San Francisco Awards Funds to Revitalize Uptown Tenderloin

by Randy Shaw on February 16, 2010

San Francisco will provide critical strategic funding for two projects to revitalize the Uptown Tenderloin: $50,000 to jump-start the reopening of legendary restaurant Original Joe’s, and $20,000 to begin work on an Uptown Tenderloin Museum in a 6400 square foot space at Eddy and Leavenworth Streets under the historic Cadillac Hotel. These two capital projects are part of a dozen that the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development (MOEWD) is funding across the city. The museum funding arrived as the consulting firm AMS Planning & Research released the results of its market research survey on the proposed Uptown Tenderloin Museum. The survey found that an unusually high 80% of respondents said they were “very or somewhat likely” to visit the museum, with interest greatest in the story of how the neighborhood’s immigrants, rock and roll musicians, and jazz performers shaped San Francisco’s — and the nation’s — culture.

As San Francisco politicians battle over how to jump-start the city’s economy, all recognize the value of assisting capital projects in key commercial corridors. To this end, the MOEWD recently announced grants to assist businesses from Ocean Avenue to Chinatown. It has also funded two critical projects in the Uptown Tenderloin, which has historically received little economic development assistance, but which is now on the path to economic revitalization.

The Revival of Original Joe’s

The best-known Uptown Tenderloin institution has long been Original Joe’s restaurant, despite the fact it has been closed since an October 2007 fire. The Newsom Administration has been working with the owner for some time to help get the restaurant reopened, and the Taylor Street Arts District was created in part to foster an environment where a revived Original Joe’s could succeed.

The Duggan family has owned and operated Original Joe’s for decades. John Duggan, Jr. has assured the city that the family is ready to get the landmark institution back to serving meals. To assist this process, MOEWD allocated $50,000 to restore the historic Original Joe’s neon sign and to commence demolition of the fire-damaged interior.

The Duggan’s hope to have Original Joe’s open this fall. Whether it will resume serving ¾ lb hamburgers and a plate of spaghetti fit for three remains to be seen.

Uptown Tenderloin Museum

MOEWD is also providing $20,000 to prepare the ground floor façade of the historic Cadillac Hotel for its transformation into the Uptown Tenderloin Museum. The grant funds both painting and the creation of glass display cases offering a preview of the museum.

Like a reopened Original Joe’s, the Uptown Tenderloin Museum provides what the neighborhood has long lacked: a “destination” bringing people into the community who can then help patronize local businesses. While people will eat in restaurants in Little Saigon along Larkin, and also patronize quality dining spots along Jones and Mason, historically it has been very difficult to get those not living or working in the community to enter the neighborhood’s core sections.

The Museum will change this. It will attract visitors from the entire Bay Area and nationally who are interested in the neighborhood’s untold stories — from Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Dave Brubeck and other greats playing at the Black Hawk jazz club at Turk and Hyde Streets, to the Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Crosby, Stills & Nash recording some of their greatest albums at the Wally Heider Studios on Hyde, to the Southeast Asian immigrants whose arrival in the 1970’s transformed the area.

The Uptown Tenderloin’s rich history is not widely known. But that will soon change, and the museum will further generate participation by linking to street tours and hosting art, music and other cultural activities.

Positive Museum Survey Results

A survey was recently completed by AMS Planning & Research to assess public interest in the Uptown Tenderloin Museum. The results were encouraging for two main reasons.

First, AMS has done over thirty museum surveys across the nation and typically finds that 50-60% of respondents are somewhat or very likely to attend the proposed facility. Here, this total was 80%, confirming that interest the museum’s exhibits is unusually high.

Second, a major concern surrounding the museum is the perception that the Tenderloin is too unsafe to attract visitors. Yet while 70% of respondents “share concerns about feeling safe and secure in the Tenderloin,” only 32% agreed with the statement “I would not feel safe attending a Museum in the Tenderloin.” 40% disagreed with that statement.

Significantly, San Francisco residents — who are more likely to be familiar with the Tenderloin — are much less likely to be deterred from attending the Museum by safety concerns. This means that changing the perception of the neighborhood can lower the number of those fearful of attending the museum.

The survey was largely conducted prior to San Francisco Police Chief George Gascón’s implementation of new police procedures in the Uptown Tenderloin that have visibly and dramatically reduced street drug activity. The survey also preceded the re-opening of Original Joe’s, a major planned renovation at the former Grand Liquors at Turk and Taylor, and soon to be implemented historic plaque, banner and poster campaigns. These events, along with other positive changes in the works, means that a far more positive perception of the Uptown Tenderloin’s safety is likely to prevail when the Museum opens in the fall of 2011.

Museum Timetable

Architectural and exhibit design work for the Uptown Tenderloin Museum is now ongoing, with a development packet that can be submitted to potential funders available soon. The Museum is being designed pro bono by the San Francisco office of the international architectural firm of Perkins + Will. The exhibit design and development is being handled by West Office Exhibition Design, which has designed museums across the world, ranging from the Buffalo Bill Historical Center at the Plains Indian Museum to a major current project in China.

Just as Original Joe’s will stimulate economic activity in nearby businesses, the Museum could dramatically increase business to the many restaurants nearby that have been unable to draw customers commensurate with their high quality food. The MOEWD’s capital grants program seeks to “catalyze” commercial activity, and it has clearly helped spark two vital projects in the Uptown Tenderloin.

Randy Shaw has worked in the Uptown Tenderloin since 1980, and is coordinating the effort to create the Uptown Tenderloin Museum. In The Activist’s Handbook, Shaw discusses how the Tenderloin emerged as a distinctive neighborhood and won historic battles to preserve its longterm affordability.

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