San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood is definitely raw, but that is only a term of art. The name’s actual historical origin remains shrouded in mystery. Most residents agree it is somewhat meaty, but they have a hard time explaining exactly why.
The animal rights organization PETA wants The City to change the name to something not meat-oriented. PETA Vice President Tracy Reiman sent Mayor Ed Lee a letter Tuesday proposing a fresh start for the neighborhood and suggesting alternative monikers like the Tempeh District or Granola Flats.
Her proposal has sparked division over what else to call the streets of this scrappy neighborhood known for its flair and general urban flavor, which often includes crime, homelessness and frequent depravity.
“They’re for animals, right?” lifelong Tenderloin resident Spencina Jackson said of PETA. “I think they should change the name, and while they’re at it do something about all the animal poop on the sidewalk. People might respect it better.”
Others vehemently opposed PETA’s suggestion, and said even if the name were to change, people would continue to refer to it as the Tenderloin, the TL or the ’Loin.
“What, am I going to say, ‘Yo, I’m headed down to the Mixed Salad?’” resident Melvin Salsbury said. “I don’t like it.”
According to Peter Field, a Tenderloin tour guide and amateur historian, the name’s best-known connection to meat comes from a similar district in New York City where famed police Capt. Alexander “Clubber” Williams was once overheard saying that if he were assigned to another part of the city, he would only eat chuck steak, but because of all the bribes he extracted there, he could afford tenderloin. Field said word spread until the name came to mean a city’s vice and entertainment district in general.
By the 1890s, San Francisco had several “tenderloins,” but the one that remains had been referred to as the Uptown Tenderloin.
Lee and Supervisor Jane Kim, whose district includes the Tenderloin, chose not to return calls for comment on this important story.
What do you think of PETA’s suggestion that The City change the name of the Tenderloin to something less meat-oriented?
“Tenderloin is the best part of the meat. It’s filet mignon. This is a dangerous place. It’s not the best. The name is not going to change the people.”
— Ali Baàlouach, Tenderloin butcher
“There is definitely a lot of meat in this area. There are a lot of transsexual prostitutes, and I guess their loins are a tender subject.”
— John Knox, SoMa resident whose girlfriend lives in the Tenderloin
“There’s people falling down everywhere, pooping on the street, pooping on themselves. I think the animal aspect should stick. ... I’m against PETA.”
— Denny McFarland, 12-year Tenderloin resident and self-described alcoholic writer
“Let them go French kiss a black mamba and see whether or not they want to hurt animals.”
— Michael Robinson, six-year Tenderloin resident