To an outsider, the lobby of the Henry Hotel induces sensory overload, with yelling, slamming of doors and, during a recent visit, the wafting smell of marijuana smoke. Last week, a man outside the hotel threatened to stab an Examiner photographer attempting to take photos of the building, and a man hanging out in a nearby doorway struck a reporter in the face with a bag of trash.
Sgt. Michael Andraychak, who patrolled Sixth Street in 2003, said to this day, he still has the address of the Henry memorized.
“Yep, 106 Sixth St.,” Andraychak said. “That should tell you something.”
The notorious Sixth Street location has been in the news after surveillance footage was released over the past week allegedly showing San Francisco police officers illegally raiding rooms at the hotel to make drug busts. The footage has sparked multiple investigations, including an FBI probe into the conduct of the officers and five dismissed drug cases, three of which originated at the Henry Hotel.
But somewhat lost in the sordid affair is the fact that the cops did find a significant amount of drugs in their searches at the Henry Hotel — including more than 60 grams of heroin in one case. Gary Delagnes, president of the San Francisco Police Officers’ Association, described it as “a drug-infested —-hole.”
The Henry operates in an area with several residential hotels, many of which also have bad reputations. But even among this seedier element, the Henry stands out.
According to SFPD’s Department of Emergency Management, police have been called to the Henry Hotel 143 times since early November, an average of just more than one call per day. Of seven residential hotels in the area The San Francisco Examiner inquired about, only one other, the Seneca Hotel, was the source of more calls: 287.
Henry Hotel owner Naranjibhai “Nick” Patel said he is powerless to control the area’s well-known flaws and portrayed his job as thankless.
“I can’t do anything about it,” Patel said.
Public agencies and independent housing groups have taken strides to improve living conditions on Sixth Street and in other blocks of single-room occupancy hotels, or SROs, with little success.
Originally home to Chinese and Filipino dock workers, the post-industrial manifestation of the SRO is a sort of last resort for low-income residents in San Francisco’s brutal rental market. The hotels have become an enforcement problem for the police who monitor the transient residents who live in rooms that are generally 8 feet by 10 feet, rented for about $40 a day or $650 per month, Patel said.
Of course, not all of the Henry Hotel’s residents are engaged in criminal activity. Some were even sympathetic with the police accused of cutting corners to make busts at the hotel.
“I suppose they should get a warrant, but if they’re stopping drugs, I got nothing against it,” said Ron Hanson, a seven-year resident of the Henry.
James Williams, who recently drifted to San Francisco from Ohio, said it’s difficult to pinpoint where exactly things are likely to go wrong on Sixth Street.
“A hotel? Messed up?” Williams said. “Hotels aren’t messed up, people are messed up.”
Henry Hotel’s recent history
1998 : Henry Hotel owners are sued by City Attorney’s Office on behalf of residents who allege nothing is done about drug dealing, gambling and other illegal activities at the hotel.
1999 : Hotel is listed among The City’s 10 worst residential hotels by the Department of Building Inspection.
2005 : Hotel is slapped with a building code violation for having no fire sprinklers in its rooms.
2009 : Hotel is the site of a murder in which a man was allegedly beaten to death by his girlfriend with a vodka bottle and an alarm clock.
Dec. 2010 – Jan. 2011: Hotel is the site of three busts that turn up significant amounts of drugs, but the arrests are alleged improper. The cases are dismissed.