Every week, SFist's Tenderloin correspondent brings us Urbane Studies: a column about the finer points of city lore found on individual street corners. We pick up this week at the corner of Taylor and Eddy, where we find: a multicultural food corner-turned-parking lot, the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation, a Bit-o-Honey and some cool super discounts.
We amble northward from Market Street, and while the topography stays the same—time-roughened edifices with charms intact—the skyline does not. The delineation between neighborhoods is drawn in shadows, subtly brutalist hotel architecture at odds with smudged stone. The Tenderloin’s qualities are never more evident than here, at the edge of Union Square, where an itinerant population of tourists rubs uneasily on the more fixed citizenry. The hotels loom, an affront to hard times--but one supposes that everything has its price.
Let’s be frank: there are only so many poetic ways to frame a parking lot, and that’s coming from someone who spent some early formative years in Los Angeles. Drawing nearer to the amenities of Union Square, we were bound to arrive at the crux of the Tenderloin-as-passageway, as place to be hurried through with a clutch of shopping bags, to the theatre, or karaoke. Last week we gave scant notice to the Warfield’s parking lot, so this week we make amends by paying homage to this corner's far more delectable past. For those who complain for lack of variety, the Tenderloin was home to many fine but sadly extinct joints, ranging from Chop Suey counters and and Greek diners to Jewish delis. Lisa's Kosher Style Restaurant was one such establishment, far more exciting than its current status as a parking lot.
Nearby neighbors included 172 Eddy's The Record Exchange, where music lovers could turn in their old records for new ones. Across the street at 173 Eddy, Golden Peacock was one of the neighborhood's many aforementioned Greek restaurants.
It's a little off-topic, given that we've wandered from the corner, but it’s not boredom that has us looking down the street. Consider the ways in which the Tenderloin has lost some of its former richness--not financially speaking, although this is a point no one will argue--but rather with regard to business variety. It doesn’t take a professional urbanist to note that the neighborhood does not foster the most diverse enterprises. Thrift or convenience drive the necessities, and outliers are often conspicuously tony bars staffed by bouncers.
Creative urban renewal in such a setting requires some love, tough and otherwise.
Just such sentiments are to be found in the Tenderloin Neighborhood Deveolopment Corporation, whose offices are located at the intersection’s southwest corner. In looking back upon the history of what has changed in this often unchanging city, it's shocking that so much in the Tenderloin has remained, and it's often thanks to the advocacy of those who understand the role of the place. In the middle of the 20th century, everything was looking up for San Francisco: BART, a new ballpark, tall modern buildings, plans for a conference center. But such ambitious plans required land, which has always come at a premium--and often to the injury of people. Enter the TNDC in 1981, who ensured that those forced out of their homes would still have a place in the city. More than a housing resource, the organization helms after-school and social programs, as well as that little garden adjacent to Civic Center.
This March, TNDC celebrates the opening of the Kelly Cullen Community in the old Central YMCA. We’ve already covered this particular waterfront, but just to remind you of the importance of this project, 172 units will be available to the chronically homeless. And you thought you had a hard time getting an apartment?
Daldas is as Daldas does: meaning, it's a corner store, set up with the liquor in the front, canned goods in the rear. Order of operations in the TL often begins with malt liquor, and this bodega is no different. The Bit o' Honey we purchase here has never been fresh, but that's not a bad thing. In the time it takes to walk back to work, we can only polish off three unyieldingly dense pieces. No teeth lost, but oral fixation problems solved.
The problem of the Cool Super Discount is multiplied by its name. Which is it going to be? Cool or Super? Combining the rigorous pleasures of a 99 cent store (the hunt is all, one must pay attention) with the more explicit ones of a liquor store (get in and get out) makes for a deeply confusing consumer experience. The best thing about the place, though? They don't seem to object to our photographing some of the finer product design. Just make sure you buy something and it's all cool.
Urbane Studies with the Tenderloin Geographic Society is a regular weekly feature. If you've missed any previous episodes, catch up here.