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History Spotlight / San Francisco transit stories and videos

Maya Angelou, SF Streetcar Conductor

Maya Angelou has passed away, at the age of 86. As an adult, she gained global fame as a writer. Well before that, as as a teen-ager, she broke barriers right here in San Francisco, when she was hired by our namesake, Market Street Railway, as the first female African-American streetcar conductor in the city.

She first told this story in “I Know Why the the Caged Bird Sings,” many years ago. She didn’t name the line she worked, but based on her description, it was more than likely the 7-Haight.

She talked to Oprah about it last year. We have a clip of that interview here. It’s well worth watching.

During her tenure with Market Street Railway Company, which did not last very long, she more than likely worked out of the Haight Street car barn near Stanyan. The type of streetcar she worked on was almost certainly from Market Street Railway’s “100-class,” built by the Jewett Car Company of Ohio in 1911, pictured below.


Maya Angelou worked as a conductor on the rear platform of a streetcar of this type, most likely on the 7-Haight line. Here, the streetcar is crossing Golden Gate Park, having just left Playland-at-the-Beach for another trip to the Ferry Building. They were long trips, and after dark, pretty lonely in the western end of the city back then. Photo from Market Street Railway Archives, Walt Vielbaum collection.

In our San Francisco Railway Museum, you can stand at the conductor’s station of a streetcar identical to the one Maya Angelou worked on. Our volunteers have constructed an exact replica, complete with firebox, conductor’s bell, and all the other details from the period. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. across from the Ferry Building at the F-line Steuart Street stop (77 Steuart Street), and it’s free.

We are all enriched by the legacy of wonderful works left by Dr. Angelou. A life well lived, indeed.

Celebrating Dashiell Hammett's 120th Birthday

Dashiell Hammett was born May 27, 1894. He essentially created the modern detective novel. His most famous fictional character was Sam Spade. To celebrate Hammett’s 120th birthday, and the enduring greatness of the Spade character, we’re providing a link to a feature article that appeared nine years ago in our member newsletter, Inside Track. It tells the story of how Hammett wove his own rail riding experiences in San Francisco (both streetcars and cable cars) in to his novels. Check it out, and remember, most of the members-only content in our newsletter never makes it to the web. So if you love our historic streetcars and cable cars, or San Francisco history in general, please consider joining Market Street Railway.

Photo of the (Past) Moment: Centenarian at Birth


Muni streetcar No. 130, still in service, at Geary and Grant, c. 1920. Click to enlarge.

This year, two Muni streetcars celebrate their centennials. Both were bought from the Jewett Car Company of Ohio in 1914 as part of an order of 125 streetcars to serve lines Muni was then building to serve the following year’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition.

These two streetcars, No. 130 (now painted in its later 1940s blue and gold livery) and No. 162 (now under repair) are the only two streetcars remaining from that group of 125.

One the lines Muni opened initially with the Exposition in mind was the D-Van Ness. It ran from the Ferry via Market, Geary, Van Ness, and Union Streets. Initially, It then followed new tracks on Steiner, Greenwich and Scott Streets to reach the Exposition grounds at Chestnut. After the fair was over, the tracks on Scott were torn out and the line was extended on Greenwich into the Presidio, the route it followed until the D-line ended in 1950. Click here for a great story by Grant Ute on how Muni served the fair.

Here’s the earliest shot we’ve ever seen of No. 130. It’s on the D-line, Ferry-bound on Geary at Grant. The end sections have been glazed, as Muni did with all its streetcars once it learned how much riders hated the original open end sections out in the Fog Belt. That was done in the late 1910s, so this shot probably dates to the early 1920s.

We found this little gem yesterday at the Hunter’s Point Artists Open Studio Event, a wonderful way to spend a spring afternoon. The original print (which we would love to find) had been copied by Stacey Carter, an artist who specializes in historic industrial, military, and transportation scenes. You can see her work here. Thanks to Stacey for letting us share the shot.

Oh, one more thing. The D-line was probably most famous for a conductor who supposedly worked on it and was dubbed Ding-Dong Daddy of the D-car line. Click that link for a fun story. (Hint: his shenanigans didn’t happen on the D.)

