Forgotten History

Nescire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit, id est semper esse puerum. Quid enim est aetas hominis, nisi ea memoria rerum veterum cum superiorum aetate contexitur?

To be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to be ever a child. For what is man’s lifetime unless the memory of past events is woven with those of earlier times?

–Marcus Tullius Cicero

Source: San Francisco History Center, SF Public Library

Mason and Market, 1905. Center left is the third incarnation of the Tivoli Opera House in the reconfigured Panorama Building at Eddy and Mason, across from the mansard-roofed Golden State Hotel and Spider Kelly’s saloon. In the distance, near the center of the skyline, is the Fairmont Hotel atop Nob Hill.

It is not hyperbole to say that I have indulged in a passionate love affair with midtown San Francisco ever since it became my home turf in February 2001. Following years of overwhelming loss and misery, I was ready to make a fresh start by embarking on a course of personal reinvention. The long-neglected central city embraced me as one of its own.

I loved living amidst the cadenced visual harmony of the district’s hive-like, century-old architecture. Memories of the neighborhood from earlier, kinder times gave me an historical perspective of my surroundings. Realizing early on that many familiar, old signs and structures would soon either change or disappear, I began documenting the central city landscape near the end of 2002. It seemed appropriate at the time to call my work the Hotel Project. It was in the fall of 2005, while preparing for an exhibit of my photographs at San Francisco City Hall, that I took my first, faltering steps towards developing an historical narrative for my images. A blog seemed promising as a platform for experimentation and feedback, and thus I created The Hotel Project on Blogger.

I worked hard to develop my writing skills. Having no formal training, I learned the rudiments of historical research the same way I learned about computers and photographic software: the time-honored “hard way,” through trial and error. In 2007-8, I had the great pleasure and privilege of working with architectural historian Michael Corbett* on an extensive survey of Tenderloin architecture that conclusively defined the extent of the Uptown Tenderloin Historic District and nominated it to the National Register of Historic Places, a sanction that was officially bestowed by the National Park Service in 2009. Photographing the district’s distinctive architecture most effectively demanded a deeper understanding of what I was seeing, so I applied myself to learning the language and symbolism of Classical Revival architecture. I also learned some things about proper historical research, thanks in large part to Michael’s patient willingness to answer all my questions. When my work on the survey was finished, during an abecedarian plunge into self-publishing in September 2008, I moved the Hotel Project blog to WordPress, where it soon metamorphosed into this very personal ongoing history of San Francisco’s central city, Up From The Deep.

*author of Splendid Survivors and Port City, two of the best books ever written about San Francisco’s architectural heritage.

My Personal History explains in detail my intimate and idiosyncratic relationship with the central city. An overview of this project and the story of its genesis are contained within the Project History. Central city history has been divided into three photo essays corresponding to the vicinities that comprise it: Sixth Street, Mid-Market, and The Tenderloin. In the Blog section you will find the histories of numbered blocks and individual buildings illustrated with my own photography and, where possible, historical images and clippings from various Bay Area archives. There, too, are narratives and anecdotes about characters both famous and infamous, as well as news of current neighborhood events and exhibits. Of course, there is also a search engine to help you navigate. Museum quality prints of my photographs can be purchased via the Prints page.

The underlying spirit of my historical exploration is best explained by way of anecdote. I have found that, as a general rule, people rarely look upward past eye level. They are most often surprised when their attention is directed above to something they have passed by without seeing, perhaps for years.Oasis-Arcade- One friend of mine had lived for a long time in a Central Towers apartment, across Turk Street from the old YMCA Hotel (now the Oasis Apartments). When he first saw one of my photographs of the Oasis, he asked me where the building was located. He was shocked to learn it was the same building his balcony window had opened onto all those years, for he had never noticed what was right before his eyes. He later told me that when out and about, he had begun to look upward and had discovered many beautiful and pleasing aspects of his city he had never before appreciated, which of course delighted me no end. Cast your gaze aloft every now and then just to see what is there . . . you might be surprised or better yet, inspired to do some documentation and research of your own.


Just about the time I began photographing the architecture of San Francisco’s central city, Serge Echeverria came into my life, offering not only his friendship, but also both encouragement and critical assessment of my work. To him, Up From The Deep is dedicated.

