Uptown Tenderloin Momentum Continues

by Randy Shaw on June 17, 2010

The revival of San Francisco’s historic Uptown Tenderloin neighborhood continued this week with four developments designed to boost the area’s positive identity. First, banners are now flying highlighting the neighborhood’s over 400 historic buildings and the Uptown Tenderloin’s longtime status as the “heart of the city.” Second, a large poster is being distributed to businesses across the city identifying the area as a place where people should come to “Walk, Dine, Enjoy.” Third, a graphic presentation has been installed at the Cadillac Hotel announcing the “Future Site of the Uptown Tenderloin Museum.” And last but not least, the Uptown Tenderloin has a new website that will keep people updated on activities of interest in the neighborhood. These and other efforts reflect a public-private partnership among the North of Market/Tenderloin Community Benefits District (CBD), Academy of Art University, the Mayor’s Office and other groups to support the Uptown Tenderloin’s revival.

In 2008, I got a call from Elisa Stephens, President of the Academy of Art University saying she had heard the Uptown Tenderloin was becoming a national historic district and asking if her school could provide any help. She soon agreed to a class project where students “rebranded” the neighborhood by designing posters, banners, bus shelter signs, t-shirts, stationary etc.

Under the guidance of Professor Tom McNulty, the students did a remarkable job. The most popular creations were a poster by Colby Long, and a banner by Kayla Jones. Long’s 60’s style, modernistic Uptown Tenderloin poster is now being distributed across the city (McNulty got us a bargain on production) and Jones’ “409 historic buildings: Yeah, We’re Proud” banner is hanging throughout the community.

Long, who worked as a Mission District bartender while attending school, got ideas for his design by talking to his customers about the Uptown Tenderloin. He discovered that most knew little about the neighborhood, and became interested once Long began discussing its history. This led us to realize that if people saw a poster about the Uptown Tenderloin, and liked its gritty, urban imagery, that it could attract San Franciscans to visit our historic buildings and patronize neighborhood restaurants and bars.

McNulty’s class treated us like we were paying clients, and the outstanding results reflect the Academy’s commitment to this project.

CBD Manager Elaine Zamora and her Board have been incredibly supportive of efforts to boost the Uptown Tenderloin’s positive identity, and the CBD funded production of both the poster and the banners. The CBD also secured the funding for the monumental Mona Caron mural, “Windows into the Tenderloin,” at Golden Gate and Jones, and additional murals are planned.

Special thanks is also owed to April Veneracion of Supervisor Chris Daly’s office, who acted quickly upon learning that a bureaucratic snafu required legislation allowing the banners to be posted.

The Cadillac’s New Graphics

This week also marked the installation of a beautiful graphic presentation announcing “Future Site of the Uptown Tenderloin Museum” at the Cadillac Hotel. Created by West Office Exhibition Design in Oakland, the design highlights some of the key themes of the museum and provides text describing the Museum’s role in the community’s revival. The Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development (MOEWD) funded this project through its capital grant program for commercial corridors.

For all of the negative publicity surrounding the Uptown Tenderloin’s longstanding crime problems, the biggest obstacle to getting people to patronize businesses in the neighborhood has been a lack of quality destinations. While the Great American Music Hall, Golden Gate Theater, Exit Theater and other venues bring people to the neighborhood’s borders, the center of the community has lacked attractions.

The planned reopening of Original Joe’s will help change this. So will a project that a coalition of community groups are seeking city “Challenge Grant” funding for that will restore historic advertisements adjacent to Original Joe’s on Taylor Street. Among the historic signs to be revived is the classic “Railways Telegraph Schools” locomotive at 136-142 Taylor, which truly harkens back to an earlier era.

The Uptown Tenderloin Museum, scheduled for a 2012 opening, will display exhibits by day, be the launching point for resident-guided neighborhood tours, and serve as an evening performance space. It will also be available for event rentals. Together, these activities will bring people into the heart of the neighborhood, where they can then sample our great collection of bars and restaurants.

The success of Bourbon & Branch, Dottie’s True Blue Diner, Farmer Brown’s, Bodega Bistro and other successful neighborhood restaurants and bars shows that people will come to quality dining spots if they know about them. The banners, posters and new website should help spread the word.

A Neighborhood in Progress

Following the wonderful April 12 New York Times story on the Uptown Tenderloin, some reached the erroneous conclusion that community boosters were denying the ongoing realities of street drug dealing and problem street behavior.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Reviving the Uptown Tenderloin has a way to go, and the struggle will not be easy.

But the great progress since the CBD was founded in the fall of 2005, and the national Uptown Tenderloin Historic District was created in early 2009, should give everyone reason for optimism. Sidewalks are cleaner than ever before, buildings are being painted, crime and street dealing are dramatically down, new businesses are opening despite the tough economy (more on this soon), and the city’s political leadership is working hard to get the Uptown Tenderloin the resources it needs to succeed.

Leroy Looper told me thirty years ago that the Uptown Tenderloin was a great neighborhood that would eventually turn around. It’s taken longer than we thought, but there is now a broad collection of individuals and groups committed to the community’s success, and momentum continues to build.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron and Director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic.

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