Tenderloin Museum celebrates neighborhood

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Saturday, March 21, 2015
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One of San Francisco's most notorious neighborhoods, The Tenderloin, is looking to change its image, and it is turning to the past to reshape its future.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- One of San Francisco's most notorious neighborhoods is looking to change its image, and it is turning to the past to reshape its future. There will soon be a new way to celebrate its history.

"Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson, George Foreman, they all boxed at the Cadillac Hotel. You know you can't say that about any other place in San Francisco," said Randy Shaw, of the Tenderloin Museum.

Randy Shaw walks around San Francisco's Tenderloin like it is a museum. Nearly every building has a story to tell, and he knows most of them.

The Tenderloin District is wedged between city hall and Union Square in downtown San Francisco. It's one of the city's most densely populated neighborhoods.

"The vast majority of buildings from 1907 to 1920 are still here," Shaw said.

The Tenderloin was leveled by the 1906 earthquake and fire. Almost immediately, residents returned and started to rebuild. Little has changed since then. There are now 409 buildings designated as part of the Uptown Tenderloin Historic District.

"There is one single-family home in the Tenderloin, it was built in the fifties," said Shaw, "There's no two unit places. There are very few flats. We were an entire apartment and hotel district, which is very rare in the United States."

Today, parts of the Tenderloin have a reputation for being a bit rough, but it wasn't always that way. Until the 1950s the Tenderloin was the center of San Francisco's nightlife, full of restaurants, theaters, fancy hotels, and casinos.

"When the ability of us to do gambling was stopped in the mid-50s, the Tenderloin's economy has never really recovered," Shaw said.

Shaw is hoping the neighborhood will now find a reason to celebrate at the corner of Eddy and Leavenworth streets. The Cadillac Hotel was the first building in the neighborhood completed after the 1906 quake. Now it will be home to the first museum about the Tenderloin.

Work is well underway on the museum. Shaw says when complete, it will be the starting point for community lead tours and will serve as an archive for its history.

"This is where the gay and lesbian movement in the city started. We have Miles Davis, the jazz history, Muhammad Ali, the boxing history. We have Jerry Garcia, and all these great rock stars who recorded their big albums in the Tenderloin, and nobody knows that."

Organizers hope the new museum will give people a reason to stop and appreciate the neighborhood. Doors open to the public on June 10.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel