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Philip Hoffman: An Historic Loss

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Phil Hoffman volunteering for MSR in February. Tammy Pollard photo.

Philip Hoffman died last Wednesday. He was a true San Franciscan, of a kind they are not making any more. He passed away at St. Mary’s Hospital, where he was born 80 years ago. Death came suddenly and unexpectedly.

Phil fell in love with the city’s streetcars as a young boy and was constantly out and about on them. Growing up in Cow Hollow, Muni’s original E-line, with its distinctive single-truck “dinkies” was his favorite. (Our next issue of our member newsletter, Inside Track, was already slated to carry a story by Phil on this type of streetcar.) Phil loved cable cars as well, and in 1954, joined with Friedel Klussmann and others to fight plans to reduce the cable car network.

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Phil Hoffman (center, under banner) protests the last run of the O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde cable line in 1954.

A long-time volunteer at Market Street Railway, Phil served as our unofficial historian and joined our board of directors just this past January. (He had declined repeated invitations in the past, but after his wife Nancy passed away last year, he accepted our invitation.)

His passing is a real loss, not only to us, but to the San Francisco history community as a whole. Phil’s knowledge was encyclopedic. At the time of his death, he was volunteering with Muni’s archives project, helping archivist Heather Moran identify the location of various photographs, even those taken decades before his birth. He was also helping us on a variety of our own projects tied to Muni’s centennial next year.

Phil’s wit and sense of whimsy was delightful. To him, history was not some dry series of events, but a joyous carnival to celebrate. We will miss him greatly, but take some consolation that some of his knowledge and wit will live on in a forthcoming book on Muni’s centennial he co-authored (which is due for release this fall and will be featured in our museum) and in videotaped recollections, some snippets of which have been shown on our museum video screens for several years and others of which will be added in coming months.

In many ways, Phil was very much like his friend Cam Beach, whom we also recently lost. Both kept a delightful boyishness about them their entire lives, reflected in their great enthusiasm for remembering - and preserving - transit history. You couldn’t be in the company of either many for more than a minute or two before a smile would flash across their face as they remembered something, smiles that would make you smile too.

It is not yet clear whether Phil wished a memorial service. If one is scheduled, we will post information about it here.

Godspeed, Phil.

UPDATE: There will be a mass to celebrate Phil’s life at St. Dominic’s Church, Bush and Steiner Streets, at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, May 12, 2011. The family suggests that donations in his memory may be made to Market Street Railway or to the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The Chronicle has published an obituary of Phil here.

Market Street Railway will hold a remembrance of Phil at our museum and will announce the date and time here.

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Comments

That is a great picture. Nice article. Thank you. Philip was a dear friend and will be sorely missed.
Susan

The man we called Mr. H was a gentleman of the old school and eternally young. He will be missed.

Philip was also a beloved and cherished volunteer at the San Francisco SPCA. We will miss him and all that he gave to the homeless cats of our city.

I can’t believe Phil is gone! I met him and got acquainted last September 9, at the Open House at the MSR museum. I had recently finished a model of one of the Muni E-line “Dinkies”, and we had a nice chat about those cars. Since then, we’ve been corresponding, and talking on the phone. I had some questions about the Muni for him, and was about to call him, when I read the blog. He was a great guy, dry sense of humor, and a huge resource for Muni history. This is not good!

Wow what a shocker. First we lose a great friend in Cameron Beach. Now only a month later, Phil Hoffman. I recall befriending him when I became a Market Street Railway member and volunteered as a Car Monitor. Training was required with a history lesson in MUNI and it’s streetcars from none other then Phil Hoffman. His stories of the past were endless however very interesting. Phil always had the knack for finding something both had common ground in too. Phil will be missed.

I was stunned by the news of Phil’s death. He was so vital. I knew Phil only a for a brief time, but he was a delightful man - a real mensch. I’m sure he will be missed by all those whose lives he touched.

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