Portrait of a Tenderloin art thief

We highly recommend reading the cover story on the latest issue of the SF Weekly by Joe Askenazi. It profiles Terry Helbing, a peculiar Tenderloin resident who amassed around $200,000 worth of art in his tiny 10 by 10 foot room in the Cambridge Hotel on Ellis and Leavenworth. Dubbed by the media as ‘the Tenderloin art thief’, Terry Helbing spent years stealing from more than a dozen galleries, museums, and libraries and ended up spending 8 months in a county jail until recently. His room, crammed with art from floor to ceiling, was famous amongst the other SRO residents. This is how Askenazi describes Helbing’s ecclectic collection:

There were still lifes, landscapes, and, jarringly, a painting of an anthropomorphic kitty with pert, human breasts and a pickle on its head dangled alongside gaily decorated Italian vases expertly fastened to the walls. Stuffed fish and delicate decanters shared space with Russian dolls and a breathtaking, gargantuan photo of a Chinese mountain vista. The room’s microscopic closet was occupied by a pair of grandfather clocks, one of which had a small skeleton dangling from its pendulum. In fact, several animal skulls dotted the room, including the cranium of a male Northern elephant seal — which had been swiped from the aforementioned California Academy of Sciences in 2007.

You can see a slideshow of some of the pieces found in Helbing’s room and judge for yourself, but our favorite is the topless cat (pictured below) because who doesn’t love a topless cat? Askenazi, who calls Helbing a Tenderloin pasha, also comments on the interesting sleeping arrangement in Helbing’s room:

The first thing to hit your eye if you walked in might be that his mattress was atop the most gorgeous Oriental rug you’ve ever seen. And that rug was on top of another rug. And so on, and so on — Helbling slept on a pile of lush rugs as if he were re-enacting a scene from The Princess and the Pea.

There are many elements that make the story of this unusual art thief interesting, but the main one obviously is that he lived in a Tenderloin SRO. His personality also adds a great surreal dimension to the story, like how he always chose artwork that was displayed by the door of the galleries, taken in a matter of seconds without being seen. He also loved attending members-only botanical garden society soirees (which is what eventually led to his arrest). There are also sad elements, such as his childhood in foster care and how he started out in San Francisco a dozen years ago as a homeless man fending for himself on the streets and now he is doing so again after being released from jail.

In my opinion the article puts too much emphasis on Hebling’s low IQ and literacy (“mentally retarded” in the words of the author) which is only part of the reason why we found this man’s obsession with art so fascinating. Well worth a read, though or wait until it comes out as a film starring oh… hell, Paul Giammati, why not.

I live here SF: Leanne

You already know we’re big fans of Julie Michelle’s storytelling & photography project I live here SF, but even more so when she features Tenderloiners or Tender friends. Today’s featured person, Leanne, is both. So, of course, we’d love for you to go read her story right now.

And if that wasn’t enough to convince, although she’s lived all over the city, she has now settled in in what’s probably our most favorite building in the Tenderloin, the Alhambra. As you can see in this picture of Leanne and her daughter, it has one of the most amazing hallways.

Our building, which boasts one-of-a-kind architecture from the ’20s, is rich with history (like so many in San Francisco) and inhabited by a cast of quirky characters (also like so many in San Francisco).

The neighborhood is wonderfully vibrant and rough around the edges, inhabited by people and families from all walks of life. I’ve also happily discovered that the street people love babies. I feel a stronger sense of community in the thick of the Tenderloin than I have anywhere else I’ve lived. I truly feel at home here.

Go read the rest of Leanne’s story and check out the rest of her photos over at I live here SF.

