Every week SFist's Tenderloin correspondent brings us Urbane Studies, in which we investigate the finer points of city lore on individual street corners. This week: the angels of Glide Memorial Church, Mercy Housing, and a ministry of donut holes at the intersection of Taylor & Ellis.
"I have always found that Angels have the vanity to speak of themselves as the only wise; this they do with a confident insolence sprouting from systematic reasoning."
How to speak about the unlovable, the difficult and defiled, that which the rest of the world judges as fallen? Far be it from us to preach the word, but if we may be so bold, the marriage of heaven and hell is never so evident as in the Tenderloin, especially at the intersection of Taylor and Ellis. Here is a place where cruelty is undercut by kindness, where the lost seem at times to outnumber the found. And yet we are not the ones who would pass judgment--neither is a certain church whose name is synonymous with social justice.
What can one say of Glide Memorial Methodist Church that has not been said before? They feed, they lead, and they attempt to make a difference in the lives of a population that has been judged by so-called better angels.
Some historical context: prior to the Great Depression, rich widow Lizzie Glide funded the construction of the church in memoriam to her husband, wealthy cattleman H.L. Glide. At the time, this part of the city was Lower Nob Hill, respectably middle class. We cannot guess what Lizzie would think of the church today, but given that the folks at Glide walk the walk of Christian compassion, even heathens like us get a little religion when we reflect upon its history. Radicalized in 1963 by Cecil Williams (you’ll remember him from our column two weeks ago), the church sought to address concerns within the community: poverty, substance abuse, mental health. If you’ve complained about it, chances are they've done something about it.
If you want to learn more about the good work of Glide, pick up a copy of Beyond the Possible: 50 Years of Radical Change In A Community Called GLIDE. If reading's not your bag (then why are you still here?), you could buy a Glide t-shirt. It'll make you look compassionate--so fashionable right now.
Strangely enough, due east of Glide is a big, fancy hotel. We'll leave off commenting on the Hilton this week, since the thing takes up an entire block, but it's worth remembering that BART didn't always run to SFO, so here could be found the Airport Bus Terminal. A 1985 New York Times travel piece noted that a trip to SFO cost $6 in 1985. A current trip from Civic Center to SFO will set a traveler back a little over $8. No wonder BART's broke.
Of Mercy Housing, we’ve written before. To date, the organization has renovated numerous crumbling SROs and helped foster a sense of belonging for those who tend not to belong. On the southwestern corner of our intersection, Mercy's Presentation Senior Community is a big, modern-looking affair, clean and fluroescently lit. But from 1869 until 1906, this was the Sacred Heart Presentation Convent and school, where girls of all races were educated, and where Irish who struck gold paid their soul-debts, gradually founding a small empire of Irish piety. As pioneering as the miners they set to civilizing, the hardy Irish nuns who first arrived in San Francisco in 1854 managed to carve a little Catholic heaven into this, the wickedest of cities. Today, the Sisters of the Presentation minister their message of service and literacy from the Bay Area south to Central America, proving that San Francisco is not nearly as wicked as everyone supposes.
At the southeast corner, Happy Donuts is of a piece with Tenderloin doughnuterias: few frills, ever-ready pots of coffee-scented water, a dependable selection of sweetly lacquered confections. Perhaps we are naturally a little suspicious of anything that purports to deliver happiness. Is Disneyland the happiest place on earth? Is heaven a place on earth? Can dough deliver the pleasures not found elsewhere in life? And yet online reviews of Happy Donuts belie claims of mirth, nevermind the senselessness in expecting freshness past 9AM. No matter the time of day, quality control can be assured if you follow the simple rule of surface area glazing. A glazed raised at 4PM? This is for rookies. Get a couple doughnut holes, for Happy Donuts' little nuggets are some of the better in the neighborhood, properly fluffy and perfectly glazed. If you're feeling flush, pick up a few dozen. Hand them out to everyone down the street. It's not part of the teaching a man to fish school of social skills, but "you are forgiven for your happiness and your successes only if you generously consent to share them."
Urbane Studies with the Tenderloin Geographic Society appears every Monday. If you've missed any previous episodes, you can always catch up here.