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Photo of the (Past) Moment: What Could Have Been

Few people today remember — or even know — that cable cars and streetcars crossed paths at Jackson and Van Ness until 1950. But here’s proof, in a snap taken by our board member Walt Vielbaum back then.

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PCC No. 1006 carries a load of raifans on the H-line, crossing paths with Washington-Jackson cable car No. 509 at Van Ness Avenue and Jackson Street, around 1949. Walt Vielbaum photo. Click to enlarge.

This was what’s known as a “fantrip:” a chartered streetcar out for a joyride. This trip toured lines about to be converted into buses, including Muni’s H-Potrero line, which ran along Van Ness, 11th Street, and Potrero Avenues. What’s special about this shot is the streetcar: modern PCC No. 1006, then almost-new, today just restored to its original 1948 beauty. Muni never ran any of its few modern streetcars in passenger service on the H-line. Too bad: if they had, perhaps riders would have demanded that streetcar service stay on Van Ness, where now Muni is spending beaucoup de bucks to build bus rapid transit in the center of the street, where the H-line ran.

The crossing cable car line ran from Powell and Market to Washington and Jackson Street, then all the way out to Steiner Street, a block past Fillmore. In 1956, this line was turned to run up Hyde to Aquatic Park as part of a consolidation that cost San Franciscans half their cable car trackage and remains controversial to this day. If the outer portion of the tracks along Washington and Jackson had survived (which they almost did), imagine how different the Fillmore retail district would be today!

That cable car itself, No. 509, was replaced in the fleet in 1997 by a new Car No. 9, painted in the Powell livery used by our namesake, Market Street Railway, from the late 1920s until its merger with Muni in 1944. No. 509 itself was originally an open sided cable car, closed up to match the rest of the fleet in 1923. Muni has it in storage. We would like to see it, or one of the other two surviving open cars, returned to their original configuration someday and put back into service.

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