Tenderloin residents began a new tradition on Tuesday of lighting a holiday tree that shines almost as bright as its neighborhood pride.
For its first known tree lighting, a coalition of about a dozen neighborhood groups called the Tenderloin Peoples’ Congress came together to sing, dance, and be merry for the holidays. The festivities culminated in a countdown to lighting up the tree adorned with decorations made by local children and seniors in Father Alfred E. Boeddeker Park on Eddy and Jones streets.
The Tenderloin Community Benefit District, Hospitality House, and Supervisor Jane Kim secured funding for the tree and decorations in the first known tree lighting celebration. The Mayor’s Office found a 1985 newspaper clipping from the Tenderloin Times that displayed an effort to collect donations but it’s unclear if a tree lighting occurred, according to Curtis Bradford of the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation.
“We have a lot of pride in our neighborhood,” Bradford says. “We can’t say that it’s the first holiday tree…It’s certainly the best holiday tree.”
Some ornaments were handmade by children and seniors in the Tenderloin through the Boys & Girls Club and YMCA while the star was made by a local artist. Before the Tenderloin Chinese Rights Associations Choir sang, they watched as a collective of SRO artists performed a theatrical dance in the grass.
“They want to use their voices to warm peoples’ hearts,” said Siu Cheung, who oversees the 48-member choir that sings year-round in the Tenderloin.
The Glidettes, of Glide Memorial Church, also warmed hearts as they sang a bilingual “Jingle Bells” in matching blue sweaters and beads accompanied by a choreographed performance.
Comments were repeatedly made by speakers like Kim, incoming Supervisor Matt Haney and residents about the turnaround of Boeddeker Park. The park reopened in 2014 after a $9.3 million renovation that also prompted worry it would not be maintained as a welcoming place for everyone.
But on Tuesday, the sound of children running through the playground and clanging on bells reverberated like it does in many parks.
“Better late than never, right?” said Stephen Tennis, a Tenderloin resident of 33 years, of the lighting and park renovation. “It just goes to show what a little money — well a whole lot of money — and a whole lot of people can do. That’s our community.”