Tenderbits: RATs, partying, and offense

  • San Francisco’s next bi-annual count of homeless persons will take place on Thursday, January 27, 2011 from 7pm to 12am and they need more volunteers. As Andrew Dalton over at SFist points out, since some of you already make it a personal hobby to note anyone sitting/lying along your route to work, you’re already qualified. [Local Homeless Coordinating Board]
  • SF Planning Commissioner Hisashi Sugaya apparently offended Tenderloin residents (and by residents, they mean representatives of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic who mostly don’t live in the hood) with a drug joke. The “community” demands apology (really? we’ve heard worse –we’re looking at you, Chron). [The Snitch]
  • Despite the recent introduction of double fines for traffic citations pedestrian accidents on Van Ness Avenue have skyrocketed in the past two years, especially at the intersections with Market and Geary. Stupid pedestrians, this is obviously your fault, when will you ever learn… [SF Examiner]
  • SFPD has been running Robbery Apprehension Teams (colloquially known as RATs), sending plainclothes officers into the street to draw out would-be robbers. Unsurprisingly, the majority of their operations from 2007 to 2010 were conducted in the Tenderloin. Jeff Adachi is calling RAT a rat, alleging that SFPD is intentionally targeting poor neighborhoods and people of color to boost arrest numbers. When asked if his head was up his ass, Adachi decried that as an offense to all who suffer from recto-cranial inversion and get free parking at City Hall and Muni because of it. Jeff’s so sly… [The Informant/KALW News]
  • Todd Gilens (who recently designed sloped bike racks that can be seen around the Civic Center) has now painted four Muni buses with images of endangered species. With this project, named Endanger Bus, he hopes people will see public transportation in a different light. Or as a rarity of nature, much like Muni buses running more than once an hour. [Muni Diaries]
  • Blogger finds abandoned boxer briefs, used condom and male enhancement pills on the streets of… not the Tenderloin! Ingleside better back off and not be stealing our thunder. [Hoodscope]
  • Winnie, the bartender at Cinnabar, is friendly and pretty. Just so you know. Now if only the hot bartender/great bartender threshold could be crossed some day. [My life, as far as I know]
  • Woman blatantly violating San Francisco’s sit/lie law on O’Farrell Street outside of Great American Music Hall. Shame on her. [The Tens]
  • Plywood preview of French cafe Mirtille, coming soon to a big space on MacAllister by the UN Plaza. Their liquor license should be approved just in time for the 2013 yacht races. [Eater SF]
  • Show Dogs unveiled their new breakfast menu yesterday, featuring the Sunrise ShowDog with maple bacon sausage, egg, piperade, organic cheddar, and arugula served with celery root (!) hash browns ($7.95). That might be a tad too fancy for most of us who can’t taste the difference between deep fried dirt and quiche lorraine in the AM. Just sayin’.[Grubstreet SF]
  • Some claim alcohol doesn’t actually kill brain cells. Those who walk around the Tenderloin regularly might disagree, but they’re probably stoned, so screw them and suck down some science. [The Atlantic]

Photo ‘My name is karma‘ by Troy Holden, from The Tender’s Flickr pool.

The Bubbleman of Eddy & Larkin

We heard about the Bubbleman of Eddy and Larkin a few months back through The Tenderloin Geographic Society. When asked about his activities, he reportedly said “People be hatin’ on the bubbles, but for every one person that complains, they’s a hunnid that love it.” He also exhibited some badass rings that helped us identify him a couple of times when passing by that intersection although he wasn’t blowing the bubbles.

Today we discovered that some artistic guy who likes to film pigeons or broccoli and carrots on corn flakes has made a little video about him for all of you Tender readers’ enjoyment. And if you look closely you’ll notice he’s standing by the classy second-hand clothing store Indigo Fashions that has No tax Fridays. By the way, the bubble machine guns are $5 a piece, in case you’re interested.


YouTube Direkt

It’s religious nut season!

Is it just me or the holiday season makes religious nuts mushroom everywhere? (or is it just the rain?)

On Sunday morning I spent some time photographing people by Hallidie Plaza and the Powell cable car turnaround, and saw this otherwise normal-looking dude talking about Jesus in a very theatrical way. It was quite hard to follow his line of thinking, but the bottom line was (yes, you’ve guessed it), we’re all terrible sinners who need to repent during Christmas.

