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In recent years, San Francisco’s Tenderloin has been described as “dystopian,” a drug-addled wasteland of human desperation and suffering. Most tourist guides dismiss it with a shudder, and some even refer to it as “the worst neighborhood in San Francisco” due to its ambient chaos and reputation for criminal activity. 

Of course, this crude characterization obscures the rich history of the neighborhood, long populated by immigrants, artists, activists and visionaries. The Tenderloin Museum, located at 398 Eddy St., honors this forgotten history, presenting a fascinating walk through the pivotal events and characters that informed what the neighborhood is today. 

Punk/Performance in the ‘Loin,” a gallery exhibition on display through July 2, is one such historic snapshot. 

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In the late 1970s, much like New York City’s Bowery neighborhood, the Tenderloin offered cheap rent, shameless smut, drugs and dives. In other words, it provided fertile ground for punk culture, which seized the neighborhood in the early ’80s. 

While the Mabuhay Gardens defined the punk scene in North Beach, according to the museum web site, “its noisier, amateur and most offbeat exponents trickled down the hill and into the crucible of the Tenderloin,” taking root at Club Generic, Sound of Music, A.R.E. and Jetwave, Inc. 

Show fliers from these venues dress the central wall of the exhibition, announcing shows featuring the likes of Canadian punk band D.O.A. and San Francisco-based Angst

Filmmaker Dale Hoyt curated the exhibition with care, as he was an active member of the Tenderloin punk scene and likely attended many of these shows himself. 

The colorful display of show fliers is animated by a snaking spread of 15 small screens, each presenting an interview with living members of the scene, from Frightwig co-founder Mia d’Bruzzi to cabaret performer Connie Champagne to Other Cinema’s Craig Baldwin.  

All interviews were conducted by Hoyt (with the exception of his own interview) and range from 15 minutes to over an hour. Although exhibition-goers can’t consume everything in one visit, one can sample recollections of the Tenderloin in the late ’70s and early ’80s, often framed by collective memories that marred, like the Jonestown Massacre and the Moscone-Milk assassinations. 

Additionally, the exhibition boasts three striking black-and-white photos by SF-based photographer Jeanne Hansen and a small stack of ’80s and ’90s-era TV sets that silently screen Hoyt’s own videography. 

Hoyt succumbed to a terminal illness mere weeks before the exhibition opened on May 5. Friends and members of the Tenderloin Museum staff were adamant that the exhibition be seen to completion, however, in honor of Hoyt’s vision. 

“Punk/Performance in the ‘Loin” runs through July 2 at the Tenderloin Museum, 398 Eddy St., San Francisco. The gallery is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays. Admission is $6-$10. For information, call (415) 351-1912 or visit http://www.tenderloinmuseum.org/.

From 6:30-8 p.m. Thursday, the museum will host “Once Upon a Time in the TL: Punk/Performance on Screen,” a screening of video and film selected by Hoyt that investigates the intersection of punk rock and performance art in the Tenderloin. Tickets to the event, co-presented with SF Cinematheque, are $10 each, available at https://bit.ly/3QDhjpa.