Yesterday while wandering around and photographing San Francisco’s Tenderloin District I was surprised to see the gates to Cohen Alley off of Ellis Street open for the first time in as long as I can remember. Cohen Alley, which used to be one of the most filth, drug and crime infested alleys in one of the worst areas of San Francisco, has recently been renovated, reclaimed and renamed the Tenderloin National Forest complete with gardens and public art and the transformation has been nothing short of remarkable.
Tomorrow, the alley will officially open to the general public from 10am to 9pm with a day of celebration featuring numerous Bay Area artists and performers. According to the Tenderloin National Forest’s website, the public art and garden space was created to address the lack of green space in the Tenderloin. The Forest is intended to be an inspiration and model for others to attempt gardening in the inner city.
From the Forest’s website: “The high concentration of apartment buildings in the Tenderloin gives it the densest population (people per square mile) in the city, and also the highest proportion of families and children. It is also one of the poorest, with a median family income of around $20K, a figure that is less half the overall city average. The area has a large number of immigrants from Asia, Southeast Asia and Latin America, and the 2004 demographic summary stated that the Tenderloin is home to the city’s entire Cambodian population.”
I spoke with one of the co-leading artists for this project Darryl Smith yesterday and he shared with me a number of the stories behind the art in the alley. There is a wonderful stone walkway in the alley created by Portuguese muralist Rigo, who has done several other large scale public installations in the City. There are some great murals there also done by Trust Your Struggle. In addition to lots of other public art works there is a fish pond and an oven to bake bread in the garden.
Smith told me that after Saturday’s opening the Forest would be open regularly from 12 noon to 5pm every weekday. If you get a chance definitely check it out. It’s an amazingly positive space happening in an otherwise pretty rough neighborhood. I’ve got a small set of images that I took of the alley yesterday here.
Smith also told me that two of the adjacent buildings to the alley provide community housing for low-income residents and added that one of the housing units will also include housing for an artist residency program where artists can live there and work at the National Forest and on projects for brief periods of time.