That same day I was lucky to meet Brad Evans, a great San Francisco photographer whose blog you should algo check out right now, City Snaps. One of his latest photos is a great shot of another regular of the Hallidie Plaza surroundings. His name is Solomua and he’s been preaching in the street for 15 years, with the mission of ridding the world of evil. Good luck with that, Solomua…


Then on Monday I saw this truck parading around Market and 6th street, with messages ranging from ‘Prepare to meet thy God’ to ‘Marriage is one man + one woman’ (on Monday the arguments for and against Prop. 8 were heard in federal court). I didn’t have my camera with me, and was too repulsed to chase them down with my phone camera. Fortunately Julie Michelle did, so you can see the group deliberating all their bovine stupidity (the photo has been cropped so you can see the sadness of the girl on the right side):

Touring the HOC Famers’ Market

You guys already know how much we love the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market (cheesy name and all), so we like to feature it periodically. We typically go there once at least once a week, often on both days it takes place (Wednesday and Sunday). Sometimes we show up when it isn’t there, just to reminisce, but only sometimes. That put us in the mood for some photos from last week:

In case you can’t tell from the picture, these pomelos are gigantic and they are now in season. I have no idea what you’re suppose to do with these guys as they’re the size of my head, but they sure look photogenic (I’m especially fascinated by the pear-shaped ones).

Remember the protests against the sale of live poultry on the market’s premises? Well, live chickens are still being sold but now there’s a sign and a security guard somewhat separating the poultry truck from the rest of the market. It’s still the same location as before, next to the fountain, but at least they’re trying to keep the rest of the groceries from being in contact with the chicken business…

I was too embarrassed to photograph them frontally, but these women were wearing full-on burqas. Which made me wonder if they get ripped off by the aggressive ladies usually shopping at the market, the ones who take forever choosing all the best fruits and shoving elbows at other people trying to access the good stuff.

Once again, we thank you all for the tendernighting!

As most of you faithful tender readers know, last night we had our 2nd TenderNight happy hour at what’s probably our favorite bar in the neighborhood, Koko Cocktails. So we were beyond stoked to have lots of our favorite people in the neighborhood and in the city gathered in our favorite bar. The majority of which took the time to write down their most loved and hated things in the Tenderloin which we are rounding up at this very moment for two epic posts that you will all adore (sneak peak: there will be poo). We can’t really take credit for everyone’s enthusiasm in diligently filling out the forms, because it was obviously due to our awesome sponsors who donated some cool freebies in appreciation for your love for the neighborhood. Thank you guys!

The coveted zero waste Rickshaw bag went to Generik11, one of the Soapy Soaps bag went to a guy named Cesar, the other one to brand new UK transplant Sam who writes at Letters from San Franciso, the happy dumplings from Little Saigon Cafe went to a blond guy named James (coincidentally the cafe is run by a blond guy named James, true story!) and the 24H Fitness trial card went to Schroedenator who blogs at The Dumpster of Life.

Unfortunately the person who won the salted chocolate caramels from Hooker’s Sweet Treats didn’t leave a name in the form and we couldn’t identify her, so at the end of the night we did another draw and the winner ended up being… Jen Woodfield! So Jen, if you’re reading this contact us so we can give you your prize–it’s delicious. Also, we forgot to announce the winner of an exclusive, limited-edition, Tenderblog t-shirt printed by the good folks at theloin. It goes to… drumroll… Selena! (who likes Hemlock on weekdays and the Brown Jug on weekends, classy girl). So again, contact us to claim your prize or we’ll have to give them to someone else.

Thank you all for coming and for your support, we had a great night and we hope you did too (even if you went home prize-less). From the top of my head, here are some of the illustrious folks who joined the TenderNight (in addition to the aforementioned winners of freebies above): reallytallchris from Rickshaw Bags, Jeff & Manny from theloin, Darryl of the Tenderloin National Forest, Dave aka Hooker, Matt aka Stool Boy/Hooker Boy (he’s a regular) & his neighbor Oscar, Jeff, Eugenia & Tara of Muni Diaries, Alyssa Jones, OhDottie, Ray and Keiko of Kokoro Studio, Ariel Dovas aka eviloars, supertamsf, mural artist D Young V, cwoodfield, theCara, saschkaunseld aka narf, SFvsr, ninafrazier who writes at Loin Life, Madgity, jasongitlin, goodpotatoes, Luk_e29, MyFrankoComplex, our downstairs neighbor Eugene, and our building manager Oliver.

We’re still recovering from the nearly a dozen+ delicious Geary Gimlets we had last night (although I was only responsible for two of those and hiphapa probably only half of one, while the rest were inhaled by humin which explains why his photos weren’t the clearest), so forgive us if we forget to mention something interesting that happened last night or some of you awesome tendernighters.

