Stunning Composite Photographs

 

This isn’t new, but if you haven’t seen these wonderful composite photographs by San Francisco photographer Sean Clover, you’re in for a treat.

These are just a couple of them, comparing the damage caused by the 1906 earthquake and fire with the exact same location today.

Above, the gate of the cable car barn on Washington Street just east of Mason, showing how Car 155 was crushed by falling bricks. Within a few hours of the original photograph, it and all its mates from the Powell Street cable lines would be incinerated. (They were replaced by cable cars used on the Sacramento-Clay lines, stored out of the fire zone. Some of these cars, much rebuilt, are still on the Powell lines today.)

Below, two of the California Street cable cars of the type built in 1907 to replace the ones destroyed in the earthquake pass between Grant Avenue and Stockton Street, with 1906 rubble from Nob Hill to the right.

 

We’re lucky to live in a city with artists as talented as Sean Clover.

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E-line Problem Discourages Riders

A technical problem with a switch near the southern E-line terminal has forced certain streetcars to skip the final stop at Caltrain, discouraging some riders from using the service.

As it was explained to us by Muni management, two of the seven double-end PCC streetcars assigned to the E-line have problems reversing at the Sixth and King Streets terminal because of a fault in a switch. The other five PCCs are able to bypass the problem by cutting power and coasting through the switch, but Cars 1009 (above, photo by Paul Lucas) and 1015 (below) do not coast freely enough to reliably clear the switch. It is a very odd problem, like nothing we’ve heard before. Muni management claims they are working to diagnose the problem with the switch and fix it.

In the meantime, Muni maintenance has pulled out all the stops to keep those two cars off the E-line as much as they can, but it’s not always possible. Yesterday (February 1), both 1009 and 1015 were on the line, with blank destination signs when heading southbound, and cards in the windshield stating their final destination was the ballpark stop at Second and King Streets. The cars then turn left at Fourth Street onto the T-line and reverse at the crossover on Channel Street, across the Fourth Street Bridge (below).

What this means is that riders waiting for a Wharf-bound E-line car at the Caltrain stop face a double headway when these cars are in service, since they can’t make the Caltrain stop. Given the problems Muni has had keeping regular headways on the E-line anyway, this can mean a wait of up to an hour between Wharf-bound E-line trains for riders. Muni has put up signs at the Caltrain E-line stop alerting riders to this problem and suggesting they walk (or take an N-Judah) two blocks east to the Second and King stop instead.

Market Street Railway has strongly recommended that Muni address this problem by assigning double-end vintage cars to the E-line to provide steady, reliable service to all stops. Melbourne 496, New Orleans 952 (shown below in 2008), and Muni cars No. 1 and 130, all on the active roster, have all used the Sixth and King terminal during earlier E-line demonstration service without incident.

Muni, however, has responded to our recommendation by saying that because of its continuing shortage of qualified streetcar operators — a problem that has gone on for well over a year now — it is unable to supply the second crew member (a conductor) required on those particular streetcars. (Substituting buses for streetcars on the E-line is not an option because the right-of-way south of the Ferry Building is paved in a way that is rougher than the F-line right-of-way north of the Ferry Building, making bus operation unfeasible.)

While we appreciate that Muni didn’t cancel these E-line runs altogether, this erratic service pattern on the E-line discourages the growth of ridership, especially among residents along the line looking for a reliable service. We will keep you up to date on this problem.

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Clarifying the 1947 Threat to the Cable Cars

This week is the 70th anniversary of the failed effort by Mayor Roger Lapham (at left in the photo above) to “junk the cable cars.” It’s truly something to celebrate, and it has engendered several news articles, such as this badly flawed one, which confuses the cable cars with streetcars and doesn’t know how to spell “trolley” and this one recounting the fight.

Most of these accounts get a fundamental point wrong, and it’s an important one.  Lapham’s misguided effort was only aimed at the two Powell Street lines. Even if he had succeeded, the three lines run by the private California Street Cable Railway Company (Cal Cable) would have remained, and they made up more trackage than the two Powell Street lines.

The Powell lines came under city ownership in 1944, when the private Market Street Railway Company (our namesake) was taken over. Lapham, a businessman with no government experience and no sentiment for history (sound familiar?) blindly ignored the affection San Franciscans felt for the cables and roused up powerful opposition led by Friedel Klussmann, who continued her stalwart defense of the cable cars for the rest of her life. Today, the failed cable car shutdown attempt is the only thing anyone remembers about Lapham’s time as mayor.

