The Tenderloin Museum may have opened only a few years ago, but the insights it provides stretch back far longer. The Museum was established in 2015 by a group of community organizers who wanted to celebrate their neighborhood’s history. The organization offers countless opportunities for learning and community engagement; it provides public programming, special interactive exhibits, and exhibitions of local artists’ work. It also hosts walking tours that, as described by one writer for Atlas Obscura, reveal “neighborhood secrets […] such as the best places to view drag on the weekends, and murals containing portraits of the neighborhood’s residents.”
Every exhibit and program offering delves into the Tenderloin’s history and examines the role the area played in making San Francisco the inclusive, diverse, and progressive city it is today. The Museum seeks both to educate and celebrate — to promote knowledge of the Tenderloin in all its accomplishments and imperfections.
Most of all, though, the organization works to chronicle the social and cultural movements that shaped the Tenderloin. People and their stories are at the heart of the Museum’s study. As one writer for the Museum describes, “The 31 blocks of the Tenderloin district are the beating heart of the city peopled by immigrants and iconoclasts, artists and activists, sinners and saints.”
Detailing the Tenderloin’s human heart is central to the Museum’s efforts. It shares stories of influential first-generation immigrants and highlights histories provided by residents of all walks of life, from office workers to musicians to bartenders. The Museum also contextualizes the Tenderloin as both a central hub for LGBTQ activist and the site of the groundbreaking 1966 Compton’s Cafeteria Riot — the very first rebellion of the queer community against trans- and homophobic police harassment.
The Museum also celebrates the Tenderloin’s place in San Francisco’s artistic and musical evolution. It points out notable venues such as the Blackhawk Jazz Club, where influential musicians like Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk, and Mikes Davis played and recorded some of their best songs. It further highlights Wally Heider Studios, where Creedence Clearwater and the Grateful Dead found their start. Today, the Tenderloin remains a rich source of artistic opportunity and frequently hosts live music, theatre performances, and art exhibitions. The Museum recognizes this — and seeks to organize evening artistic programming to further contribute to the neighborhood’s creative spirit.
The Tenderloin Museum’s most recent exhibit is called the “Tenderloin Historical Ephemera Project,” and delves deeply into the history of the neighborhood by examining the objects that its residents intended to throw away, such as matchbooks.
“You can see what was important to people at the time through ephemera, what aesthetics were important, what kind of businesses were there,” Museum executive director Katie Conry explained in an article for the San Francisco Chronicle, “In some cases, the matchbook is the only evidence that the business existed at all.”
In many ways, this exhibit calls back to the Tenderloin Museum’s driving mission — to find and share the beautiful truths that go unrecognized and forgotten in the neighborhood’s day-to-day.
So, what are you waiting for? Head over for a visit!
Admission is $10 for adults, $6 for students, seniors, and youths over 12, and free for younger children. A walking tour costs an additional $10, although those who pay for museum admission can purchase the trip at half price.
The Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 AM to 5 PM.
See you there!