Local Company Works Magic with Museums

Dennis Evanosky Alameda-based Group Delphi created the ambiance for San Francisco’s Tenderloin Museum, including the map on the ceiling that highlights the historic neighborhood.

The Tenderloin: "San Francisco’s scummiest neighborhood, a filth-encrusted hotbed of immorality, indecency, lewdness, corruption, and all manner of vice." At least that’s how a certain Dr. Weirde describes the neighborhood in an essay he posted on the "Found San Francisco" website.

"Not so fast," says Tenderloin Museum executive director Bill Fricker. "The Tenderloin is a neighborhood you thought you knew." He invites you to judge for yourself at the museum at 398 Eddy St. in the heart of the Tenderloin.

When you step through the museum doors you are treated to a design crafted by an Alameda company — Group Delphi. The company offered the skills of its multi-talented staff to the Tenderloin Housing Clinic and Uptown Tenderloin to design a museum that drives home the point that the Tenderloin is more than it appears.

Group Delphi teamed up with Randy Shaw, the director of the neighborhood community development organizations Tenderloin Housing Clinic and Uptown Tenderloin, to create the 3,200 square-foot story of San Francisco’s least-understood neighborhood.

"True, it’s a neighborhood known for being a bit sketchy, where the homeless and intoxicated roam and petty crime is rampant," Group Delphi said on July 16, when the museum opened. "Things are on the up for this often-overlooked neighborhood and Group Delphi is proud to have been a part of it."

Jon Betthauser, Group Delphi’s museum project director, is especially proud of his company’s contribution to energizing the neighborhood. "The Tenderloin is more respectful and cleaner now," he said.

Shaw’s organization picked an appropriate place for the Tenderloin Museum — the ground floor of the 108-year-old Cadillac Hotel. "The Cadillac was a supportive housing hotel before that term existed," Shaw wrote in a "Found San Francisco" essay. "It was the first San Francisco residential hotel whose dilapidations brought renovation, rather than demolition. In many respects, the history of the Cadillac is the history of San Francisco."

As he was wont to do, the late, great Herb Caen put it best: "Any city that doesn’t have a Tenderloin isn’t a city at all," he wrote

Exhibits include archival photos, newspaper clippings, a vintage pinball machine and even peep-show viewfinders. The craftspeople from Group Delphi stepped in and put it all together. To fully appreciate what the company did you have to look up — literally.

They reproduced a neighborhood map on the museum’s ceiling. The craftspeople accurately portrayed the broader map with all its streets in gray. This neutral color highlights and draws the eye to the clear plastic blocks in the middle of the room that drop down and highlight the Tenderloin. The map in the center of the ceiling identifies every building in the 31-square-block "Uptown Tenderloin Historic District." Betthauser said that the Group Delphi craftspeople used 5,000 fasteners and 281 custom-made boxes in making the map.

The Presidio Heritage Museum is a second San Francisco venue where visitors can appreciate Group Delphi’s skill and craftsmanship. Group Delphi explained on its website that the Presidio Trust wanted to "renovate the Officer’s Club into a museum that honored the historical building itself as an artifact in conjunction with adding dedicated gallery space in a new additional building."

Group Delphi worked with Ralph Appelbaum Associates. Together they designed, built and installed exhibits without penetrating any of the original building’s surfaces. Something not as easy as it sounds. This meant that the Group Delphi and Appelbaum workers could use no screws, nails, or bolts. They were also challenged with the task of building casework for 162 artifacts, plus timelines, maps, graphics and lighting elements in the new building’s Heritage Gallery.

Group Delphi does not limit itself to Bay Area projects. The company created and executed the design for the Lincoln Motor Car Museum in Hickory Corners, Mich. It used an interpretive master plan that had the foresight to create modular designs so the museum could grow and change with the times. "Graphic panels can be easily substituted with digital components or artifact cases as the museum evolves without disrupting the flow of the exhibits or necessitating costly structural changes," Group Delphi said on its website.

Group Delphi also breathed new life into Placerita Canyon State Park’s outdated visitor center. The center needed a "facelift to highlight the canyon’s natural features, wildlife and fauna," the company said. Its experts created a highly realistic environment for the displays that avoided the complications of live-animal habitats or active water features that would need maintenance over time.

The company also created 24 specimens — everything from small mammals and birds to insects and reptiles — for the new displays. "Our incredible in-house scenics department exercised a level of craftsmanship that simply amazed everyone and gave the visitor center a polish and realism that was astounding," the company said.

Contact Dennis Evanosky at editor@alamedasun.com.