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Time Portal


“Time Portal” (2003)

(319/8) 620-626 O’Farrell Street; Annandale House. Store and rooming house with fourteen rooms and four baths. 3B stories; brick structure; galvanized iron cornice; two-part commercial composition; Renaissance/Baroque ornamentation; vestibule: terrazzo steps, tile floor. Alterations: storefront, security gate. Original owners: George S. Hill and Wilcox. Architect: George A. Dodge. 1908.

Near the only twenty-four-hour store in the Tenderloin was a little laundromat with the unlikely name of Snow Bell. The Snow Bell Laundromat for many years occupied the ground floor of a tiny old rooming house that I have always found intriguing, not because it is decrepit, but because it is so modestly genteel in its decrepitude. It is a very old building. Alongside the rooming house is Harlem Alley, a narrow cul-de-sac that adjoins a miniscule parking lot behind the Admiral Hotel next door. From sidewalk to parking lot is a span of six feet at most, but that six feet of wall speaks volumes.


“Summer Day – O’Farrell Street” (2007 Survey)

(319/8) 620-626 O’Farrell Street; Annandale House.

(319/9) 628-630 O’Farrell Street; apartment building with eight two- and three-room units. 4B stories; reinforced concrete structure; stucco facade, three-story bay windows; two-part vertical composition; Renaissance/Baroque ornamentation; vestibule: octagonal columns, cornice molding. Alterations: security gate, storefront. Original owner: E.V. Lacey. Contractor: Monson Brothers. 1921.

(319/10) 640-642 O’Farrell Street; Allen Garage. 2B stories; reinforced concrete structure; stucco facade, hood moldings over windows and doors, cornice, stepped parapet; two-part commercial composition; Gothic ornamentation; alterations: steel roll-up doors, aluminum doors. Original owner: L.W. Allen. Architects: O’Brien Brothers. 1924.

(319/12) 646 O’Farrell Street; Madrone Apartments, Farlow Apartments. Apartment building with eleven two-room units. 3B stories; brick structure; Flemish bond brick and galvanized iron bay windows; two-part vertical composition; Renaissance/Baroque ornamentation; vestibule: marble steps and walls, cornice molding. Alterations: security gate, aluminum windows, addition in vestibule. Original owner: Hugh K. McKevitt, attorney. Architect: C.O. Clausen. 1915.

(319/13) 656-658 O’Farrell Street; Hermione Apartments, Ada Court Apartments. Apartment building with seventeen two- and three-room units. 5B stories; brick structure; bay windows and cornice, two-tone brick with marble inlay; three-part vertical composition; Renaissance/Baroque ornamentation; vestibule: marble steps, tile floor, cornice molding; lobby: marble steps, pilaster order, cornice molding. Alterations: security gate. Original owner: Herman Hogrefe. Architect: Edward E. Young. 1916.

(319/16) 666 O’Farrell Street; Sovereign Apartments. Apartment building with thirty-three two- and three-room units. 5B stories; reinforced concrete structure; stucco facade, three-story bay windows, rusticated base, cornice, panels with urns; two-part vertical composition; Renaissance/Baroque ornamentation; vestibule: arched entry with cartouche, marble floor and wainscoting, coffered vault, decorative iron in doorway; lobby: marble steps, cornice molding, metal and glass hanging lamp; alterations: security gate, aluminum windows above first floor. Original owner: Mrs. Mary K. Ladd. Architects: Baumann and Jose. 1924.

(322/6A) 400-410 Hyde Street; Ben Hur Apartments. Apartment building with sixty-nine two-room units. 7B stories; steel frame and reinforced concrete structure; stucco facade, chariots on spandrel panels, five- and six-story bay windows, cornice; two-part vertical composition; Renaissance/Baroque ornamentation; vestibule: arched entry surround with decorative panels, marble floor, decorative side and ceiling moldings; lobby: decorative column order with beamed ceiling. Alterations: none. Original owner and builder: Louis Johnson. 1926.

The Snow Bell Laundromat has been replaced by the Dim Sum Bar, a major improvement, although Harlem Alley is now gated, making that wonderful side wall inaccessible. The Annandale was occupied by a private hospital in 1929 and the ground floor was a Safeway store in 1937.

