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Matchbooks Walking Tour: Tenderloin Historical Ephemera Project

The visual language of the matchbooks broadcasts a rich local dialect, which took root in the Tenderloin’s many restaurants, bars, hotels, and social clubs. Aesthetically evocative examples of this lingo abound, conjuring a rich, nuanced vision of Tenderloins past. As physical artifacts, they provide a historical record of a business or particular address. But what’s more, these mass produced and widely distributed tokens touched myriad individual narratives, belonging to people who walked the same streets and lived in the same buildings as the present Tenderloin community.

On March 14th walk these same streets with a Tenderloin Museum Historian, Al Barna and Randall Ann Homan of SF Neon, and typography expert Shelley Gruendler, and see the present day sites of the historic businesses featured in The Match Book: Vintage Matchbooks from San Francisco’s Tenderloin, The Matchbook Map Exhibit, and the book San Francisco Neon: Survivors and Lost Icons. You’ll be mesmerized both by how much has changed, and how much has stayed the same. Let your historical imagination run wild!

Doors at 6pm, Tour leaves promptly at 6:30pm

Tickets may be purchased here

This event is part of The Match Book: Tenderloin Historical Ephemera Project a multi-faceted project that encompasses the publication of The Match Book: Vintage Matchbooks from San Francisco’s Tenderloin, an artfully designed history book of the Tenderloin featuring the matchbooks of local businesses and cultural institutions; the Tenderloin Ephemera Exhibition, featuring historical Tenderloin ephemera from the 1920’s-1950’s, including bar signs, glassware, postcards, menus, matchbooks et al.; the first addition to the Tenderloin Museum’s permanent exhibit, The Matchbook Map Exhibit, featuring a searchable, interactive touchscreen map that connects matchbook imagery to historical info on the associated business and address. 

Through the everyday act of picking up a matchbook and striking a match, one is transported to another place and time; the past is remembered through a pedestrian interaction with a tangible object. Matchbooks are emblems of local culture: accessible, utilitarian ephemera that functioned as the chosen form of advertising for small businesses in an era before plastic lighters and health concerns about smoking. These ritual objects exist at a fascinating intersection of material culture, local history, and design art; matchbooks (and other local business ephemera) are striking populist artifacts that serve as portals to places and people in a neighborhood’s past. The Match Book: Tenderloin Historical Ephemera Project presents an illuminating new perspective on the Tenderloin’s often overlooked history, enriches the detail and depth of the neighborhood’s narrative, and ignites the Tenderloin community’s historical imagination.

Earlier Event: March 7
Member Appreciation Party
Later Event: March 21
Tenderloin Cocktail Culture