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Gratitude: Big Picture and Closeup

Haight Street, West from Central Avenue

On this Thanksgiving weekend, we’re grateful for many things.

We’re grateful for the ongoing support of our members, donors, volunteers, and neighborhood, business, and labor groups in providing strong advocacy for San Francisco’s historic streetcars and cable cars.

We’re grateful for the hard work of so many employees of our preservation partners at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) in keeping Muni’s vintage transit vehicles on the street, looking good, and running safely.

We’re grateful for the leadership of SFMTA’s Ed Reiskin and John Haley and their senior teams, and of course their Board of Directors, led by Chair Tom Nolan and Vice Chair Cheryl Brinkman. And for the support we’ve received from so many Mayors and Supervisors over the decades.

These are “big-picture” thanks. But there’s a world of “closeup” thanks to share too. Including the photo above — or more specifically what it represents. It’s Haight Street between Central and Masonic avenues, just before Thanksgiving 1906; specifically, a bakery selling mince and squash pies for a quarter. It’s a detail in a wider shot that’s the subject of the Thanksgiving post of the great new blog recently launched by SFMTA.

The blog, Moving SF, which carries all kinds of news about the city’s transportation operations, also includes recurring posts featuring photos from the SFMTA Archives. This is possible because of a strengthened commitment by the agency to preserve its photographic past. Some of the work came from staff photographers documenting the original Municipal Railway, founded as a city agency in 1912. But other images, including hundreds of rare glass plates, came from old rival United Railroads, which became the Market Street Railway Company in 1921 and was merged into Muni in 1944.

For decades, these glass plates languished, largely forgotten, at times neglected, even sometimes stolen. Many ended up in the hands of individual preservationists; in recent years volunteers including Emiliano Echeverria have reunited many of these lost glass plates with the SFMTA Archive. Large glass plate negatives provide incredible detail not usually available from smaller film negatives. The SFMTA blog makes it possible to share these marvelous snapshots of history with thoughtful curation, in this case by Jeremy Menzies. Here’s the wider shot, with the detail indicated by the dotted lines on the upper right of the image.

One geek-out observation: here on Haight, United Railroads went to the expense of replacing the tracks of the old standard gauge cable car line, badly damaged in the Earthquake and Fire, with brand new standard gauge streetcar tracks. But just six blocks to the north, on Fulton Street, the company left identical cable car tracks in place and ran streetcars over them for the next 41 years!

Haight Street, West from Central Avenue
We’re grateful for SFMTA’s commitment to their Archives, which fall under the purview of SFMTA Marketing Director Candace Sue. And we’re grateful for the dozens of photographers whose images of San Francisco’s transit history have been donated to our Market Street Railway Archives. Led by our Education Committee chair, Alison Cant, these images are being curated by volunteers led by Mike Sheridan and Bob Strachan, to whom we are also grateful.

Our members are now seeing Market Street Railway Archives images in every issue of our quarterly member newsletter, Inside Track.  Join here to get Inside Track delivered to you four times a year, along with the other benefits of Market Street Railway Membership. Your membership helps us continue the advocacy and support of San Francisco historic transit, including our own archival activities — and of course, this website.

We incurred significant one-time expenses these past few months rebuilding this site from scratch on a proven, robust platform that gives us better capabilities, including the ability to post our own archival images more frequently, as you’ll see in the coming weeks. We’ve mailed a year-end donation letter to our members, outlining our needs and asking for your help. Members and non-members alike can help us by donating securely here. Any amount is welcome.

Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving to all!



Thanks for the Green!

P1060109One hundred Thanksgivings ago, Muni was laying streetcar track at the spot you see here, and finishing up the Stockton Tunnel in the background, all to create the original F-line, the F-Stockton, which was initially built to carry crowds to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.

Fast forward to today, when Muni is building a rail line under Stockton Street — the new Central Subway, which will be an extension of the T-Third line when it opens, slated for four years from now.

Constructing the Union Square Station on lower Stockton required rerouting all traffic, including the 8x, 30, and 45 bus lines, off the street while it was dug up. Businesses have been suffering. But for this holiday season, they’ve laid artificial turf over the first two blocks of what’s normally the Stockton Street roadway to cover up the excavation.

People love it.

The project is called Winter Walk, and there’s a series of events that go with it. It runs through New Year’s Day, after which construction starts again. That means those two blocks of green will still be in place on December 29, the 100th anniversary of the opening of the first F-line. Sounds like a good time and place to raise a glass to Muni’s first 100 years on Stockton Street. If anyone’s interested, we’ll help!

