Photo of the (Past) Moment: Ferry Heyday
January 31, 2014
Al Schwoerer recently posted this on our Facebook Group. The photo is from his collection, taken in April 1936 by the legendary railfan and photographer Ralph Demoro (father of the even more legendary railfan and journalist Harre Demoro.
It’s a classic moment in time, taken from the second floor of the Ferry Building on the very cusp of the opening of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
That changed everything.
Ferry traffic withered and within three years, many of the streetcar lines that served the Ferry Building were diverted to the new East Bay Terminal at First and Mission.
Click on the photo to enlarge it and just look all the action. There’s a Muni bus on its 4-line (later the 32-Embarcadero) headed south, under the “Grand Cafeteria” sign. So few people rode this line that the State Board of Harbor Commissioners, which ran the Port of San Francisco in those days, had to subsidize it. (For you young transit nerds, yes there was a day when subsidized transit lines were the exception, not the (universal) rule. Next to the Grand, you can buy GallenKamp shoes for three bucks. In front of the bus, you got your beer truck. Prohibition is dead! For most practical purposes, it never actually existed in San Francisco, but it did put saloons behind the “speakeasy” curtain, which probably affected this block of The Embarcadero as much as any in the city. If you compare this to a photo of the same block pre-Volstead Act, almost all these storefronts were saloons, and all of them offered “free” lunches, consisting of bread, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, and pickles, with the purchase of a “scoop” of beer — for a nickel.
The presence of a 17-line car (No. 129) on the loop, with a Zoo dash sign, tells us Ralph took this on a Sunday or Holiday, since those were the only days the 17 was extended via the 12-line on Sloat Boulevard to Ocean Beach. There’s also a 5, a 21, and a 31 on the loop, along with just one Muni car, a K.
As Al observed in his Facebook post, “lots of interesting stuff going on.” Amen.
We’re going to try to get access to the same location in the Ferry Building to match this photo for the next issue of our members-only color newsletter, Inside Track. If you’re reading this post and you’re not a Market Street Railway member, we can fix that right now. We need your support to keep San Francisco’s historic streetcars on track!