in 2008), and strip clubs give the neighborhood a seedy reputation. However, these conditions have also kept rents in the area more affordable to low-income and working-class people in a city that is among the priciest in the country. The Tenderloin has one of the city's highest concentrations of children.

With some of San Francisco's most prestigious real estate only a few blocks to the north, the nearby office towers of the Financial District and the upscale retailers and hoteliers of Union Square located immediately to the east, the Tenderloin often surprises tourists to the city. As with other lower-income neighborhoods such as the Mission and SOMA districts, many artists and writers make the Tenderloin their home.

While Tenderloin streets closest to the Market Street corridor are among San Francisco's most undesirable, a gradual but distinct rise in income level occurs as one travels north toward the affluent Nob Hill neighborhood (with the partially gentrified transition area between the two neighborhoods sometimes referred to as the hybrid "Tendernob"). Relative to other areas, the Tenderloin is the only largely working-class neighborhood within the downtown area.

The dot-com boom of the late 1990s brought a great deal of redevelopment and resident inhabitation to the SOMA district in particular, but some revitalization funds put into the Tenderloin made a prominent impact — evident today by a much broader section of new ethnic restaurants and bars, as well as a more long-term young working class.


The Tenderloin is a dense downtown neighborhood located in the flatlands on the southern slope of Nob Hill, nestled between the Union Square shopping district to the northeast and the Civic Center office district to the southwest. It encompasses about fifty square blocks and a conservative description has it bounded on the North by Post Street, on the East by Mason Street, on the South by Mission Street and on the West by Van Ness and Ninth Streets. The northern boundary with Nob Hill can range as far north as Pine Street in western sections of the Tenderloin, such as the Polk Gulch neighborhood.

The Tenderloin roughly lies west of Union Square, south of Nob Hill, east of the Western Addition and Van Ness corridor, and north of "South of Market" (SOMA).

It includes neighborhoods referred to as Civic Center, Downtown, Polk Gulch, and Little Saigon. The words "The Tenderloin" seldom appear in real-estate listings.

The extension of the Tenderloin south of Market Street in the vicinity of Sixth, Seventh, and Mission Streets is known locally as Mid-Market and is "Skid Row," or sarcastically as "the Wine Country," an allusion to "winos" (street-dwelling alcoholics). The northern part of it beginning at Post Street is called a variety of names, including Tenderloin Heights, Lower Nob Hill (widely used in real estate listings) or The Tendernob. The eastern extent, where it meets Union Square is known as the Theater District. Part of the western extent of the Tenderloin, Larkin and Hyde Streets between Turk and O'Farrell, was officially named "Little Saigon" by the City of San Francisco.

Nestled between successful commercial areas and high priced residential areas, parts of the Tenderloin have historically resisted gentrification, maintaining a seedy character and reputation for crime. [Guidebook reference to Tenderloin as "worst neighborhood in San Francisco http://www.sfgate.com/traveler/guide/sf/neighborhoods/tenderloin.shtml] The region includes City Hall, San Francisco Public Library, and the Asian Art Museum. Abandoned architectural landmarks are also located here, such as the old Hibernia Bank located on the dilapidated corner of Jones and McAllister Street, near a methadone clinic, the Saint Anthony Foundation and St. Anthony Dining Room, founded by Franciscan friar Alfred Boeddeker in 1950. UC Hastings, California's first law school, and the oldest law school west of the Mississippi River, is also present in the area.

Night Life

The Tenderloin hosts major world class institutions and cutting edge alternative arts groups.

Large theaters in the neighborhood include the Geary, the home of the American Conservatory Theater, and the Curran, Golden Gate and Orpheum Theatres operated by the Shorenstein Nederlander Organization. The neighborhood includes the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library and the Asian Art Museum. Adjacent to the neighborhood on its Western edge is the San Francisco Opera House, Davies Symphony Hall and the Herbst Theatre.

Alternative theaters in the Tenderloin include EXIT Theatre, which operates four storefront theaters and produces the San Francisco Fringe Festival, the New Conservatory Theatre, the Phoenix Theatre, the Off-Market Theatre, The Last Planet Theatre and others. Alternate galleries include The Luggage Store, the 509 Cultural Center, the Shooting Gallery and others.

The Tenderloin is an historic downtown bar neighborhood dating to prohibition and before. Many bars have entertainment including Lefty O'Doul's piano bar, the dixieland oriented Gold Rush, and the drag bar Aunt Charlies. Larger live music venues include the Great American Music Hall and the Warfield Theatre.