And by the way, drop by our San Francisco Railway Museum to see our new Exhibit, “Fair, Please,” showing how Muni came of age by building lines to serve that 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exhibition. If you can’t make it down, you can read an archive article about the 1915 Fair from our Member newsletter, Inside Track. Join here to get all kinds of unique member-only content. Memberships make great gifts too!


Tipple Your Way Along the F-line

1061 and Twin Peaks bar sign 17thCastro Elrond Lawrence photo.jpg
The Twin Peaks bar is right at the F-line Castro terminal. Photo (c) Elrond Lawrence.

We’re not in the business of promoting booze, but San Francisco is, after all, a great drinking town, and if you’re going to do that, you need a designated driver.
How about letting an F-line operator fill that role, by patronizing establishments along the route? Our friends at Thrillist have put together a list of bars and restaurants all along the F-line with dandy libations waiting for you along the way.
Take a look here for the entire list. From the Twin Peaks at Castro and Market to Pier 23 (and beyond), it’s a great ride!
Oh, and if you’re looking for a different kind of guide to the F-line, without the bars but with just about everything else concerning the historic streetcars (and cable cars too), drop by our San Francisco Railway Museum or click here to buy our new book ON TRACK.

Shiny Museum for Your Shopping Spree



We’ve just completed the sealing process on the floor of our San Francisco Railway Museum and it looks fabulous. Yes, those are replica tracks embedded in the “street,” with a “switch” visible at the bottom to take you right to the check-out counter.

Which brings us to this:


Come on down before Thanksgiving and save 25% on all books. It’s a great way to start your holiday shopping a little early.

The museum will be closed Thanksgiving, of course; open again on Friday morning at 10 a.m. and all weekend as well. But the savings come before Thanksgiving. And online too (use code turkey25 at checkout).

Flagship Powell Cable Car Slips Into Service

Car 1 Roll Out 007Without fanfare, the latest product of Muni’s able cable car shops has rejoined the fleet after a full restoration and makeover.

And it’s a honey.

Powell Street Cable Car No. 1 (not to be confused with its “cousin,” Muni streetcar No. 1), quietly slipped out of the cable car barn and went into service on the Powell-Mason line November 15, following a two-year rebuilding process.

Despite its number, Powell No. 1 (full history here) is not the oldest car in the Powell fleet, though parts of it are venerable. Muni wanted something special to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the opening of Andrew Hallidie’s first cable car line (on Clay Street) in 1873. With cable cars gone on Clay for 30 years by that time, Muni chose to mark the centennial of the invention of the cable car by creating  a Powell car that was as close to possible to their original 1888 appearance. Charlie Smallwood, rail historian and then-head of cable car maintenance, had a worn-out car in the fleet at the time, No. 506, that needed rebuilding. That car had been built in 1893 by Carter Brothers.  Smallwood hung the 506’s roof from the ceiling and built a new cable car under it, also salvaging the seats.Car 1 Roll Out 027Smallwood added long-vanished touches to his centennial creation, like roof signs on the ends of the car that showed where it was going. The rear end said “Powell Street.” The front originally said “Market Street & North Beach,” which is still true for the Mason line, but since the Powell-Hyde line, which the car will also serve, goes nowhere near North Beach, Smallwood changed the front sign to read “Market Street & Fisherman’s Wharf.


Since the original livery chosen was used only on cars that ran the Powell-Mason line, and the restored car would serve both the Mason and Hyde lines, he couldn’t paint the destinations permanently beneath the front windows, so he created reversible metal signs with the Mason destinations on one side, Hyde on the other.  He also added conical caps on the roof, a detail that had long ago vanished from cable cars but had originally served as vents for interior kerosene lamps. Some aspects of the original Powell Street cable cars (like No. 9 above, shot when new in 1888), couldn’t be duplicated. For example the original open front end was barred by a 1904 requirement for windshields on transit vehicles.

Car 1 Roll Out 041Some of this 1973 restoration detail had vanished from No. 1 in subsequent decades. For example, the owner’s name, “Powell Street Railway Co.”, on the side rocker panels, was replaced by a standard San Francisco Municipal Railway decal.  The destination signs on the ends were replaced by ones with stick-on letters. And the roof signs disappeared.  With Market Street Railway’s help, Muni’s great crafts workers were able to put these original touches back on Powell No. 1 to get it as close as possible to its original appearance.

When No. 1 was created in 1973, all the Powell cable cars were painted in Muni’s then-standard green and cream, as now modeled on Powell cable car No. 3. But its handsome maroon livery with sky blue and white trim was so well liked, it was adopted, in simplified form, for all the Powell cars (except No. 3) when the cable system was rebuilt in 1982-84.

