A Brief History of the Tenderloin

During the formative years of the city by the bay, the area we know as the Tenderloin was known as Saint Ann’s Valley, and looked nothing like the grimy, bustling nugget of vice and hedonistic decay that we currently associate with that name. Back then, the district was mostly rows of wooden houses filled with the socially ambitious and the middle class of the day. I’m still not sure where the name “Tenderloin” actually comes from, there are many different accounts, but the one that I like the best is attributed to a New York police captain who was transferred to a seedy district of the city, and likened the difference in bribes and and payouts to going from eating chuck steak to tenderloin. In the late 19th century the district was home to many theaters and other centers of entertainment, bringing in a lot of money for the city. The Tenderloin that we know today is an area encompassing about 30 blocks that run between Van Ness and Powell streets to the West and East, and Market and Geary streets to the South and North. A lot of the historic buildings and halls of entertainment were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire. The neighborhood was rebuilt a few years later and in the 1920’s was well known for it’s nightlife, much like today. Replace the bars, tattoo shops, and massage parlors of today with speakeasies, gambling halls, and brothels, and the resemblance would be a lot closer to what we recognize. In the 1950’s and 60’s, the neighborhood was one the great jazz hubs of ┬áthe country. At the corner of Hyde and Turk was the famous Black Hawk jazz club, which played host to such notable musicians as Thelonius Monk, Miles Davis, and Dave Brubeck. Throughout the 60’s up to today, the neighborhood has remained a hive for sex work, and alternative lifestyles. Before the Castro emerged as the shining, rainbow colored haven for gay culture, the Polk Gultch was already a known as one of the first gay neighborhoods in the city. The neighborhood has always been known as a hotbed of criminal activity, and statistics back that up. It has one of the highest crime rates in the city and is a mecca for vice, especially sex and drugs. Well…… this post wound up being a lot longer than I expected, but then again, it is kind of hard to put an area with this much history and culture in a nutshell.

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