A bevy of San Francisco musicians took up instruments over the weekend to try and keep the doors open on San Francisco’s venerable Cadillac Hotel, a low-income Tenderloin hotel that got slapped with an unexpected $300,000 bill to bring its aged electrical systems up to code.
"These artists are part of the San Francisco Bay Area community," said musician and concert co-organizer Jason Eckl. "They said, 'Let’s get together and do something that’s going to make a difference.'"
On Saturday afternoon a dozen acts, including singer Lavay Smith, pianist Alex Conde, and band Dirty Cello took the stage in the Cadillac’s lobby to a packed crowd. Admission was free but guests were urged to offer donations.
Eckl and his wife Rebecca Roudman of Dirty Cello organized the concert after Roudman noticed Cadillac owner Kathy Looper looking uncharacteristically down one day.
"We’ve never seen Kathy upset," Roudman said. "We said, 'What’s going on?’ and she said, 'We’ve been hit with a $300,000 electrical bill and I don’t even know what to do.'"
Roudman put out a call to her musician friends who quickly agreed to play the Saturday afternoon benefit.
"They were all ready — happy to donate their time and their music," Roudman said.
Kathy Looper and her late husband Leroy Looper bought the large, colorful hotel at the corner of Eddy and Leavenworth in the 1970s with the intention of providing rooms for low income people.
"Leroy and I always felt you should run your non-profit like you should run your own home," Kathy Looper said, noting the hotel is currently home to 158 residents who pay less than $600 a month for rooms.
The hotel has been home to some for decades. Resident Robert Mathena checked-in in 1966 and remains a fixture in its lobby, which hosts weekly donut parties and monthly concerts centered around the building’s donated 1884 Steinway piano.
"It let people have a room," Mathena said. "You couldn’t find a room like this."
Looper said the hotel’s Hispanic population has grown to 50 percent of the hotel’s residents, which she attributes to the growing displacement in the city’s Mission District.
"We’re providing housing for people who normally wouldn’t be able to find a place," Looper said.
Looper’s affinity for the gritty Tenderloin neighborhood inspired her to dedicate a corner of the hotel’s retail space to the recently opened Tenderloin Museum.
As a result, armies of city inspectors pored over her hotel — eventually discovering the electrical systems weren’t up to code. The repair work landed a hefty bill in Looper’s lap.
"I have until December 31st to get all the work we’ve done passed by the building inspector," Looper said. "I will have to either immediately deal with the problem or close the hotel."
Roudman said with San Francisco’s current housing climate, the loss of the Cadillac Hotel would pose yet another huge blow to the city’s poor.
"It’d be a shame if it wasn’t there anymore," Roudman said of the hotel.
The daylong concert ended-up generating $19,000 in donations — far from the amount Looper needs, but enough to lift her faith in the spirit of people — even in a dodgy neighborhood. She said she would look into getting a loan or perhaps raising rates on some rooms to pay for the electrical work.
On Saturday, as a steady stream of bands took the stage in the lobby, Looper sat on the edge of the stairway, capturing each performance on her smart phone.
"I think it shows the spirit of San Francisco," Looper said. "I think it shows it’s still alive in a lot of people."