Photo by Theo Rigby

Photo by Theo Rigby

Except where otherwise indicated, text and photos on this site are copyright © 2004-2015, Mark Ellinger. Any use and/or duplication of this material without prior written permission from the author is prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mark Ellinger and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Creative Commons License

112 responses to “Forgotten History

  1. Sam Simmons

    Mark, I am part of your forgotten history. Not so from my point of view. You have been in my thoughts countless times over the past two score and ten. I am happy to see you have found peace.

    Sam Simmons

    • My goodness, you’re certainly a voice from my past! I have thought of you on occasion, too, Sam. I trust you’re doing well. As for me, I wouldn’t say I have found peace, but having rather thoroughly reinvented myself, I like to think I am once again contributing something of value, no matter how small, to the rest of the world. Glad you found me and glad you got in touch! Happy New Year to you.

  2. Tommy Wilkens

    Indeed the TL does stay with one for life it seems.I myself lived on Geary Street for only a short period during 1974 at the old “Hotel Woodland”. I worked as the night doorman letting people in who lived there and not letting or trying to not let those who wanted to enter that didn’t live there.It was an amazing job that exposed me to some of the strangest and most bizarre people and things that anyone could ever imagine. The memories of the old hotel are still vivid with me and I am sure will always be with me. If anyone has any history on the Hotel Woodland I would greatly appreciate anything that anyone could pass along. Thanks

  3. Check out my Youtube Video paying homage to the TL

    • Elaine

      Mark, sorry about your cameras. Stolen? I saw the You Tube video I Love the TL a walk through the Tenderloin. Very nice. Made me miss the neighborhood more than I already do. Take Care.
      Elaine Zamora

    • Wonderful to see the neighborhood through another person’s eyes, Diana. I especially appreciate that all your photos were taken at dusk. Thank you so much for sharing your work with me. I hope you will continue to document the Tenderloin, especially those spots that are on the brink of radical change. It is important work that needs to be done, and soon. Alas, I am no longer able to do it myself.

  4. Thomas Tavis

    I cant seem to subscribe, and would very much like to. Any advice? Peace, Thomas Tavis

  5. John Horn

    Hi Mark,

    I live South of Market and I’ve appreciated your site for a long time. I made an online book about the wild side of SF history. The project is a work in progress. Any feedback is welcome.

    Cheers, John Horn

    • I just finished reading the first two chapters. I have so many things to say about it, I would rather put my thoughts in an email than have them take up too much space here. For now, I’ll just say that I really like it a lot. I think that, with some fleshing out of content and proper editing, you have the makings of a real book. In particular, I recommend you get in touch with Arcadia Press, publisher of Images of America. What you’re doing is right up their alley.

      I’ll read the last chapter of your piece later today, and hopefully will have written down all my thoughts about it before the day is over. I’m notorious for being a procrastinator, so it may be several days before I get around to sending those thoughts to you, but send them I will, eventually.
      Thanks for sharing what you’re doing with me and the rest of the world, and keep up the good work!


  6. nferracone


    Thanks very much for this unbelievably rich site, and specifically for your mention of Dutch White (The Tenderloin page, Crystal Sandwich Shop, 110 Eddy Street, 1931). Dutch was the uncle of my late grandfather, who only mentioned him on 2 or 3 occasions.

    The folklore in our family is that he did not want to sully the good, very Italian family name with his underworld dealings, so he took on the surname of White. We’re not sure about the Dutch part, but imagine that to be a nickname that just came with the trade.

    My grandfather, who was born in San Francisco and lived there until he was 12, would take summer trips back to SF every summer from Los Angeles, where he’d moved to. The way he described the trips was that his mother would make a call, and eventually a very nice black Cadillac (or similar) would come pick him up. Then, they would always stop at the same restaurante in Fresno, but he would not be allowed in.

    He said Dutch always made sure things were good and that he and his mother were treated kindly.

    My dog is named Dutch in his honor. No joke.

    Nick F. / San Diego, CA

    • Thank you so much for sharing this fascinating bit of inside information, Nick. I love that Dutch lives on, if only by name, in your pet. I know my friend Peter Field will also get a kick out of this.

      Thanks again and best regards,

Comments, please! I value your feedback.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s