It should be pointed out, though, that IF he had succeeded in shutting down the Powell lines, the California lines might well have died out within a decade as well. If Muni had gone out of the cable car business in 1947, Friedel Klussmann and her allies might well have been unable to convince the city to take Cal Cable over and operate its lines when the private company went broke in 1951. The combined cable system ended up getting cut in half in 1954, leaving us with the arrangement we have now: two busy Powell lines branching out to Mason and Hyde to reach two parts of Fisherman’s Wharf, and a truncated California Street line that abruptly ends at Van Ness (it used to go past Fillmore all the way to Presidio Avenue) and attracts far fewer riders because of its route.

An important remaining tangible object of that failed 1947 shutdown is one of the ten Faegol Twin Coach motor buses Muni bought specifically to replace the Powell cable cars. Lapham used these buses, which looked very modern for the era (and featured the same bodies as a fleet of trolley buses Muni bought a few years later) as props to try to convince voters to scrap the cables. One of the buses was even posed misleadingly next to a Cal Cable car, which as we said was not threatened by Lapham’s proposal (photo below).

The buses were assigned to other lines and were ultimately retired. Muni reacquired No. 0163 from a museum many years ago. Market Street Railway volunteers helped refurbish it cosmetically after it arrived in town, and we’ve asked Muni to display it this fall for Muni Heritage Weekend, the annual celebration of San Francisco transit history we co-sponsor with Muni’s parent, SFMTA. The dates for this celebration have not yet been finalized, but it’s looking like September 9-10.

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NextMuni Predictions Seemingly Better for Streetcars Now

After a spell when GPS-based predictions of when the next streetcar would arrive at a particular stop on the E- and F-line had become wildly inaccurate (when they occurred at all), things seem to have improved.

The historic streetcar fleet appears to have received new modems able to transmit location information to the NextMuni system. An excellent story by Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez appears in the Examiner this morning.

Muni’s rail fleet, including the LRVs, now seems to have returned to the level of accuracy it had before the mess occurred. The bus fleet, however, may not be wholly accurate for another month, Rodriguez’s story reports. That could mean that substitute buses assigned to the F-line might not appear.

We’ll keep you up to date on this.

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Muni Arrival Times Inaccurate Right Now

Don’t try to use the live E- and F-line maps linked to this website right now. This post from SFMTA (Muni) explains why. The maps we use, customized with icons of streetcars in the historic fleet, are really cool when they work, because they show you exactly which cars are on the line and where they are. We know people all over the world check in on these maps every day to follow their favorite vintage streetcars. The data that feeds those maps is the same that provides arrival times to electronic signs at stops for all Muni bus and rail lines. Muni is in the process of updating the way its buses and railcars communicate their position, but the process has hit a big snag, so riders can’t count on the maps or signs right now. Many vehicles are just not showing up on the database, resulting in displays of much longer wait times than is actually the case. This affects every LRV on the J, K, L, M, N, and T lines, most vehicles on the E- and F-line, and most buses as well. Of course, when the streetcars of the E- and F-line were in their original service… — Read More

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End of the B-Geary, 60 Years Ago

  On December 29, 1956, the last passenger-carrying streetcar ran on the tracks of Muni’s first street, Geary.  Muni became America’s first big city publicly owned transit system 44 years and one day earlier, on December 28, 1912, when it opened the A and B streetcar lines on Geary Street. Soon, four Muni lines were running along Geary from the Ferry Building via Market: the A, which went from the Ferries to Tenth Avenue, then south to Golden Gate Park; the B, which reached Ocean Beach and later Playland via 33rd Avenue, Balboa, 45th Avenue, and Cabrillo); the C, which turned north at Second Avenue then followed California Street west to 33rd Avenue; and the D, which turned north at Van Ness, then East on Union, jogging into the Presidio via Steiner and Greenwich. The Geary lines were Muni’s busiest by far. The B-line alone required more than 50 streetcars at peak hours. But that fact alone couldn’t save them. We reported on the factors that led to the demise of the B-Geary in 2002 in our exclusive member newsletter, Inside Track, and later posted here. (You can join Market Street Railway here to get this great quarterly newsletter, either electronically or in hard copy.) These two… — Read More

