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1915 Fair Celebration

PH 0443, Van Ness Ave, c.1915 copy

On February 20, 1915, the Panama-Pacific International Exposition opened. On that opening day, tens of thousands of San Franciscans and visitors paraded north along Van Ness Avenue to reach the fairgrounds at Harbor View (now the Marina District). Tens of thousands more rode streetcars, such as No. 11 (identical to preserved Muni No. 1) shown here on Van Ness in the vicinity of Vallejo Street.

On Saturday, February 21, 2015, you’re all invited to a community celebration marking the fair’s centennial, under the dome of the Palace of Fine Arts (the only surviving structure from the Fair), Lyon and Francisco Streets, from 12 Noon to 5 p.m..  Buffalo Bill Cody, Charlie Chaplin, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and other famous 1915 fair attendees will be there (at least in spirit, and through impersonators). There’ll be dancing, music and plenty of historic displays, including ours. All the details are here.

This weekend is also a great time to visit our San Francisco Railway Museum to see our free exhibit, “Fair, Please,” telling the story of how this monumental exposition helped the young Municipal Railway come of age. If you can’t make it to the museum this weekend, not to worry. The exhibit will run through November, just like the fair did a century ago.

You can also read our story about how Muni served the fair. It’s a reprint from our exclusive quarterly member newsletter, Inside Track, filled with inside information, unique stories and rare photos, most of which we don’t share online. Join us today and we’ll send you the last four issues of this award-winning glossy newsletter.

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Market Street Gets a Closeup

GAR Arch on Market 1886

Peter Hartlaub is one of the best things about the Chronicle today. He mines the newspaper’s archives, finding some real photographic gems along with contemporary news coverage. Then he puts them into context, sometimes in the newspaper itself but more often on his blog on

Today, his article talks about Market Street’s history. It’s a good read and we recommend it.  You should also look at his blog post from a few days ago, that has lots of additional photos of Market Street in the 1800s, including the one at the top of this post. That’s a temporary “triumphal arch” over Market Street’s relatively new cable car tracks in 1886, celebrating the gathering of the Grand Army of the Republic (Civil War veterans who fought for the Union).

Peter’s pieces dovetail nicely with the talk MSR’s Rick Laubscher will be giving this coming Thursday night, February 19, at the Mechanic’s Institute.  It’s free for Market Street Railway members. Details here.  Hope to see lots of you on Thursday.

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Market Street Past and Future February 19

Looking east on Market Street from Eighth, 1942. Two thousand new apartments are currently being constructed where the old Crystal Palace Market and vacant lot were.

Looking east on Market Street from Eighth, 1941. Two thousand new apartments are currently being constructed where the old Crystal Palace Market and vacant lot were.

On Thursday, February 19 at 6 p.m., the venerable Mechanics’ Institute will present a double-barreled program on the past and future of Market Street, featuring the transportation policy director of SPUR, Ratna Amin, and Market Street Railway President Rick Laubscher.

All the details and signups are here.

Market Street Railway members, SPUR members, and Mechanic’s Institute members are free. Public tickets are $15.  Note that we will check those who reserve seats as Market Street Railway members, but you can still join us in time if you’re not a member yet.

Rick will present photographs illustrating Market Street’s history as San Francisco’s main transportation and business artery, with commentary on the different eras the street went through, particularly the long-troubled, now resurgent mid-Market area. He’ll also sign copies of our guidebook, On Track, which will be available for sale at the event.

Ratna will outline the plans now under way to make traveling along Market Street safer and better.  We expect a lively interchange with the audience as well.

If you’ve never visited the Mechanics’ Institute, it is worth the trip all by itself.  Its building at 57 Post Street, designed by noted architect Albert Pissis (who created the classic Emporium facade on Market, among other works) opened in 1910 and has been faithfully preserved. Entering the chess room is like time travel.

Come join us February 19 at the Mechanics’ Institute.

BART Civic Center Station Construction at Market and 7th Streets, late 1960s.

BART Civic Center Station Construction at Market and 7th Streets, late 1960s.

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Rain? Check Out Our Museum (and Big Sale!)

Jewel City

Rain, rain, DON’T go away, we need you. But what to do this weekend amid the raindrops?  How about a trip to our San Francisco Railway Museum, tied into a sojourn through the wonderful Ferry Building Marketplace? Beyond our recently opened exhibit on the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, you can take advantage of a storewide sale on books: 25% off, including the incredibly beautiful book on the fair by Laura Ackley. Get 25% off on our popular guidebook On Track as well, plus numerous local history and transit books. DVDs, including our exclusive narrated 1906 Trip Down Market Street, are also 25% off this weekend.

If you can’t make it down this weekend, you can still capture these rainy day savings by going to the books and media section of our online store and using the savings code 22FILLMORE.

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Party Like It’s 1915!

