Every week we bring you Urbane Studies, a regulary feature in which our Tenderloin correspondent digs out the finer points of city lore on individual street corners. This week, we reach the end of Jones Street where we find: a Mona Caron mural, a clubhouse for youth and a big empty space where St. Anthony's used to be.
As with most of the Tenderloin, you see the people before you see anything else.
The St. Anthony Foundation was at Jones and Golden Gate, but perhaps you failed to take notice of anything more than a line stretching around the corner, down the block. Now, with no long queue, the big nothing of a demolished site is what’s remarkable, and it makes you pause a moment--what was there? The locals can tell you.
It’s about three in the afternoon, maybe a little after, when the man hunkered in front of the Boys and Girls Club on the northwest corner waves ecstatically at us. We’re in a hurry, ready to sacrifice photographic quality in an attempt to escape notice, and he has to call to us a few times. Some shots get a little more attention than others, for as previously discovered, Golden Gate Avenue considers cameras impolitic. But the fellow seems less inclined to chastise, his smile and lack of mobility hinting that documentation isn’t the issue.
“I just want to ask if you were taking a picture of the corner.”
Of the big hole, yes.
“Good,” he replies, satisfied. “I spent a lot of time there, that was my place. I want people to know what it was, what it meant.”
What it meant. In the Main Library’s History Collection, one can find a photograph of a man who, in November of 1960, was the five millionth person to receive a free meal. As Barry Zito can tell you, St. Anthony's is more than a soup kitchen, removing the traditional stigmas of poverty by creating a normalizing environment and addressing the root issues of homelessness, mental illness, and drug use. Unsurprisingly, the support techniques employing respect and social justice ensure that those helped by the foundation can in turn serve their community--or, simply live. The old space is gone, but the foundation that Father Boeddeker established as a means of walking the walk of Christian empathy is not. Operations are currently run out of the much smaller temporary space at 150 Golden Gate, and a new St. Anthony’s will reopen at 121 Golden Gate in 2014. But in the meantime, as we're waiting for Father Boeddeker’s namesake park up the street to receive TL-TLC and an updated St. Anthony’s, we can’t but feel as if much of this neighborhood’s in a holding pattern, circling, waiting for the time when it’s safe to land.
To the northeast, the painted black hawk that circles about Mona Caron’s mural, Windows into the Tenderloin (2009-2010), stays put while the pigeons come and go. Her Muni mural at Church and 15th has always been a hit with locals and visitors (pretty sure we’ve photobombed at least a dozen tourists taking pictures of it), and her bike-themed work on the rear wall of the Market and Duboce Safeway makes for a more aesthetically-pleasing ride. If you’re feeling a little sluggish, the artist’s site features a tour of the mural, but nothing can replace the opportunity to get up close with the hundreds of tiny details and in-jokes that make it one of the Tenderloin’s best new additions. We recommend you take the route up from Market, passing the Sleeping-Beauty-in-glass Hibernia Bank, past the rubble that was the old St. Anthony’s, and the parking lot where no memory remains of 1921's Granada (renamed The Paramount ten years after opening).
Remarkable for both scope and commitment to the neighborhood, the mural project incorporates neighbors and memory, decline and destruction, but also the Tenderloin that might be--grass instead of asphalt, for example, in the parking lot across the street. Since the holidays are coming up, we feel compelled to think about gifts. Friends of the Society might expect a Caron-illustrated activity book from local publisher Heyday Books in their stockings this year, or perhaps her fanciful California Bestiary, authored by local treasure Rebecca Solnit.
To the west of the mural, sharing space with Mercy Housing's 108 units of low-cost family residences, the Boys and Girls Clubhouse of the Tenderloin endeavors to show whippersnappers what functional society looks like, keeping youth aware of the cycles of poverty and violence that can plague the under-nourished and poor. Actually, most classes seem to be aimed at art, athletics, academics, life skills--but we know that young educated people are dangerous, because The Man can't get you down if you know what time it is.
We don't expect to be able to convince Libertarians and fiscal conservatives otherwise, but consider that anti-social policy works only for those who live in a vacuum--and the suburbs don't count, as vacuum-like as they seem. San Franciscans know the closeness of quarters, OCD put to the test daily on Muni or on walks through the city. Do we want a healthier, less economically challenged society? Yes, yes we do, and not in the least because a better city for everyone means a better city for the individual.
Not to belabor the point, then, but for those who celebrate the upcoming traditional Judeo-Christian holidays, perhaps we ought to consider another manner of gift. And if you're like us, and feeling a bit short (because you already work for a non-profit?), perhaps it's time we take another tack, and give the gift of time. Everyone wins.
SFist's Tenderloin correspondent will be taking a brief sabbatical and a much needed vacation during the month of November. Urbane Studies will resume sometime in December, until then catch up on all the entries you may have missed.