Tenderloin History Museum exhibits neighborhood’s rich history

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SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) — A new museum that opened today beneath the historic single-room occupancy Cadillac Hotel in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District aspires to preserve relics of the neighborhood from bygone eras and share its history of vice, corruption, activism and art.

Situated at the corner of Eddy and Leavenworth streets, the Tenderloin Museum, a project of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, uses old photographs, fliers, posters and newspaper clippings to inform visitors of the neighborhood’s legacy as a place of refuge for new, often misunderstood, ideas.

Upon entering the glass-walled museum, visitors are greeted with an image of a cow showing the cut of the animal known as the tenderloin.

Alongside it is a plaque explaining the origins of the neighborhood’s name, which is thought to derive from the high amount of bribe money collected by police officers in the area, leading them to joke that they could now afford the high-quality cut of meat.

In the main room of the museum, framed artifacts spanning the life of the neighborhood adorn the walls. The room, styled with tables reminiscent of a gambling den and equipped with a pinball machine, is a tribute to the area’s rich gambling history.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, Tenderloin Housing Clinic executive director Randy Shaw, and Reverend Cecil Williams, founder of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church, were among those who gathered for the museum’s opening day this morning.

The neighborhood, often overlooked as seedy and dangerous by visitors and locals alike, has served as a hotbed of controversial activity since the city was founded, ushering in the rise of speakeasies, the advent of pornography, and the establishment of brothels.

It has also served as a refuge for Southeast Asian refugees following the Vietnam War and for other immigrant populations over the years.

Gay and lesbian residents also created a rich community in the neighborhood, with the support of gay rights activists such as Williams.

Shaw said the museum will add to the city’s rich history and help to enliven the neighborhood.

Lee agreed, saying that he hopes the museum will attract investor confidence and bring people into the neighborhood to support local businesses.

The mayor said that in addition to the museum, he is excited about a lot of other new establishment’s opening up nearby, including a Humphry Slocombe ice cream shop and author Dave Egger’s 826 Valencia writing center, among others.

Next door to the new museum on Leavenworth Street, Space 236, a new non-profit gallery that will feature Tenderloin artists, is also slated to open soon, according to Shaw.

Del Seymour, 67, a 30-year resident of the neighborhood before being priced out recently, said he was thrilled the museum was opening.

As the founder of the non-profit organization, Code Tenderloin, he said he helped staff the museum with young people from the neighborhood.

Seymour said that starting Friday, the public would be able to take tours spanning the neighborhood and the museum. Seymour and young residents of the Tenderloin staff many of those tours.

He said he hopes the museum will bring new business, new investment and a new attitude to the neighborhood, explaining that the neighborhood’s tough reputation exceeds reality.

“Its not any more unsafe than North Beach and the Mission,” Seymour said today.

Seymour said the Tenderloin’s success would be attained once the neighborhood has “more economic integration” and “a more vibrant community at night.”

The Tenderloin Museum’s evening programming kicks off tonight with “The Screaming Queens, Then and Now”, a panel on the Tenderloin’s 1966 Compton’s Cafeteria riots with transgender activists Tamara Ching and Veronika Fimbres, and filmmakers Susan Stryker and Victor Silverman.

The Tenderloin Museum is located at 398 Eddy St. in San Francisco.

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