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Merry Christmas…Transit-wise

There’s a long tradition in San Francisco of celebrating the holiday season with streetcars and cable cars. In the 1930’s, our namesake, Market Street Railway Company (Muni’s privately owned competitor) decorated its all-white private car (named the “San Francisco”, normally used to take school kids on field trips) for Christmas and New Year’s and ran it around town as a goodwill billboard. In the 1950’s, the Emporium department store, on Market opposite Powell (where Bloomingdales is today) would charter a cable car with a specially strengthened roof to bring Santa to the store. The “Santacade” always drew big crowds, including a generation of kids who believed that the REAL Santa was at the “Big E” because of course Santa would take the cable car!  (That cable car, by the way, is the one now on the centerfield arcade at AT&T Park.) Also in the 1950s, West Portal merchants turned the portal of the Twin Peaks Tunnel into a fireplace (another proof that Santa rode Muni!!). The streetcar shown, 1010, is one of the ones saved from destruction thanks in large measure to the advocacy of our non-profit, and runs today on the E-Embarcadero line (another of our advocacy successes). In… — Read More

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Unique SF Transit Gifts at our Museum Store

Looking for unique holiday gifts for friends and family, kids and former kids? Look no further than our San Francisco Railway Museum and Online Store. We’ve got a whole range of new merchandise you can’t find anywhere else, because we designed it ourselves in support of our mission to preserve and celebrate historic transit in San Francisco. We’ve got four new 11-ounce mugs featuring images from our Vintage Travel Series — original art we commissioned in the style of classic travel posters celebrating destinations along the historic streetcar and cable car lines. We’ve got several of these images now available on canvas tote bags too. We have all eight as posters, framed prints, and magnets. We have magnets for almost every streetcar in the vintage fleet. Did we mention tee shirts? We’ve got a crop of new ones, including shirts for both kids and adults celebrating “The Streetcars of San Francisco,” and one especially for dog lovers. Speaking of kids, we now have two puzzles available, a 20-piece one for toddlers, and a 100-piece one for a little older child. And, pictured at the top of this post, we have a wonderful wooden model of famed PCC streetcar 1040, the… — Read More

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Take Famed Streetcar No. 1 to See “Lost Landscapes”

  Rick Prelinger’s “Lost Landscapes: San Francisco” is celebrating its eleventh year at the Castro Theater in December. What better way to get there for the showing on Wednesday, December 7, than a ride on Muni’s very first streetcar, car 1, built in 1912. The streetcar ride to the Castro Theater will follow a special reception at our San Francisco Railway Museum. Here’s a brief description of “Lost Landscapes 11”: This year’s program features new scenes of San Franciscans working, playing, marching and partying during the Great Depression; unseen footage of Seals Stadium and the Cow Palace in the late 1930s; the reconstruction of Market Street and Embarcadero Plaza in the 1970s; rare footage of southeastern San Francisco and the Hunters Point drydock; the 1975 Gay Freedom Day parade; a 1940s-era ode to our fog; many more newly discovered gems; and greatest hits from past programs. As always, the audience makes the soundtrack at the glorious Castro Theatre! Come prepared to identify places, people and events; to ask questions; and to engage in spirited real-time repartee with fellow audience members. Our special reception and charter is for people who already have tickets to “Lost Landscapes,” which almost always sells out, but at this posting… — Read More

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Second Renovated PCC Back From Contractor

  The second of 16 PCCs streetcars that made up the original F-line fleet is back in San Francisco and is beginning testing, with the hope of having it back on the F-line carrying passengers by the end of November. Car 1051, painted in the “simplified green and cream” paint scheme used by Muni on its streetcars in the late 1960s and 1970s, is dedicated to the late Harvey Milk, who rode streetcars painted like this between his Castro Camera store and City Hall when he was the city’s first gay elected supervisor in 1978, up until his assassination on November 27 of that year. The 1051 appeared in the movie “Milk”. Car 1056 returned to San Francisco last month. Streetcars currently at the Brookville Equipment Company in Pennsylvania under the contract include 1055, 1059, 1060, 1062, and 1063.  Based on the order in which they were shipped, the 1060 should be the next to return to San Francisco, perhaps by the end of this month. These cars have had 21 years of very intense service since they were first renovated in the early 1990s. There is additional, very interesting news regarding the Brookville contract, but we’ll give it to… — Read More

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