The world has gone batty, or at least the world I know. Someone has decided to bring tourists to the Tenderloin. There is a good reason they do not go there. There is also a reason they do and the reasons are one in the same—Drugs and other gritty subjects.
San Francisco Detours Into Reality Tourism
Published: April 11, 2010
SAN FRANCISCO — Visitors know all too well this pretty city’s sights, what with the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf and the clang-clang-clangy cable cars.
But now San Francisco’s civic boosters have decided they want to add a highly unlikely stop to the tourist itinerary: the Uptown Tenderloin, the ragged, druggy and determinedly dingy domain of the city’s most down and out.
And what is the appeal?
“We offer a kind of grittiness you can’t find much anymore,” said Randy Shaw, a longtime San Francisco housing advocate and a driving force behind the idea of Tenderloin tourism. “And what is grittier than the Tenderloin?” [snip]
“At this point in time, there aren’t many reasons for visitors to go there,” Ms. Armstrong said. “We don’t really point people away from there, but our job is to point people to things that they can do. And there’s so many things to do in San Francisco.”
But Mr. Shaw begs to differ, saying the area is chockablock with historical nuggets, like the Hotel Drake, where Frank Capra lived as a starving young director in the early 1920s, or the Cadillac Hotel, built a year after the great 1906 earthquake and fire and where Muhammad Ali later trained. Jerry Garcia also lived at the Cadillac, and he and the Grateful Dead recorded several albums in the area at what is now Hyde Street Studios, as did other Bay Area bands like Creedence Clearwater Revival and Jefferson Airplane.
“And when Miles Davis came to town,” Mr. Shaw said, “he played in the Tenderloin.”
Mr. Shaw, who plans to open a $3 million museum in the Cadillac, believes that baby boomer music fans — and particularly baby boomer Deadheads — will be a core demographic for the Tenderloin, as well as those interested in the neighborhood’s “rich vice history,” which includes gambling dens, speakeasies and pornographic-movie houses.
“Most of which are gone,” the museum’s brochure notes, almost sadly.
Experts agree that the neighborhood has historical value, in part because its entrenched poverty and the city’s own prohibitive zoning have prevented development.
“Money sometimes is the enemy of historic preservation,” said Jay Correia, a historian with the California Office of Historic Preservation, which recommended the Tenderloin to the national register. “The irony is because the Tenderloin was economically disadvantaged, there were no funds to modernize.”
And while battles over maintaining low-income housing derailed some past efforts to develop the neighborhood, even Mr. Falk, of the nonprofit housing development corporation, says a little new development would not be a bad thing.
Personally, I wouldn’t care if Jesus H., himself, used to hang out there, live there, lecture there. That would be history and you can’t go back there, I don’t care how nice of paper you print your National Register on.
If you try to clean up the Tenderloin, there is one thing for which you must be prepared—the largest mass migration the world has ever seen. They claim there are 30,000 people living in those 60 square blocks. For every person living there, there are at least 500 cockroaches. That means 15 million cockroaches will be fanning out to look for new digs.
And about those 30,000 people, they do not live there by choice. You don’t have Mister and/or MS Down-n-out wake up one morning and say, “Oh Honey, let’s look for an apartment in the Tenderloin.” No, they live there because they can’t afford anything else. The reason the rent is so low there is because of the already “down-n-outs” who are already there. There ARE drunks and crack pipe smokers in doorways, just feet or inches off the sidewalk. And, there are lots of prostitutes. Do you have any idea how many prostitutes it takes to supply the needs of the San Francisco locals and tourists?
Just because someone has the idea to turn a particular flop-house into another overpriced museum, it doesn’t mean that the druggies, prostitutes, cockroaches and the ancillary spin-offs simply disappear. And just what kind of tourist does one think would be attracted to this area? People watch “reality TV” because it is on TV. That is, to say, at a safe distance. I personally cannot stand to watch “wife swap,” but other people do watch it. The real question here is would they want to watch it happen next door?
This sounds like a really bad idea and needs a lot more thought. The article talks about a “rich vice history.” That’s current history, folks. As for my credentials, I used to treat patients there. I, too, have a history there and know personally some of the great grandparents of the cockroaches living there today.