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The Parlor Houses of Jessie Hayman

“Her bottom was something to watch.”

Born 1867 in New Orleans, Annie May Wyant showed up in San Francisco sometime in the early 1890s. By 1895, using Jessie Mellon as her house name, she was boarding in Mrs. Nina Hayman’s “lodging house” at 225 Ellis Street, an address that later would become one of the best known in the annals of San Francisco prostitution. Opened in the late 1870s by Dolly Adams — former “Water Queen” of the Bella Union Theater — the Ellis Street establishment was taken over by Mrs. Hayman following Dolly’s retirement from madamship in the 1880s. Near the end of 1898, Nina Hayman retired to marry a wealthy San Francisco lumber dealer. As the house favorite, young Jessie took on her mentor’s name and business, and it was as Jessie Hayman or “Diamond Jessie” that she became famous.

Jessie’s full story has been told with great warmth and wit by Curt Gentry in his book The Madams of San Francisco.¹ Suffice for me to say that she was strict yet fair and generous with her girls, and her parlor houses were the most lavish and fashionable in the district. She was tall and elegant, a shapely redhead and a lover of diamonds whose charms (and prices) were legendary in her own time, as illustrated by the following anecdote.

In the late 1890s, photographer Arnold Genthe introduced Jessie to a Grand Duke of the Imperial Russian Empire, who wanted to take her back to Russia with him. When Jessie politely declined, the Grand Duke commissioned Genthe to make a life-size enlargement of her portrait. At a Newport luncheon honoring the Grand Duke the day before he returned to Russia, His Royal Highness proposed a toast.

To the most beautiful woman I have met in your country. She shall be nameless. Even if she were not many miles away, she would not have been included in this gathering. I ask you all to drink her health.

Thus it was that ladies of unquestioned virtue,* the cream of American society, raised their glasses and drank to a demimondaine, for a request from a Grand Duke was a command.

*or so we must suppose

The ultimate fate of the portrait is unknown. Perhaps it was destroyed by Bolshevik Red Guards during the 1917 October Revolution; or maybe, along with other detritus of the fallen empire, it was hidden in a cellar only to be forgotten and left to molder in darkness. No matter what actually happened to the enlargement, we know the negative was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire, and thus the only known photograph of Diamond Jessie is as good as forever lost.

Dawn Over Taylor Street

“Dawn Over Taylor Street” (2003)

(340/14) 136–142 Taylor Street; Dunphy Building. Stores and offices/lofts. 4B stories; brick structure; decorative window frames including third level arches, bracketed cornice and pediment; two-part vertical composition; Renaissance/Baroque ornamentation; vestibule: tile floor, sign painted on north wall: “United Railways Telegraph Schools”; alterations: ground floor, storefronts, aluminum windows, vestibule. Original owner: P. Dunphy. Architect: E.A. Bozio. 1906.

Several months after the the 225 Ellis establishment was destroyed by the 1906 fire, Jessie moved with her girls into the top two floors of the newly-constructed Dunphy Building. There they stayed until the fall of 1907, when she acquired a new lodging house on Mason Street and furnished it as a deluxe bagnio.


“Famous Polo’s” (2004)

(341/7) 34-48 Mason Street; The Glenwood (1906); parlor house (1907); Polo’s Restaurant (1952). Storefront and loft. 3B stories; brick structure; decorative brickwork including rusticated piers, galvanized iron cornice; two-part vertical composition; Renaissance/Baroque ornamentation; vertical neon blade sign. Alterations: ground floor remodeled. Architects: Meyers and Ward. 1906.

From 1907 till 1912, when she moved her girls and furnishings to Eddy Street, the Glenwood was Jessie’s parlor house. Much later it would become Polo’s Stadium Club, for many years one of San Francisco’s most popular meeting spots for fine food and drink.


“Crystal Hotel” (2011)

(331/7) 128-132 Eddy Street; The Gotham Lodgings, parlor house, Belva Hotel, Crystal Hotel. Rooming house with forty-seven rooms and twenty-eight baths. 4B stories; brick structure; rusticated second level, upper level with decorative panels, bands, window surrounds, galvanized iron cornice; two-part vertical block; Renaissance/Baroque ornamentation. Alterations: ground level completely remodeled, lobby remodeled. Original owners: Daniel O’Neil, contractor, and Cora M. Twombly. Architect Charles R. Wilson. 1908.