1915 sign Ferry Building lowres

One hundred years ago this month, San Francisco launched perhaps its greatest party ever. Officially, the nearly year-long fair at Harbor View (now the Marina District) — the Panama-Pacific International Exposition — celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal.  To city leaders and residents, though, it was really a celebration of the city’s own resurrection from the devastating earthquake and fire of 1906.

To build excitement about the forthcoming fair, the city installed lights in 1914 that outlined the Ferry Building tower at night, along with a lighted “1915” above the famous clock. On the Bay side, ferryboat riders all saw the big neon sign running the length of the building: “California Welcomes the World — Panama-Pacific Exposition.” The lights signs stayed up through the end of the fair.

Thanks to a great idea by San Francisco historian and civic leader Donna Ewald Huggins, the lights and “1915” sign are coming back next month, expected to be dedicated March 3. Carl Nolte’s Chronicle story this morning has the details (but note that the content is behind the on-again Chron paywall, so the link may not work for everyone).

The signs and lights cost $80,000, the biggest single chunk coming at the last minute from Bay Area philanthropist Tad Taube.  We thank Tad, Donna, and all the others involved in this great project.

The photo above, from our archives, shows the 1915 sign on the Ferry Building amid a cluster of streetcars operated by Muni and its competitor United Railroads. The banner strung above the Ferry Building entrance — “The Panama Canal is Open”, the “Ball Park” dash sign on the A-Geary streetcar, center, (Ewing Field was a couple of blocks off the line, on Masonic), and the automobile license plate tell us its late summer 1914.

At our San Francisco Railway Museum through October, see our exhibit “Fair, Please!” on how Muni came of age by serving the 1915 fair. At the museum or on our online store, you can also buy a wonderful new book by Laura Ackley on the fair.

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Double Play on 16th Street

Muni launches its new 55-Sixteenth Street bus route today, running from the BART station at 16th and Mission to Mission Bay, serving the new Benioff UCSF Children’s Hospital and everything else in that fast growing neighborhood.

This means that 16th Street will host a double-double of Muni routes:  The five-five and the two-two, much better known as the 22-Fillmore, one of the City’s most venerable transit lines.

Today is the beginning of a big transition for the 22, a very long crosstown line that starts at the Marina Green and makes a giant “L” through Pacific Heights, the Western Addition, Upper Market, the Mission, and Potrero Hill.  Its traditional route (since the very beginnings) has taken it over Potrero Hill on 18th Street to reach Third Street, but once overhead wire is strung along 16th Street (which will somehow take three years, though it used to take three months or less when Muni had large overhead wire crews), the 55 will go away and be replaced by a rerouted 22-Fillmore trolley coach running all the way along 16th to Third.  At that point, the trolley wires on Potrero Hill will be taken over by a rerouted 33-Stanyan — ANOTHER double number route, and, it should be noted, San Francisco’s very first trolley coach route, opened by our namesake, erstwhile Muni competitor Market Street Railway Company in 1935.

In celebration of today’s double play with the 55 and 22, we bring you a 1948 shot from our archives of two 22-Fillmore streetcars passing each other at 16th and Bryant, where both the 55 and 22 now run. Fitting for two reasons: Seals Stadium on the left, where myriad double plays were turned over the decades, and, just out of frame to the right, the Double Play bar, still there today!

The next issue of our Member newsletter, Inside Track, will have a special feature on the history of the 22-Fillmore, with photos you can’t see anywhere else. Join now, and we’ll also send you our feature on one of the world’s most unusual transit lines, the Fillmore Hill counterbalance (which was the northern extension of the 22-line until 1941).

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Roof Job

Powell 1 Bay Taylor 2015 Zach Ho photo

Readers of our quarterly member newsletter, Inside Track, just got the inside scoop on the restoration of Powell Street cable car No. 1. The photo above, posted by Zach Ho to our Facebook group, shows Powell 1, in its 1888 livery, at the Bay and Taylor terminal of the Powell-Mason line.

That photo inspired noted San Francisco historian Emiliano Echeverria to post the photo below, from the Louis L, Stein, Jr. collection. It’s the same cable car — er, at least a part of it — at the same angle, at Golden Gate Park (Fulton Street and Sixth Avenue) in 1894.

This cable car, No. 506, was part of two groups of cars built for the Sacramento Street line. These cars survived the 1906 earthquake and fire, but the original Powell Street fleet did not, so the Sacramento Street cable cars were transferred over to Powell, where the survivors still run today.

506 at 6th and Fulton 1894, Louis Stein collection

As Inside Track readers know, Powell No. 1 was specially put together for the 1973 centennial of the world’s first cable car line (on Clay Street, built by Andrew Hallidie). Muni carpenters removed the roof from car No. 506, the frame of which was in very rough shape, and built a new cable car under that old roof. They salvaged the seats from No. 506 as well.

Painted in the original Powell Street Railway Company maroon and sky blue livery by cable car barn foreman (and rail historian) Charlie Smallwood, the look proved so popular that when the cable car lines were rebuilt from 1982-84, all but one of the Powell cars were repainted into a simplified version of this livery.

