From left, Mark Nassar, Drew Todd, Lavale-William Davis, Shane Zaldivar, Christopher Alvaro, AeJay Mitchell and Tim Huls appeared in the first reading of”The Compton’s Cafeteria Riot” at the Tenderloin Museum. (Leslie Katz/S.F. Examiner)

Tenderloin Museum turns 2 with history-themed shows

The Tenderloin Museum celebrated its second anniversary Saturday with a community day of free activities including a peek at a new play about the neighborhood’s pivotal 1966 event in the fight for gay rights.

“The history in this neighborhood is unbelievable. Very few people know about it,” said playwright Mark Nassar, as he introduced the first reading of “The Compton’s Cafeteria Riot.”

The play details what led to the turmoil at Compton’s Cafeteria, a Tenderloin eatery which was patronized by drag queens, transsexuals and hookers, run by a mostly sympathetic businessman, and attracted aggressive cops.

A cast of a dozen in the show appeared before the capacity crowd in the audience (which included people around at the time of the August 1966 conflict) at which activists in a group called Vanguard pointed out abuses against gays and called for human rights. (Among the first recorded incidents of gay rights activism, locals note that it pre-dates New York’s more famous 1969 Stonewall Riots.)

Collette LeGrand and Donna Personna, who were there at the time and contributed to the script, said they were honored to be involved with the show.

Katie Conry, executive director of the Tenderloin Museum, who conceived the play with Nassar, was pleased with Saturday’s turnout — the day’s schedule also included presentations about 1960s counterculture heroes The Diggers, a talk by historian David Talbot and a jazz performance recalling the neighborhood’s famed Black Hawk Club — called this first iteration of the play “a big deal.”

Still in early development, the play ultimately will have live music and a prominent interactive element. For this performance, Nassar handed out sheets with text of a monologue, which the audience read on cue at one point during the presentation.

The Compton’s Cafeteria Riot is among the varied topics of focus in the museum’s cool permanent exhibit, which also includes jazz recordings from notable Black Hawk sessions, photos of the area before and after the 1906 earthquake and fire, and fascinating information about the proliferation of the single occupancy residences that still dominate the neighborhood.


Tenderloin Museum
Where: 398 Eddy St., S.F.
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays
Admission: $6 to $15
Contact: (415) 351-1912, Collette LeGrandeCommunity DayCompton’s Cafeteria RiotDonna PersonnaKatie ConryMark NassarMuseums and GalleriesTenderloin MuseumVisual Arts

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