The Tenderloin Museum on the corner of Eddy and Leavenworth streets opened to the public Thursday, after six and a half years of grassroot efforts to create a place to showcase the neighborhood’s eclectic, and often overlooked, history.
The Uptown Tenderloin Historic District, which at various points is bordered by Geary, Mason, McAllister and Polk streets, was once full of restaurants, bars and jazz clubs that provided entertainment to the diverse mix of residents that once occupied the area.
In more recent years, the reputation of the Tenderloin has become one of a troubled district. The museum is an attempt by dedicated neighborhood patrons to preserve and display the rich history of the Tenderloin and restore some of its lost luster.
Sarah Wilson, the museum’s project manager and content researcher, won a grant to begin the effort.
“It involved scouring archives, scouring the public library, talking to people living in the Tenderloin and then piecing together a story,” Wilson said.
Several narratives began to unwind, she found. Women activists, Indian immigrants and LGBT members all found refuge in the many single-residence occupancy hotels that comprised most of the area. A collection of postcards from 1907 showing old-time buildings, black-and-white photographs of the Blackhawk Jazz Club and a vintage pinball machine were also acquired for the new museum’s collection.
Randy Shaw, director of Uptown Tenderloin and executive director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, spearheaded the effort to establish the museum.
“Unlike SFMOMA and other big museums who received millions in funding we got the people who really care about the Tenderloin, who dug into their pockets, and who really believed in us” he said at the opening.
Bill Fricker, the executive director, came on board a few years into the project and admired the community collaboration behind the new center.
“We actually had a few people living in the area tell us they are looking out for us, which is a really good feeling, especially since vandalism is a serious concern.” Fricker said. “So it’s nice to know the neighborhood is behind this because that’s exactly what Randy set out to do.”
Mayor Ed Lee, who attended the museum’s opening, said he was proud to support any effort that sustains a community’s culture.
“The museum is part of art,“ Lee said. “We continue to use art to revitalize and bring life to a community and ultimately the end investment is in the people.”