I love to learn about my community and its history. It’s especially helpful when we volunteer. If you understand the history, you’ll be a more compassionate volunteer.
Below is the amazing history of the Tenderloin in San Francisco. I serve with City Impact, which helps amazing families, single elderly people, and people on the streets. They provide clothing, meals, a thrift store, job training and a listening ear to all who need it.
Today my dear friend and colleague Judy and I visited the Tenderloin Museum. I often walk through the Tenderloin, simply because it has aliveness, richness and history. Despite the desperation, homelessness and drugs, we can choose to look beyond the surface and see the good. Truly, I was amazed!
There were so many interesting periods of time starting from the 1920s. In both of the wars, young women flocked to the Tenderloin for single occupancies residency (single apartments) in order to be closer to work on Market Street. This was considered a huge split from the past: Normally women went from home to family, or home, college and family. This was a grand opportunity for young women to provide for themselves. They were single, working women! They were also contributing to their families. They felt excited and empowered to work, explore their talents, and earn money.
Some of these women were labeled “independent;” others were labeled unsavory, unwholesome, or loose women. They had to fight a battle. They simply wanted to be working women. While it is now the norm, these women paved the way for us. I love to celebrate history that has given us a gift, an open door, a leg up.
At the same time, there were Madams and brothels where women sold themselves. Many young women would step inside the building innocently, hoping to find industrious work. They were ensnared and brought into prostitution.
At one point, a reverend tried to crack down on the brothels. But in the 1920s the women held a huge strike against the crackdown. Most of them were able to support their children through the selling of themselves and sex. It was hard to hear that there was sex trafficking back then. We still have some work to do.
During this time, the Barbary Coast was in full swing. This was near South of Market (SOMA), and Yerba Buena. This was where all “vice” occurred. This included prostitution, alcohol (which was prohibited), gambling and the like. The museum reviewed incredible history about prohibition, the speakeasies, and “bar girls” (you’ll have to go to find out who they were!)
So why is it called the Tenderloin? There is a story about its name. The police ruled this area. They turned a blind eye to alcohol, gambling and many other unsavory activities. In turn, they were paid back or accepted bribes. This extra money allowed the officers to buy “tenderloin pieces” of meat for themselves and their families. This tenderloin is considered one of the most special expensive parts of meat prepared for cooking. So, that’s why it’s called the Tenderloin.
The city then shut down the Barbary Coast near SOMA; however, it migrated to the Tenderloin, which was becoming a thriving Jazz mecca!
The Tenderloin Museum showed the top clubs where Jazz players congregated. One was the Blackhawk: Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie frequented the Blackhawk and to this day we have their recordings. Meanwhile, Compton’s was a cafeteria where people fought for the window seats. It was considered prestigious in the hood. People came there because they could be who they needed to be — whatever type of gender, nationality, or unique characteristic they had. The Tenderloin was a model of world-class music and of diversity.
After the Vietnam War, floods of Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian families traversing the Asian borders and settled in the Tenderloin. This provided a huge culture boost and shift for the area and families created homes and a supportive community. Families brought businesses, created produce markets, and family restaurants, which combined into a warm atmosphere. Today, we have a diverse community of families, single people, and homeless. It is the most diverse place in the city, and labels itself as the most diverse in our nation.
The Tenderloin Museum is having a celebration of the one-year anniversary on July 16. I hope you will join me! It’s a special area of history for our community. You may want to volunteer all over the world (and I do!), and we can also volunteer and serve in our backyard. You’ll see me at City Impact, at their annual community event of service on July 23rd. I hope you’ll join me there as well!
Celebrate the unique community you live in today. Get involved, and be a part of building its future!
This day was joyful visit was with Judy Zhu, my mentee through the Duke University Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative LINK. I am mentoring Judy for her new app, which is designed to match students at universities by their interests. It helps them find meaningful communities where they can belong, as they start their journey at college.
The Tenderloin Museum
Open Tuesday-Sunday 10AM-5PM
The Tenderloin Museum celebrates and educates about the history of the neighborhood it is in. In the mid-20th century the Tenderloin provided work for many musicians in the neighborhood’s theaters, hotels, burlesque houses, bars and clubs and was the location of the Musician’s Union Building on Jones Street. After the Vietnam War, the Tenderloin received large numbers of refugees from Southeast Asia—first from China and Vietnam, then from Cambodia and Laos. The low-cost vacant housing, and the proximity to Chinatown through the Stockton Street Tunnel, made the area appealing to refugees and resettlement agencies. The Tenderloin has a long history as a center of alternate sexualities, including several historic confrontations with police. By visiting the museum, it offers the opportunity to learn more about the rich history of the neighborhood and the ethnic and cultural groups that have inhabited the area.