Tenderloin's Best Kept Secret: a National Forest

By Matt Baume
|  Friday, Aug 13, 2010  |  Updated 12:15 PM PDT
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Tenderloin Gives a History Lesson

Joe Rosato jr.

The Tenderloin has a well-earned reputation as a gritty neighborhood for the down-and-out. But many don't realize it has a rich architectural heritage with over 380 historic buildings.

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Our national parks system is often called "America's best idea" -- but can the same be said of the Tenderloin?

Starting in 1989, artist Sarah Lewison noticed that Cohen Alley, a short stretch of pavement between two buildings, had potential. Out came the trash and in came the soil, plants, and art. Now, rather than collecting garbage, Cohen Alley sports a redwood tree, Japanese maple, and visiting hummingbirds.

It's a much-needed boost to the neglected area, where the median income is well below average and immigrants struggle to make ends meet. And the organizers recently negotiated a $1-per-year lease with the city, which bodes well for its future.

Although it's been in place for years, blink and you might miss it. The forest is nearly invisible unless you're looking for it, and its hours are unpredictable.

But if you can make it by when the gates are open, you're in for a treat. The project recently won a Beautification Award from SF Beautiful for all the hard work. Check it out at 509 Elllis street, near Leavenworth.

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