How the Tenderloin Became Smut Capital of USA

by on October 15, 2015

In 1971, the NY Times described San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood as the “smut capital of the USA.” The Tenderloin was where the first full length porn movie was legally shown, the Mitchell Brothers got their start, and the porn industry dominated the retail landscape.

Tonight at the Tenderloin Museum, porn historian Michael Stabile will join me in discussing this porn history. Stabile will show his short film “Smut Capital USA,” which I never get tired of seeing (it includes some great quotes from anti-porn zealot Dianne Feinstein).

Stabile’s recently released film, Seed Money: The Chuck Holmes Story, has been a hit at film festivals across the country. He knows the San Francisco porn scene as well as anyone.

“’Birthplace of porn’ doesn’t have the same appeal as sourdough and cable cars do” says Stabile, “but it was one of San Francisco’s contributions to the world just the same.”

From San Francisco’s libertine beginnings as a male-dominated mining town to its role as a Summer of Love mecca – the film traces how, in the late 60s, San Francisco became the center of porn production the United States. ‘Smut Capital’ talks to filmmakers, theater owners, actresses and distributors who help birth the industry, examining how a small theater in the Tenderloin would launch the hardcore revolution (or porno plague, in the later words of Time magazine) that would sweep the nation from Hollywood to Times Square.

“San Francisco was ground zero in the Sexual Revolution,” says Mike Stabile. “Because we were traditionally more tolerant, we moved more quickly than other cities. Porn was advertised in the Chronicle; hardcore movies were sprouting up in the Marina. They were documenting sexual liberation, but not everyone was ready for it.”

Stabile, along with cinematographer Ben Leon and producer Jack Shamama, are veterans of the adult industry in San Francisco, but for a much newer version of San Francisco smut — adult websites.

I will fill in details from my book on the porn industry’s impact on the Tenderloin in the 1970’s and 1980’s, particularly on the neighborhood’s retail landscape. If you want to recall those days when porn ruled the Tenderloin and the war on porn was a daily major news story, join Mike and myself tonight.

Reception at 6:30. Program starts at 7 pm. $10 (Includes museum admission)

Please RSVP: here Buy Tickets: here

Randy Shaw is the author of  The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco,

Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw's latest book is Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America. He is the author of four prior books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. He is also the author of The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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Filed under: Mid-Market / Tenderloin