The Tenderloin hosts many dive bars including some left over from when the neighborhood housed large numbers of merchant seamen such as the 21 Club [Listed as one of the "Best Bars in the U.S." by Esquire magazine 2008 http://www.esquire.com/bestbars/bb-21-club-sf] and the 65 Club. New trendy bars have surfaced in the neighborhood, some designed as imitation speakeasies. Hip dance clubs, such as Club Six, Suite 181, and Ruby Skye sport long lines late at night. Historically the Tenderloin has had a number of strip clubs, although their number has decreased in recent decades. The most well known is the Mitchell Brothers O'Farrell Theatre.


The Tenderloin is one of the most public transit friendly neighborhoods in the Western United States. It sits atop a transportation hub that connects to all of the Bay Area transit systems, as well as the historic downtown cable car turnaround. Major bus lines that run North and South, as well as East and West, dissect the neighborhood.

The neighborhood's Powell Street and Civic Center subway stations connect to the San Francisco MUNI Metro lines running under Market Street and the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system, including service to and from San Francisco International Airport.

On the surface of Market Street run the popular F Market line with historic streetcars from around the world, electric trolley buses, and many bus and streetcar lines. The City's busiest bus line, the 38 Geary, runs through the neighborhood as it goes from the Bay to the ocean. There are stops in the Tenderloin for Marin County's Golden Gate Transit and San Mateo County's SamTrans. The Transbay Terminal, with connections to AMTRAK and the East Bay's AC Transit, is a short Market Street bus ride away.

With the large number of hotels, restaurants, bars and theaters in the neighborhood, cabs are usually easy to hail and there are several rental car agencies in the area. Market Street, with designated bike lanes, is friendly to bicycles, although very busy with autos and buses. Wheelchair lifts on many buses make the system accessible to the disabled.

Driving and parking in the Tenderloin are problematic for the uninitiated and is discouraged by many transit activists. Street parking is scarce and expensive. Private parking lots are expensive although there are short term public lots nearby at 5th and Mission Streets and Ellis/O'Farrell (between Powell and Stockton). Onramps to the major east/west Highway 80 and Highway 280, and the major north/south Highway 101, are a short drive from the neighborhood.


The Tenderloin borders the Mission/Market Street corridor which follows the Spaniards' El Camino Real which in turn traced an ancient north/south Indian trail. Sheltered by Nob Hill and far enough from the Bay to be on solid ground, there is evidence of a community living here several thousand years ago, and when the area was excavated in the 1960s for the BART/MUNI subway station at Civic Center remains of a woman dated at 5,000 years old were found.

The Tenderloin has been a downtown residential community since shortly after the California Gold Rush in 1849. It had an active nightlife in the late 1800s with many theaters, restaurants and hotels. 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 Tenderloin was immediately rebuilt with some hotels opening by 1907 and apartment buildings shortly thereafter. 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.

In the mid-1900s 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 [Success in a Sewer, Time magazine Aug. 03, 1959 http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,825838,00.html] at Hyde and Turk Streets where Miles Davis ["Miles Davis: In Person Friday Night Live at the Blackhawk"http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=11727] , Thelonius Monk [Thelonius Monk "At the Blackhawk"http://www.billboard.com/bbcom/discography/more.jsp?tp=albums&pid=88041&aid=111455] , Gerry Mulligan, and other jazz greats recorded live albums for Fantasy Records in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

With housing consisting almost entirely of single room 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. The low cost vacant housing, and the proximity to Chinatown through the Stockton tunnel, made the area attractive 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 were created at this time which still exist.

The 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" at Tait's Cafe at 44 Ellis Street was being broadcast on the radio. On New Years Day in 1965 police raided a Mardi Gras Ball at California Hall 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 [Documentary movie Screaming Queens: the Riot at Compton's Cafeteria http://www.screamingqueensmovie.com/] 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 Polk Gulch at the western side of the Tenderloin was one of the city's first gay neighborhoods and a few of the gay bars and clubs still exist on Polk Street. Parts of Polk Street now cater to the recent gentrification of the neighborhood - such bars as Vertigo, Hemlock, and Lush Lounge.

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 differently than it is today. 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.


