The Tenderloin: SF's Hottest Tourist Destination?


G-d bless this guy, Shaw. Randy Shaw. A San Francisco housing advocate with a very ambitious plan to, um, exploit the grittiness of the Tenderloin in an attempt to transform the neighborhood into—get ready for it—a tourist destination. You heard me right: a tourist destination. Shaw's strategy—reported on today in the New York Times—includes building a new $3 million museum of TL history (to be housed in the Cadillac on Eddy & Leavenworth, a Single Room Occupany hotel where Jerry Garcia once laid his weary head) and designing a walking tour of the district's many other historic SROs. (Because it's a well-known fact that the down-and-out residents who inhabit them loovve be to gawked at. Hello? Does "no eye contact" mean anything to you? As a former resident of the TL, I can say from experience that the unspoken "no eye contact" rule plays a big part in keeping the peace.)

Then again, if you're an arts-and-culture junkie who would delight in visiting the place where, say, the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane recorded music (Hyde Street Studios), or where Frank Capra once lived (Hotel Drake), or where Muhammad Ali used to train (Cadillac Hotel), then maybe this Tenderloin-as-tourist-destination thing is just for you. As long as you don't mind, while on your tour, clutching onto your handbags and wallets for dear life as you pass by suspcious groups of people huddled over lord-knows-what, or breathing in the pungent aroma of fresh urine, or stepping over one or more alchohol-doused homeless folk baking under the sun in their slumber.

It's not exactly news that the TL needs big help. I love a great redemption story probably more than the next guy, so, despite my snarkiness here, please know that I'm rooting for this plan to bring the TL's rich history front-and-center. The domain is deep in my heart, after all. I started my writing career in a studio on Leavenworth and O'Farrell. For years, I clutched onto my handbag for dear life and ignored the chain of drug dealers' whispered offers as I walked home, day or night. Shaw's plan doesn't offer a quick fix—at least that's something he and his numero-uno supporter, Gavin Newsom, can agree on. At least Shaw offers a real solution. It's easy for me to reflect upon my days in the 'hood from my new crib in a posh part of town, I know that. I'm also well aware that this manifesto isn't the same as doing something. But, if it gets more people—the legions of Tenderloin expats, perhaps?—behind the cause, then I'll feel OK about this little soapbox speech. I'm still sticking to my "no eye contact" rule whenever I'm back in the TL, though. It just wouldn't feel like home if I didn't.

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