Also, check out Alyssa Jones’s “coverage” of the night with a few pictures as crappy as ours below (shooting in dark bars sucks!). And Generik11 posted a picture of our smashed cupcakes from Mission Minis, Dottie’s fancy purse, and the bar (w/Dottie’s back).

Hopefully we’ll see you all again (or those of you who missed this one due to the SF eventgasm happening this week) sometime in later February at the next one!

Of walls and people

A few weeks ago I noticed a new mural by Space Gallery on Polk street, in a wall that might follow the Heist’s wall system of displaying works by the artists in the gallery to promote people to visit the inside. I recognized the right side as being a joint piece by D Young V and Eddie Colla, but I wasn’t sure about the left side so I ended up not posting about it here. Last week, while they were making a similar piece at 606 Ellis, D and Eddie informed me that the other half of this mural is by Jesse Hazelip. Looking at Jesse’s website I realized I had already seen his artwork around San Francisco, especially the buffalo bombers. But somehow I forgot to post the pictures once again. Eddie Colla’s show at Ma•velous reminded me about it once again.

Now I see that I have several pictures of the mural, as people kept walking by and it was hard to photograph only the wall.

I don’t know why I was waiting for the mural to be clear of people, as I usually prefer to take pictures of them with somebody passing by. In fact, even when there’s no mural, one of my favorite things to photograph when I travel or I’m in a new place is people passing in front of walls. There’s something about the stillness of a building (which might have been there for decades, or even centuries) and the motion of someone going somewhere, that appeals to my imagination. It connects the permanent with the ordinary, time and place.

But say you, tender readers, when you look at a picture of a building or of a wall with artwork, does it distract you to see people walking by? Do you like the first picture or the other ones more?

Halloween in the Tenderhood

The Tenderloin is never included in any of those cheesy lists for ‘Best hoods for Trick-or-Treating‘ that newspapers seem to love so much. These are the lists where commenters say things like “I wouldn’t take my kid to trick-or-treat around [the Tenderloin] if you paid us both”). They can stick their opinion in whatever orifice they like, as going to the Farmers’ Market this morning I saw several neighbors with bags full of treats ready for visitors, as well as a good number of people in costumes doing the rounds for ‘Trick or Treat’. There are a lot of kids here and crack-rock candy jokes aside, people do enjoy the holiday.

As this neighborhood is mainly big apartment buildings instead of single-family homes, it’s never on any list of ‘Best decorated houses’ (such as these awesome ones in the Lower Haight). This makes sense as it’s hard to wrap your whole building in faux-spiderwebs and ghosts if it has eight stories. In spite of that, most business and even some neighbors in the Tenderloin have made some effort to put up Halloween-themed decorations on their windows (or on their dogs). Here are a few examples for you to enjoy.

Free Bibles for all!

Yesterday afternoon, as I was happily returning home after some Senor Sisig pork goodness, I saw this on Leavenworth at Golden Gate avenue.

This dude was forcibly distributing free Bibles to the people hanging out in the street, which happen to be quite a few on that particular corner. About half of them stopped to get some because hey, free stuff. While I was taking the picture above with my phone he tried to give me one too, but I told him I already had one at home. The guy seemed nice, so I didn’t have the heart to tell him that my only Lord is Grilled Cheesus and that this was probably the closest I had been to a Bible in… ever.

This guy, Ron from Santa Cruz, informed me that he comes ‘down’ to the Tenderloin (we are north of Santa Cruz, no?) every once in a while to spread the word of God. He’s gone to other areas of town like the Financial District but nowhere people are as receptive to his Bible-giving than in the TL. People who are destitute, he said, understand that we are nothing, God is everything…. and some more blahblahblah that I forgot because the man was talking a lot and extremely fast, like a preacher with a full audience (I was just half-heartedly nodding, paying my price for the picture I had snapped).

As I was leaving, he insisted I take a coin with the Ten Commandments so I always have them in my pocket. As I look at it now for this post, I realize it also has a mashup of verses in the back followed by a website: NeedGod.com, with with a homepage that asks if you are “good enough to go to heaven”.

I can’t help but wonder why does everybody think that the people in the Tenderloin need saving, instead of more jobs, less drugs, economic development, clean and safe streets, parks, proper grocery stores or less noise. Just to name a few, although the amount of trannies at Divas is probably at perfectly tenable levels.