There are a number of stories about how the Tenderloin got its name. One is that it is a reference to an older neighborhood in New York with the same name and similar characteristics. Another is a reference to the neighborhood as the "soft underbelly" (analogous to the cut of meat) of the city, with allusions to vice, graft, and corruption. Unfortunately, this usage ignores the fact that tenderloin meat is typically cut from near the animal's spine, not the belly. There are also some legends about the name, probably folklore, including that the neighborhood earned its name from the words of a local police captain, who was overheard saying that when he was assigned to another part of town, 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 that worked in the Tenderloin received a "hazard pay" bonus for working in such a violent area, and that is how they were able to afford the good cut of meat. Yet another story, also likely apocryphal, is that the name is a reference to the sexual parts of prostitutes (i.e., "loins").The other story is that the cops that worked in the area weren't able to be paid with money so instead they were paid with Tenderloins.


According to the U.S. Census the population of the Tenderloin is about 25,000 people, although neighborhood activists feel this is an undercount. It is one of the lowest income neighborhoods in San Francisco with among the highest concentrations of homeless, elderly, disabled, ex-offender and Southeast Asian populations.

The Tenderloin has been the home of Raphael House, the first provider in The City of shelter for homeless parents and children, since 1971. It is an ethnically diverse community, consisting of families, young people living in cheap apartments, downtown bohemian artists, and recent immigrants from Southeast Asia and Latin America. It is home to a large population of homeless, those living in extreme poverty, and numerous non-profit social service agencies, soup kitchens, religious rescue missions, homeless shelters and Single Room Occupancy hotels [Central City SRO Colaborative http://www.ccsro.org/] . All of this comes together to make this one of the most diverse neighborhoods in San Francisco.

With few exceptions, housing is rented in dense 4-6 story Edwardian apartment buildings. The Hamilton, on O'Farrell Street, is a 20 story former hotel which was the first building in San Francisco to be condominiumized and is owner occupied.

Gentrification accelerated somewhat during and after the dot-com boom of 1999-2001 in the northern blocks ranging from O'Farrell Street to Sutter Street.

Religious institutions providing community services to the Tenderloin include Glide Memorial Church which was founded by Cecil Williams in 1963, and St. Anthony's, a program of the Franciscans. Both provide meals and other social services to poor and homeless residents and others. Glide and the surrounding neighborhood provided much of the setting for the 2006 film "The Pursuit of Happyness".

Recently, residents have spearheaded a local arts revival with the creation of "The Loin's Mouth", a semi-quarterly publication about life in the Tenderloin and Tenderloin Heights area. The Loin's Mouth was conceived of by its Editor, Rachel M., in the spring of 2006 and released its first issue in June the same year. It has a current circulation of approximately 6,000.


Historically, the downtown Tenderloin had no parks between Union Square to the East and Civic Center Plaza to the West until a number of activists, organizing around the City's Citizens Committee for Open Space, advocated for more open space in the Tenderloin in the 1970s. As a result a number of parks and playgrounds were created including first Boeddeker Park, a multi-use facility, then the youth oriented Tenderloin Playground, followed by a number of mini-playgrounds.

Boeddeker Park, located at the corner of Eddy and Jones Streets, is one of the most used parks per square foot in the City but has had difficulty meeting the needs of the neighborhood's varied communities. It is often unused by children and is commonly occupied by drug addicts and intoxicated people during the daytime. Periodically there are efforts to improve the park, such as holding free concerts.

The Tenderloin Playground, on Ellis Street between Leavenworth and Hyde Streets, has attractive indoor and outdoor recreational facilities and hosts a number of community and family events.

Sgt. John Macaulay Park, named after a San Francisco police officer who was killed in the adjacent alley while on duty, is a small gated playground at the corner of O'Farrell and Larkin Streets. Although the park is located across the street from a strip club, it is frequented by parents and children from the neighborhood.


Restaurants range from the classic to the trendy, from ethnic to traditional American, with prices from low to high.

The neighborhood abounds in low priced ethnic restaurants, many of which have won raves from critics. There are many informal Pakistani/Indian restaurants featuring northern Indian , including the Punjab Kebob House, Pakwan, Naan 'n' Curry, Sultan's and Shalimar, featuring specialties like tandoori chicken and dahl, where late at night you will see many cab drivers. There are many Vietnamese restaurants -- the most famous of which is Tu Lan where Julia Child dined. These include Pho noodle soup shops and banh mi cafes featuring Vietnamese sandwiches on French-style baguettes. There are several taquerias, including critically acclaimed Can-Cun on Market Street, as well as fish and chips, Thai, Chinese, Turkish, Korean cuisine, Middle Eastern, and other cuisines. There is a concentration of Halal restaurants of all ethnicities (e.g. Halal Mexican).