Taking inspiration from Powell No. 1 and the one remaining green and cream car (No. 3), Market Street Railway has supported Muni over the last two decades in bringing back other historic liveries once worn by Powell Street cable cars.  There are now eight Powell cars wearing historic liveries, from 1888 to 1982. (One of them, on Car No. 15, represents the Mason Street version of the 1890s livery you see above on No. 506.)

We’ve illustrated all of them, plus the regular Powell livery and two California Street liveries, on a colorful poster available in our online store or our San Francisco Railway Museum.  (We have a streetcar fleet poster, too!)

You can get exclusive news and features delivered to you every three months in Inside Track by joining Market Street Railway.

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Let It Snow (or At least Rain!)


We’ve gotten so used to seeing the orange trams from Milan on Market Street and the waterfront that it can be a tad jarring to see them in their native habitat, especially a scene like this. In an average year, Milan sees snow on seven days or fewer. Of course, that’s seven days more than the annual snowfall in San Francisco, where long-time residents still marvel at the once-in-a-couple-of-decades dustings we get on Twin Peaks!

(The photo at the top, taken in 1985, comes from Heritage Railway magazine by way of our Facebook Group. The shot below comes from a Milan tourist site.)


Here’s hoping we get at least some more rain here soon. After our big storm last month, it’s been dry as a bone!

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Centennial of the (Original) F-line

F-4a  car 4  leaving Stockton Tunnel IB  7-30-46small copyOn December 29, 1914, the original F-line opened: the San Francisco Municipal Railway’s F-Stockton line. It was Muni’s sixth streetcar line and was given impetus by the huge Panama-Pacific International Exposition which opened just two months later at the end of the new F-line on Chestnut Street, in what’s now the Marina District.

The original F-line ran just one block east of the Powell Street cable car lines (then owned by private competitor United Railroads). The F-line, though, provided a much faster trip to Chinatown and North Beach because of the Stockton Tunnel, completed just one day before the line opened. The Stockton Tunnel was built primarily for streetcars, but unlike Muni’s later Twin Peaks and Sunset Tunnels, it was shared with other vehicles.

The photo above, from our archives, shows Muni streetcar No. 9 emerging from the south portal of the Stockton Tunnel in 1946, ready to run the final five blocks past Union Square to its terminal at Market and Stockton. (Soon, the line would be extended over former Market Street Railway tracks to reach the S.P. Depot at Third and Townsend Streets.)

The wonderful 1916 photo below, courtesy of the SFMTA Archives, shows a scene almost unimaginable today: Stockton and Vallejo Streets with no one on the sidewalks and just one parked car. Chinatown did not yet reach this far west. Today, Stockton Street is considered Chinatown’s main commercial street, with Grant Avenue primarily for tourists.muni03_historic_handout_web

Muni records from 1920 show that it took 17 minutes to ride the F-line its whole length, from Market and Stockton to Chestnut and Scott.  Today, it seems like it takes 17 minutes to ride just the 6 blocks on Stockton through Chinatown from Columbus to the tunnel on the 30-Stockton, the trolley bus line that replaced the original F-line streetcars in 1951.

Okay, we exaggerate. No question, though, that the congestion along Stockton Street (along with strong demands from leaders of the Chinatown community for better transit) was a major driver of the new “Stockton Tunnel,” the Central Subway, which is being built underneath Fourth and Stockton Streets (including underneath the existing tunnel) to carry Muni’s T-line trains starting in 2019.

But that’s the future. Today, we celebrate the past: the centennial of the original F-line and the Stockton Tunnel. Happy 100th Birthday!


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Happy 102nd Birthday, Muni!

Muni, Opening Day, 12/28/1912On December 28, 1912, America’s first big city transit line owned by the people themselves opened. In San Francisco, on Geary Street. The San Francisco Municipal Railway broke the pattern of transit systems owned by private companies.

This shot, from the SFMTA Archives, shows some of the 50,000 San Franciscans who showed up to cheer “their” new streetcars on Opening Day, looking west at the intersection of Grant Avenue and Geary. Car No. 3 is in the foreground, Car No.2 across the intersection, and, leading the parade, Car No. 1, with Mayor “Sunny Jim” Rolph personally serving as motorman.  Car No. 1 still serves as the flagship of Muni’s streetcar fleet, 102 years later, completely rebuilt a few years ago thanks to San Francisco’s strong commitment to its history (with some help from Market Street Railway’s advocacy).  It runs occasionally on the F-Market and Wharves line.

Come to our San Francisco Railway Museum to see the story of Muni’s quick expansion from this first Geary service to a network serving much of the city — completed in just over two years to serve the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. (The museum will be closed December 30-January 1 for inventory and New Year’s Day, but after that will be open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays on our winter schedule.)

Happy 102nd Birthday, Muni!

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