Since then, with Market Street Railway’s help, Muni has gradually reintroduced historic liveries to the Powell Street cable car line, such that there are now 9 of them. Scroll to the bottom of this page and click on the ones you want to see. Our museum and our online store offers a poster of all the historic cable car liveries. Proceeds help support our work to bring these historic cable car liveries back to the streets of San Francisco.

Thanks to the cable car maintenance team for sending along the launch photos and to Joe Thompson, the Cable Car Guy (great site by the way) for letting us use the 1888 shot.

Archival Prints Now at our Museum and Online

Photo Nov 10, 9 40 26 AMJust in time for holiday giving to your San Francisco history-loving friends, eight great new images from the Market Street Railway Archives. You can view them all here. These are quality 8″x10″ prints in double 11″x14″ mattes, perfect for economical ready-made frames in that standard size.

The prints were selected by our sharp-eyed volunteer archivists Bob Strachan and Mike Sheridan and depict a variety of streetcar scenes around San Francisco.

You can buy them directly at our San Francisco Railway Museum, or in our online store.

Price is $24.95 each. As with all our merchandise, proceeds go to help us keep San Francisco’s vintage streetcars and cable cars on track.

Taking “White” Literally

P1030051Beyond the cool historic streetcars, cable cars, and buses, Muni Heritage Weekend taught some important social history lessons as well. One was part of the program: a tribute to the late Maya Angelou for her teen-age persistence in becoming the first female African-American streetcar conductor in San Francisco. St. Ignatius senior Johnnae D. Sanders gave wonderful readings that illuminated that story both days of the festival. The next issue of our Member newsletter, Inside Track, out at the end of the year, will dive more deeply into Angelou’s pioneering transit role.

We learned another lesson that amplified Angelou’s story in terms of what she had to overcome and reminded us that things were worse elsewhere.P1050928One of our Facebook Group members, Curley Reed, posted a photo of orange and black 1938 motor coach No. 042. It was built by the White Motor Company of Cleveland, Ohio, and sported a prominent logo on each end of the bus, saying simply, “White.” Curley said that coach was “one of the buses my Mom thought she couldn’t ride when she came to San Francisco in the late 40s because it had ‘White’ on the front of it. She was just 19 and from the ‘Jim Crow’ south. After she let several buses go by an older woman told her that she could get on any bus in San Francisco.”

San Franciscans of all backgrounds benefited from the brave advocacy of an African-American woman from an earlier era, Mary Ellen Pleasant.  She filed lawsuits right after the Civil War against two San Francisco transit companies who had ejected her from their horsecars. One of these suits, Pleasant v. North Beach & Mission Railroad Company, went to the State Supreme Court, whose ruling outlawed segregation in San Francisco transit.

In her writings, Maya Angelou contrasted her experiences in the south with those in San Francisco more than once.  She — and all of us — can thank Mary Ellen Pleasant and other fearless pioneers fighting for racial equality in California. The job isn’t done, but at least our city and our transit agency — with the first African-American general manager in the U.S. transit industry, the late Curtis E. Green, and a longtime Board chair of exceptional stature, H. Welton Flynn — has shown the way forward.P1060066And once again, let’s thank the senior from St. Ignatius, Johnnae D. Saunders, who did such a great job acting the part of 16-year old Marguerite Johnson, who wouldn’t take no from the old Market Street Railway in her bid to become the first African-American streetcar conductor in San Francisco in 1944. We are proud that the woman that became known to the world as Maya Angelou lived that story and told it to us all. Thanks too to our board member and volunteer coordinator Nick Figone, who recruited Johnnae and helped outfit her in a conductor’s uniform resembling that of the World War II period, with the help of our board member Alison Cant. Thanks also to Gary Fiset, who supported SFMTA’s marketing department in producing great signage, like the Maya Angelou poster above, and in partnering with us on getting the word out about what was indeed a great weekend.

Streetcars Help Sell Prop. A

Yes on A card 2014San Francisco voters approved Proposition A on the November 4 ballot. It required two-thirds to pass and garnered better than 71%, a strong showing. This means $500 million in new general obligation bonds for capital improvements to San Francisco’s transportation system, including Muni, bicycle infrastructure, streets, and pedestrian safety.

Critics of the measure complained the measure was too vague, with no specific projects listed for funding. But we couldn’t help noticing that virtually every “Yes on A” mailer we received at our house, including the one above, had a historic streetcar front and center.   (Technically, this one had too, if you count the piece of the Milan tram in the left hand photo.)

