A National Forest Sprouts Green Goodness
in the Tenderloin

Written by FCJ Editor. Posted in Arts/Entertainment, Culture

Published on May 11, 2009 with 3 Comments

The Tenderloin National Forest, located in an alley on Ellis Street near Leavenworth,
has transformed a once drug and crime-infested hideaway into a sustainable green/art space.
Photos by Luke Thomas

By Adam Wight

May 11, 2009

For those who missed Saturday’s official “re-opening” of the Tenderloin National Forest in an alleyway near Ellis and Leavenworth in San Francisco:

Just around the corner from the intersection of three liquor stores and two major streets, the neon glow of the massive Hotel Senator hovers over wood smoke and the most unlikely bird sounds, pouring out from between the buildings. This alley has seen life and death in all its misery, only to find its reincarnation as the art-child of a thousand hands.

Sarah Lewison and her SF State class, aided by neighbors, gardeners, painters-by-night, and masons have landed something from another planet: or from the earth itself, which has lain patiently for decades awaiting this radical rupture in the grayness.

The first thought on seeing a thirty-foot tree at home between these monstrous buildings is, Holy Shit!, that thirty-foot tree must have fallen here from outer space! But not in an ordinary ship. If space shuttle Atlantis is the phallis of Amerika, probing its military-industrial might into the void, then this alley is the female principle.

Four muses hold our thoughts up to the rim of this stone well, murals reach the tops of the apartment buildings. Warmth and nature rise sleepily from abused, dirty corners to take a deep breath, to take the edge off the nights of broken glass.

This isn’t just another venue for art showings and the permissive public drunkenness of the well-heeled, nor does it exist for their pox of bored, hostile journalists who can only think to point out the artists’ whiteness in their own heart of darkness. This is a fresh confluence, another chance to remake the world by pulling on the edges of its fraying old guard, by talking heart with the hesitant natives of Ellis Street who wait outside the gates to see what will happen. There are babies. Dogs drink from the green metal ponds. The music flows outwards.


Comments for A National Forest Sprouts Green Goodness
in the Tenderloin
are now closed.

  1. hi,
    thanks for posting info. on the tnf, also known as green lab, cohen alley and tenderloin national forest….

    just some corrections.

    darryl smith and laurie lazer of the luggage store initiated this project in 1989 and are the lead artists for this project in cohen alley, now known as “the tenderloin national forest.”

    they workied with mohammed nuru from the san francisco league of urban gardeners. during 1989 ..to create a blueprint for the alley, (later jeff brown…)….with the intention of “closing it to cars/traffic and and creating a community commons and new venue for public art for the tenderloin community…

    long story short. the luggage store gained permission from the city and county of sf to gate off the street in 2000, installed the gate designed and built by artist kevin leeper, and began planting trees.

    art exhibitions, street theater, public art, performance, theater, etc. were staged in the alley, among events for th community like monthly birthday parties for children, lectures, film series, etc….

    in 2006, we invited sarah lewison who was then teaching at sfsu to do a residency in the alley. she and her class, residents joined in planting herbs and plants, flowers in the alley. one of her students coined the term “tenderloin national forest,” his name was marco crescenti, and the name stuck.

    more information call us at the luggage store 415 255 5971…

  2. Wow,

    Talk about happenstance. The amazing thing about this piece is that the photographer (Luke) and the writer (Adam) not only were not there at the same time but that they had no idea they’d collaborate on communicating the vibes of the experience together. Luke just took Adam’s text and wove it between the visual representation he’d just done and, voila! Hope to see more of this team.

    Welcome to Luke’s place, Adam.


  3. cool