Classic restaurants in the Tenderloin include John's Grill, where Sam Spade ate in "The Maltese Falcon", the renowned Fleur de Lys, and Original Joe's, founded in 1937 and a pioneer of display cooking on a mesquite grill which closed, at least temporarily, after a fire in October 2007. Many of the hotels in the neighborhood also have bars and restaurants, including Cityscape on the 46th floor of the Hilton Hotel with a bird's eye view of the Tenderloin and the surrounding counties.


The Tenderloin is a high crime area, particularly violent street crime such as robbery and aggravated assault. Seven of the top ten violent crime plots (out of 665 in the entire city as measured by the San Francisco Police Department) are adjacent plots in the Tenderloin and Sixth and Market area.

The Tenderloin had a rich history of crime and gambling during the early and mid-twentieth century, much of it centered around the Downtown Bowl at Eddy and Jones and the surrounding pool halls, card rooms, boxing gyms, cigar stores, news stands and during Prohibition, speakeasies. FBI interviews included in the Warren Commission Report state that Jack Ruby and his sister lived in an apartment on Jones Street across from the Bowl in the 1930s while they were selling tip sheets at a local mob owned horse racing track. [ [http://www.aarclibrary.org/publib/jfk/wc/wcvols/wh25/pdf/WH25_CE_2328.pdf Warren Commission Volune XXV: Exhibit 2328] FBI Interview Placing Jack Ruby in the Tenderloin during 1930s] Edmund Brown, father of California governor Pat Brown and grandfather of governor Jerry Brown, owned a nearby cigar store and gambling room. The most famous boxing gym was Newman's Gym on Leavenworth, founded in 1924 and operating for over 50 years, where many great fighters trained including heavyweight champions Jack Dempsey [Jack Dempsey, the Manassa Mauler by Randy Roberts] and George Foreman and middleweight champion Bobo Olson.

The area was considered to be the origination of a notorious Filipino gang Bahala Na Gang or BNG, a gang imported from the Philippines. In the late 1960's to the mid 1970's, the gang was involved in extortion, drug sales, and murder for hire. Graffiti is common and this is the notable deathplace of Tie One, an 18 year old graffiti artist who was killed by a resident who believed he was trying to break into a building at 120 Taylor Street (now replaced). [Eulogy for Tie One http://www.pacificnews.org/jinn/stories/4.08/980417-graffiti.html] Dealing and use of illicit drugs occurs on the streets. Property crimes are common, especially theft from parked vehicles. Violent acts occur more often here and are generally related to drugs. Separate statistics on gun violence are not reported but it is known to occur. The area has been the scene of escalating drug violence in 2007, including brazen daylight shootings, as local gangs from San Francisco, and others from around the Bay Area battle for turf. [ [http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/04/26/BAGF0PFFB41.DTL "3 Tenderloin slayings are called drug-related"] , "San Francisco Chronicle, April 26, 2007]


External links

* [http://www.dreamworld.org/sfguide/Neighborhoods/tenderloin Tenderloin Photo Tour] Complete with narration, part of a massive guide to San Francisco.
* [http://upfromthedeep.wordpress.com Up from the Deep: The Hotel Project] A different perspective. Extensive photos, architectural data and history.
* [http://www.sfgate.com/traveler/guide/sf/neighborhoods/tenderloin.shtml San Francisco Neighborhood Guide] Tenderloin entry on sfgate.com.
* [http://www.newcolonist.com/tenderloin.html The Tenderloin: San Francisco's Fountainhead] - article arguing for the importance of working class neighborhoods to a city's vitality.
* [http://www.sfgov.org/site/uploadedfiles/police/crimes/plots/pmap07.htm San Francisco Police Department crime statistics] Crime by individual Tenderloin crime plots
* [http://www.aarclibrary.org/publib/jfk/wc/wcvols/wh25/pdf/WH25_CE_2328.pdf Warren Commission Volune XXV: Exhibit 2328] FBI Interview Placing Jack Ruby in the Tenderloin during 1930s
* [http://www.glide.org Glide Memorial in the Tenderloin]
* [http://www.theloinsmouth.com The Loin's Mouth] Free semi-quarterly neighborhood zine about life in the Tenderloin/Tenderloin Heights area
* [http://www.thclinic.org Tenderloin Housing Clinic]
* [http://www.chp-sf.org Community Housing Partnership]
* [http://www.nom-tlcbd.org/ North of Market/Tenderloin Community Benefit District] A non-profit coalition of residents, business & property owners, working to improve our community

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