130 Eddy was the last of Diamond Jessie’s brothels, from 1912 until her retirement in 1917. The first floor was leased out as a saloon, the parlors and madam’s suite were on the second floor, and the girls’ suites, dining room and kitchen were on the upper floors. With the help of Jessie’s backing, one of her girls later became a leading Hollywood madam under the name Beverly Davis. In her autobiography Call House Madam,² Ms. Davis devotes several chapters to her mentor that include a description of the Eddy Street brothel.

Jessie’s prices were staggering. She had a champagne cellar with wines from all parts of the world. Whoever furnished the house knew his Place Pigalle stuff. There was the red room, the gold room, the Turkish room, the French room, the blue room. oriental couches and shaded lamps, plush parlors one after the other with deep carpets on the floor. The bedrooms upstairs were done in the best style. It reflected ‘tone’ for a parlor house all the way through.

When she died in 1923, Jessie’s net worth in diamonds and Tenderloin real estate was one hundred thousand dollars, the equivalent in 2009 dollars of well over one point two million.


“Joy of Life” (2003)

Crystal Hotel, 128-132 Eddy Street.

One of my germinal photographs, the Crystal Hotel viewed from Mason Street is also one of my favorites. It captures the essence of the Tenderloin as a many-layered source of fascination. I was captivated by these walls long before I had a camera to photograph them. The faded advertisements afforded a glimpse of the past, but the peculiar, limpet-like annex was a real enigma. Could it have been a meat locker for the brothel’s kitchen? No one seemed to know. Near the end of 2005, an acquaintance told me of a former tenant who had used the tiny space as an extra bedroom by cramming a folding camp bed into it. Alas, this anecdote is all I have gleaned. The little annex and lovely ghost signs are now largely hidden, eclipsed by a new housing development, thus bringing to a close this page in Tenderloin history.

Joy Eclipsed

“Joy Eclipsed” (2011)

1. 1964, Doubleday and Company.
2. 1942, Martin Tudordale Corporation

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“Sentinel” (2005)

(348/6) 100-120 McAllister Street, Temple Methodist Church and William Taylor Hotel (1927), Empire Hotel (1936), McAllister Tower (1981); church and palace hotel with 609 rooms and 391 baths; 28B stories; steel frame structure with brick walls; articulated steel frame with recessed copper spandrels; set-back skyscraper; Gothic ornamentation; vestibule: iron marquee; lobby: pier order with decorative ceiling, balcony with iron railing; alterations: some aluminum windows, doorway. Architects: Miller and Pflueger and Lewis P. Hobart. 1927.

(322/1) 601-609 O’Farrell Street, Farrelworth Apartments. Architect: H.C. Baumann. 1918.

About a year after I captured the above image, I had the pleasure of gazing down at the City from atop the tower at 100 McAllister Street, a remarkable building that appears in a number of my Tenderloin and South of Market photographs.

“Encroaching Fog” (2004)

Built by the Methodist Church, the building first opened in 1927 as the luxury William Taylor Hotel and Temple Methodist Church; in 1936 the building was sold and reopened as the Empire Hotel. While its status as the tallest hotel west of the Mississippi was short-lived, at a height of twenty-eight stories it remained by far the tallest building in the Tenderloin until the encroachment of the 493 foot Hilton San Francisco Tower I in 1971.

Summer Fog

“Summer Fog” (2004)

The McAllister Tower’s purchase in 1981 by UC Hastings College of the Law should ensure that this neighborhood landmark, still undergoing long-term restoration, will be well cared for long into the future.


“UC Hastings and McAllister Tower” (2008)


(left) Postcard, c. 1927. (center) W. Taylor dining room, c. 1927. (right) Engraving, c. 1857. The apocalyptic gaze and breathtaking beard belong to Methodist minister William Taylor, from the frontispiece to his book Seven Years Street Preaching in San Francisco. Taylor was working in and around Baltimore, Maryland, specializing in street preaching, when he was sent by the Methodist Church as a missionary evangelist to California in 1849. For the next seven years he worked the streets of San Francisco, earning a reputation as “the pioneer scourge of moral slackers” for his fire-and-brimstone sermonizing. The Reverend Taylor later became Bishop Taylor, and it is he for whom the McAllister Tower was originally named.