Seems reasonable enough to us to assume that a number of voters at least inferred that some of the money would go for historic streetcar improvements. And while purchase or renovation of vehicles are not eligible for funding from this bond issue, there are several historic streetcar projects, including the Fort Mason extension (west from Fisherman’s Wharf) and Mission/Bay Dogpatch station modification (to extend the E-line south) that would be. We’ll be advocating for the historic streetcars to get their fair share of Proposition A, since they clearly helped sell it!

It’s also important to note that voters also approved Proposition B, which will automatically give SFMTA, Muni’s parent, more funding as the city’s population grows. And voters resoundingly defeated Proposition L, which included a package of automobile-centric measures that might have impeded transit operations and bicycle infrastructure.

All in all, a triple win for public transit, bicyclists, and pedestrians in San Francisco.

Muni Heritage Weekend a Huge Success

Muni Heritage Weekend drew thousands of San Franciscans and visitors to the Ferry Building area November 1-2, both for the rare opportunity to ride a mix of vintage streetcars, cable cars, and buses, and for a variety of other family-friendly attractions. The event was co-sponsored by Muni’s parent, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), and Market Street Railway.

The oldest vehicle operating for the weekend, 1896 streetcar No. 578, drew the most attention as it took happy passengers on 20-minute excursions from our San Francisco Railway Museum to Pier 39 and back.Sunday brought a surprise appearance by Muni’s “newest” historic streetcar, 1934 Blackpool, England boat tram No. 233, acquired for SFMTA by Market Street Railway last year. It made its debut at the 2013 Muni Heritage Weekend in its unrestored state and came back this year all but finished, looking gorgeous and drawing shutterbugs when it briefly posed next to its twin, No. 228 (acquired by Market Street Railway leaders for Muni back in the 1980s), which offered rides all weekend. (No. 233 is expected to enter service in the Spring; we’ll have a story on its restoration in the next issue of our Member newsletter, Inside Track.)P1060036There were hundreds of photographers out and about to capture the traction action, many of them our Members. At our Member reception Saturday night, we met dozens of Members who had traveled long distances just for this event, coming from as far away as Poland, Sweden, England, and Canada, as well as from New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Colorado, Arizona, and Nevada.The south end of Justin Herman Plaza, just across the F-line tracks from our museum, was a center of action as both SFMTA and Muni set up tents to display aspects of San Francisco’s transit history — and future — to attendees. Champion Cable Car bell ringers performed on Muni’s motorized cable car No. 62, and the late Maya Angelou, who was San Francisco’s first African-American female streetcar conductor before she gained world fame, was honored for her pioneering role in transit employment equality with readings by St. Ignatius College Prep Senior Johnnae D. Saunders (pictured above, center, during her Sunday performance).SFMTA’s exhibits included an invitation to visitors to express their views on the exterior appearance and interior passenger features of the forthcoming Siemens LRV fleet. (At the time of this post, you can still take that survey here.)P1060073No question, though, the stars of the show were the vintage buses, streetcars, and cable cars available to ride, including 1950 Marmon-Herrington trolley coach No. 776.The most popular bus of the weekend was Muni’s oldest, 1938 White motor coach No. 042, which families found particularly interesting.P1060094Some of the Muni team members who restored No. 042 so beautifully pose with the bus. Left to right, Tim Trickel, Woods Division Maintenance Superintendent Louis Guzzo, Anthony Gelardi, and Albert Mai.P10600711969 GMC motor coach No. 3287, restored to its original “cable car” livery, made a trip signed for the old 32-Embarcadero line, which was replaced by a mix of the F-line historic streetcars and the Muni Metro Extension by 2000. (Next year, operation will begin on the “E-Embarcadero” historic streetcar line, which will almost perfectly follow the 32-line’s old route.P1060090Just a few of the combined team members from SFMTA and Market Street Railway who made Muni Heritage Weekend possible, under the leadership of SFMTA Communications Director Candace Sue (standing center, with orange scarf). Left to right, Mia Stragalis, Erin Halasz, Tam Tran, Candace Sue, MSR Education Committee Chair Alison Cant, Gary Fiset, Bob Strachan, and Nile Ledbetter.

Thanks to all the volunteers who contributed their time to make the weekend so special. And deep thanks to the sponsors who helped underwrite SFMTA’s costs for exhibits, including Pier 39, Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, the Exploratorium, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, and the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers.


Great Heritage Saturday! Come Sunday!

