Bnai Brith plaque reclaims history in Tenderloin

B’nai B’rith headquarters on Eddy Street were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire.

There’s nothing much there now. Just an open-air parking lot, adjacent to a karaoke bar and an all-male “tea room.” But at that site in the Tenderloin, near Eddy and Taylor streets, once stood the headquarters of B’nai B’rith.

That was before the 1906 earthquake and fire, which destroyed the four-story structure. Now, a neighborhood community organization has commemorated the B’nai B’rith building with a sidewalk plaque installed in front of the lot.

“We’re trying to inform people about the true history,” said Randy Shaw, director of the nonprofit Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which sponsored the plaque. “Rather than the popular belief that [the Tenderloin] was a scuzzy, prostitute-

dominated, other-side-of-the-tracks place, before the quake it was a very respectable neighborhood.”

The housing program, which serves low-income tenants in the city and emphasizes the importance of building community, staged a small installation ceremony on April 25.

Established locally in 1855, B’nai B’rith was once one of the Bay Area’s most important Jewish institutions. It boasted up to 10 lodges in the Bay Area, raising money for orphanages and other Jewish charity projects. The Eddy Street headquarters was built in 1879, just down the street from the former Tivoli Opera House.

The 1906 fire destroyed the building, along with a priceless 15,000-volume library. Choosing not to rebuild on the site, B’nai B’rith later relocated to the Western Addition, along with much of the city’s Jewish community.

Shaw says his nonprofit has sought to restore some of the luster to the Tenderloin district.

“We’ve been trying to reclaim the history,” he said. “We have historic plaques on almost 100 buildings to remind people what a great neighborhood it is. These lost landmark plaques excite people. Many Jews do not know their history here.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.