“Lobby – McAllister Tower” (2008)


“Mezzanine – McAllister Tower”


“Gymnasium – McAllister Tower” (2008)

UC Hastings CFO David Seward kindly took me on a personal tour of the tower including the observation deck, where I was able to walk about in the open air twenty-seven stories above the street, with the Tenderloin, Civic Center and South of Market spread out before me. Our time was limited, so I was able to take only a few photographs. If you examine them closely, you can see the spatial relationships between many of the buildings I’ve singled out in my other photographs.


“Downtown” (2008)

Since 1968, the year I moved to San Francisco, the beautiful Beaux Arts-inspired architecture that once defined the City’s downtown skyline has been occulted, if not replaced, by towering and impersonal skyscrapers of glass and steel.


“Nob Hill” (2008)

To the north toward Nob Hill appears some of the lovely and inviting city that arose from the ashes of the 1906 fire; where the skyline still shows the graceful rise and fall of San Francisco’s hills.


“Boundary Lines” (2008)

In the upper left is the Flood Building at Powell and Market, which for many years was considered the eastern boundary of the Tenderloin. The diagonal swath of Market Street separates the Tenderloin on the left from South of Market on the right.


“Hive” (2008)

Gazing into the heart of the Tenderloin, we see the largest and densest concentration of intact residential hotels and apartments in the City; possibly in the entire country. Clearly seen from this perspective is the uniformity of architectural style. Nearly all the buildings have details that were drawn from Renaissance and Baroque sources, manifesting the influence of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and the City Beautiful Movement on the various architects responsible for the district’s reconstruction.


“Intersection” (2008)

In the midst of century-old buildings rises the new Curran House at 145 Taylor Street.


“Ad Art” (2008)

A few doors down Turk Street from Jones is the old El Rosa Hotel (now the Helen), with its beautiful old painted advertisement for 7-Up.

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West Hotel

West Hotel

“West Notel” (2007)

(340/18) 141–145 Eddy Street; Hotel Dunloe (1923), Hotel Zee (1984), West Hotel (2005). Rooming house with 129 rooms and thirty-nine baths. 5B stories; brick structure; ground floor pilaster order, three-story arched bays with keystones, galvanized iron belt course and cornice; three-part vertical composition; Renaissance/Baroque ornamentation; vestibule, lobby, and storefronts all remodeled. Owners: Gus and A.K. Harshall (1908), Vasilios Glimidakis (1967-1984), Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (2007). Architects: Cunningham and Politeo. 1908.

Adjacent to the Hotel Ambassador is the renovated West Hotel, low-income housing owned and operated by the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation. Restaurateur Vasilios Glimidakis, “the Greek from Crete,” owned the hotel from 1967 to 1984, when around it flourished a little pocket of Greek cuisine and culture embodied by the Minerva Café (a taverna owned and managed by Glimidakis), the Golden Peacock, and Mike’s Bar and Mediterranean Café.

Minerva Cafe, 1974
Source: San Francisco History Center, S.F. Public Library (Photo: Mary Anne Kramer)

Minerva Café, 1974. From 1967 until 1984, the Minerva occupied a storefront of the Empress Hotel, across the street from the West (then named the Hotel Dunloe).

Golden Peacock
Source: San Francisco History Center, S.F. Public Library (Photo: Mary Anne Kramer)

Golden Peacock Restaurant, 1974. The venerable and renowned Greek taverna was located at 173 Eddy, in a storefront of the Rosenbaum Building.

Source: San Francisco History Center, S.F. Public Library (Photo: Mary Anne Kramer)

Mike’s Bar and Restaurant, 1974. Mike’s occupied the corner storefront of the Bristol Hotel at Eddy and Mason.


“West” (2006)

The hotel’s storefront is an adult theater that opened as the Aquarius in 1970, and in 1978 was renamed the Tea Room.


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