P1050927What a start to Muni Heritage Weekend on Saturday (November 1, 2014). 1938 White motor coach No. 042, Muni’s oldest surviving bus, was packed with happy riders all day.P1050933P1050971The only remaining original O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde cable car drew stares and shutterbugs all along the California cable car line on every run.P1050914San Francisco’s two oldest surviving passenger streetcars, No. 578 (1896, above) and Muni’s famed No. 1 (1912, below) were the stars of the streetcar show.  No. 578 in particular, caught the fancy of Chronicle reporter Jaxon Van Derbeken, who wrote a great story for Sunday’s paper.P1050991P1050947Adding greatly to the historic context of the day, Saint Ignatius Senior Johnnae D. Saunders read Maya Angelou’s story of how she, when even younger than Johnnae, persevered to become San Francisco’s first African-American female streetcar conductor in 1944.

All that, plus vintage trolley buses, more motor coaches and streetcars, even a concert by cable car bell ringing champs, all at our San Francisco Railway Museum.

The best part: it all happens again Sunday, November 2. Come out and enjoy, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Member Reception/Muni Heritage Weekend Reminder

1941 Muni trolley coach No. 506 is already on display for Muni Heritage Weekend, across the F-line tracks from our San Francisco Railway Museum on Steuart Street between Market and Mission.

1941 Muni trolley coach No. 506 is already on display for Muni Heritage Weekend, across the F-line tracks from our San Francisco Railway Museum on Steuart Street between Market and Mission.

Market Street Railway has added a special members-only event for Muni Heritage Weekend. On Saturday, November 1, from 5:00-6:30 p.m., our Members will be welcomed for libations at our San Francisco Railway Museum, in conjunction with Muni Heritage Weekend. MSR President Rick Laubscher will provide an update on the organization’s accomplishments in 2014 and on the status of its current initiatives. MSR’s Board Chair, Bruce Agid, will outline overall organizational priorities for 2015. If you’re not currently a Market Street Railway member, you can join right here and now, or at the museum tomorrow!

We’ve scheduled this reception to tie into Muni Heritage Weekend to make it easy to join us. We especially welcome Members who would like to volunteer for our committees or other activities. We remain a volunteer-driven organization, and would love to find more active volunteers, so don’t be shy about offering your services at the reception.

As for Muni Heritage Weekend itself, November 1-2, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., preparations are complete. As reported in the last Inside Track, a variety of vintage equipment is scheduled to carry passengers. On all or part of the F-line, you can ride streetcars Nos. 1 (Muni, 1912) and 130 (Muni 1914), 578 (Market Street Railway, 1896), 1006 ,1008, and 1010 (Muni, 1948) and 1040 (Muni, 1952). Muni’s oldest motor coach, No. 042 (1938) and trolley coaches No. 776 (1950) and 5300 (1976) are all slated to carry passengers on a loop via Market, Sutter, Mason, Market, Spear, Mission, and Steuart, terminating next to our San Francisco Railway Museum.

In the plaza opposite our museum, 1941 Muni trolley coach No. 506 (pictured above) is already on display, to be joined by 1969 GMC motor coach No. 3287 (which may make a passenger trip or two) and Muni’s motorized cable car (retired Jones Street Shuttle No. 62, offering the chance for kids of all ages to ring its bell.

A block away, O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde cable car No. 42 (1906) will be out on the California Street line, while over on the Powell lines, as many of the vintage-liveried cable cars as possible will be on the line for photographers and riders alike.

At 1:15 both days in the plaza opposite our museum, the late Maya Angelou, one of San Francisco’s first African-American female streetcar conductors, will be honored. Johnnae Sanders, a high school senior at St. Ignatius, will read from Angelou’s writings about how she gained, and performed, her pioneering transit role.

We will have an extensive sale of hard-to-find and/or out-of-print railway and transit books and an array of vintage memorabilia both days in the plaza.

Our new displays, “Car vs. Car” and “Fair, Please” will be available for viewing at the Museum. “Car vs. Car” tells the story of the decades-long battle between automobiles and streetcars for San Francisco’s precious street space, while “Fair, Please,” describes how Muni came of age through effective infrastructure investment made to serve the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in what’s now the Marina District.

MSR President Rick Laubscher will sign and inscribe copies of his guidebook, On Track, both days at 3 p.m. (These and other merchandise in our store make great holiday gifts and it’s not too soon to start shopping!)

Come join the fun!

(By the way, the new edition of our Member newsletter, Inside Track, contains a story on the Member reception, but our printing vendor let us down, and it is only now in the mail.  We apologize for the late delivery and are are taking steps to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.)