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The End of the Innocence: Market Street, 1957

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Muni No. 176 and a couple of Twin trolley coaches pass Weinstein's department store near Sixth Street. Clark Frazier photo.

Few felt it, but a seismic shift in American culture had begun. Grandfatherly Ike was President, friendly dairyman George Christopher was Mayor, stalwart Republicans both. Most white, middle-class San Franciscans (the majority then) saw these as comfortable times, and change as not terribly threatening.

Now over there in North Beach, we're getting some weirdos: Kerouac, Ferlinghetti, what was that Herb Caen dubbed them? Oh, yeah, beatniks, like Sputnik, that Russian satellite. Those Russians are getting a little scary with their nuclear weapons, but the kids took those 'duck and cover' lessons in school, so I guess we're ready.

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From Second Street, looking east ... no PCCs in sight. Clark Frazier photo.

Speaking of the kids, they might be going a little wild with that Elvis and those other rock-and-roll guys, but hey, the wife did the same with Sinatra when she was a kid. Meantime, we've got the best town in the world here, and to prove it, we're getting a major league baseball team next year. Took 'em away from New York City. Seals Stadium's not big enough, but it'll only be for a couple of years, because we're going to build the most modern stadium in the country out at Candlestick Point. With parking for 12,000 cars!

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The Odd Fellows still had their sign up on their Seventh Street building. Few today remember when fraternal orders were so prominent in the city. Clark Frazier photo.

Whatever might be happening around the world, or in other parts of San Francisco, Market Street remained the spine of the city in 1957, as it had been since shortly after the Gold Rush. In retrospect, that era was the calm between two social storms. The bustle and mania of World War II was still a fresh memory. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers and sailors passing through town on their way to the Pacific theater. Tens of thousands of newcomers, many African-American, moving to the region to work in war industries. Thousands of Japanese-Americans ripped from their homes in the Western Addition and sent to internment camps. Underground, the rumblings of dissatisfied people, most but not all of them young, ready to rebel against conformity. The Free Speech Movement in Berkeley was only seven years away, Vietnam protests and the Summer of Love in the Haight just a decade ahead.

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Fifth & Market, with the Lincoln Building (now replaced by the San Francisco Centre) in the foreground. The Emporium is next door. Clark Frazier photo.

Yet most adult San Franciscans, like most Americans of that era, sought serenity after the tumult of the Depression and the War. You can feel that in these great shots of Market Street in the late 1950s, snapped by Market Street Railway member Clark Frazier. No clamor, no rush. It was a time that ladies ('women' was a rather harsh term to use in conversation then) still wore hats and white gloves when they came Downtown to shop. Most of them were Caucasian. Black, Asian, and Hispanic San Franciscans generally felt more welcome in their own shopping districts.

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Two PCCs sandwich an Iron Monster between Sixth and Fifth. Clark Frazier photo.

With only two streetcar tracks left, Market Street was quieter, less cluttered than during the War, yet somehow still the same. Except for removing the outside tracks, the only big change in the western part of the street, from Castro to Van Ness, was the construction of the US Mint above Duboce, but that was twenty years before. Oh, they did recently finish a nice modern Safeway across from the Mint, where the reservoir used to be.

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1923 car No. 178 passes PCC No. 1030 at Bush & Market. The Crown Zellerbach building, first high-rise in a quarter-century, is going up, its back to Market Street. (Both these cars are preserved by museums; No. 178 at Rio Vista Junction, No. 1030 at Fox River, Illinois.) Clark Frazier photo.

Downtown, there had really been no major high-rise construction for almost 30 years, when the Russ Building on Montgomery became the city's tallest. But suddenly, there was a hole in the ground at Market & Bush, where Crown-Zellerbach, the big paper company, was starting to build a modern headquarters. It's really up to date -- almost all glass -- but wait a minute, it's facing Bush and turning its back on Market. Never seen that happen.

Up and down Market, the mix of businesses hadn't changed much. Maybe some people had stopped taking the streetcar downtown to shop at the Emporium or the Grant Market now that Stonestown was open. And so what if the Fox and the other big movie palaces weren't drawing huge crowds anymore?

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Car No. 193 on the L-Taraval has just emerged from the Twin Peaks Tunnel and is crossing Market for its trip downtown. The ad on the end of the car advertises the last year of San Francisco Seals games. Over the Standard Station (still there), a billboard advertises one of the many home-grown department stores in the city of that era -- Redlick's, known to all as the '17 Reasons Why' store. Redlick's is long gone, as is car No. 193, but its older sibling, No. 162, has just entered F-line service in this 1950s livery. Clark Frazier photo.

I can watch television in my own living room, so why go out? Especially in those ancient drafty rattletraps Muni's still running on some streetcar lines. They're 40 years old, some of them. That's World War I! What's columnist Dick Nolan call them? 'Iron Monsters'? That's a good description. But they'll be gone soon. Muni just got 66 more of those streamlined 'PCCs' from St. Louis -- second-hand, but I guess they don't make them anymore. They're better than the Iron Monsters, but still old fashioned ... I mean, have you seen the fins on the new Caddy? That's modern! Maybe one of these days they'll build that subway under Market like they've talked about all these years, connect up the Twin Peaks Tunnel and get some really modern trains.

The transit change came. The last old-fashioned Muni car ran on Market May 12, 1958 (for awhile, anyway). The BART bond issue of 1962 promised a subway the length of Market for Muni. The City widened the sidewalks downtown and paved them in brick, in anticipation of getting rid of streetcar tracks (and trolley bus wires too) to turn the street into "our own Champs-Elysees." High-rises proliferated along lower Market. The mainstream movie theaters on Market died. The serene pace was trampled by a faster, more crowded world.

But though they were to change in many ways during the decades to come, San Franciscans remained firm in their support of reliable surface transportation on their main street. And so the trolley buses remained, and the F-line has joined them, bringing Iron Monsters and PCCs to back to Market. Thanks to Clark Frazier for sharing these memories.

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If Fox River IRM still has Muni’s PCC, they’re not listing it on their roster.

As a Redwood City boy I would spend a week each summer in the 1940s with my aunt who owned the “family home” at Maynard and Mission in the Excelsior. I well remember a Redlicks’s “17 Reasons Why” store on Mission east of Alemany. My aunt dragged me all over The City where I learned a lot. I rode the 12, 14 and 40 Market Street lines, plus the M Ocean of the Muni. Later, as an adult, I rode the N Judah car when I lived on Mt. Sutro. The 40 line ran from the Ferry Building out thru Daly City, behind San Bruno Mountain and went all the way to the S-P depot in San Mateo which is where my mother would put us on for the ride to the Excelsior. I remember how exciting lower Market was with the “roar of the four” and marveled at all the streetcars. I loved them and even fashioned a motorman’s controls out of a wooden box.

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