Our non-profit helps preserve not only photos and stories that illuminate our city’s transit history, but also the very streetcars themselves. In fact, we purchased No. 162 from a museum and helped Muni restore it for service on the F-line. Please consider joining or supporting us. Thanks!

Telling a Great Story of 108 Years Ago

On or about April 14, 1906, 108 years ago this week, pioneering professional filmmakers the Miles Brothers bolted a hand-cranked camera onto the front of a cable car and rode down Market Street from Eighth Street to the Ferry Building. The film they shot has gained new interest in the past few years, since film historian David Kiehn demonstrated that it was made just a few days before the great earthquake and fire destroyed almost everything you see. (Previously, the film was thought to have been made in the summer of 1905.)

This “Trip Down Market Street” has been seen millions of times in the century-plus since it was made, but there’s only one fully narrated version we know of — ours! Click below for a preview.

In the full 11 minute video, Market Street Railway President Rick Laubscher, author of ON TRACK and a noted San Francisco historian, tells you what you’re seeing on every block along the way in this memorable film, including social, economic, and political history to go with the transit history. It’s all woven together seamlessly, bringing this wonderful film, “A Trip Down Market Street,” to life.

You can see the full 11 minute video free at our San Francisco Railway Museum, open daily except Monday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. For just $12.95, you can also buy your own copy at the Museum, or right here at our online store (scroll down the store page until you reach the video). Remember, Market Street Railway Members get 10% off.

New Field Guide to SF's Historic Streetcars & Cable Cars

Market Street Railway is proud to announce the release of our new field guide to San Francisco’s historic streetcars and cable cars: ON TRACK.

Written by Market Street Railway President Rick Laubscher, this 128-page guide tells you the story of each vintage rail vehicle in Muni’s fleet, gives you riding tips, lists the historic sites you’ll pass on each route, and shares insider secrets for great walks that link to your historic ride. It’s full color and there are great graphics of every car, and loads of current and historic photos as well.

ON TRACK includes a concise history of transit in San Francisco and the story of how vintage streetcar service came to be and grew in popularity. There’s even a trainspotter’s guide to let you record the vintage vehicles you ride or see.

At 4.5” by 9”, it slips right in your pocket, so it will always be at the ready as you ride or watch the cavalcade of cable cars and streetcars in the City.

We’ve written it to appeal to both San Franciscans and visitors from around the world. It’s available now at our San Francisco Railway Museum, or on our online store. It’s just $14.95, and remember, Market Street Railway members get 10% off!

All proceeds go to support the mission of Market Street Railway: Preserving Historic Transit in San Francisco. So pick up one for yourself, and additional copies too, because they make great gifts.

Photo of the (Past) Moment: Ferry Heyday

Ferry Loop from Tower Ralph Demoro shot c1936.jpg

Ferry Loop, April 1936. Ralph W. Demoro photo, Al Schwoerer collection. Click to enlarge.

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!

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Maya Angelou and Market Street Railway

Visit Us This Weekend at the SF History Expo

Muni's First Schedule, From Our Archives

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A Trip to the Boneyard!

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

Muni Past and Present on KQED-FM

San Francisco, in Color, in the 1940s

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Celebrating Civic Activism - With a Cable Car

A Great Vintage Day! Don't Miss Next Sunday!

Come Hear About Muni's Early Years

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The Day the Streetcars (Almost) Died

San Francisco 1940 With Lots of Streetcars

New Video Highlights First Muni PCC Era

Photo of the [Past] Moment: Thanks, Mom!

Or, How About "Step Down to Open"?

Happy 120th Birthday, SF Streetcars

This Just In: Muni Used To Be Faster!

Carl Nolte: The Only One Who Does What He Does

Cheating Muni -- in 1916!

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When We Actually Built Our Own Transportation

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Photo of the (Past) Moment: Hey, Santa, Where's Your Nickel?

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Hats Off to a Fabulous Photo Website

Market Street 1906: A Repeat Visit by 60 Minutes on Sunday

Philip Hoffman: An Historic Loss

Great Photo Archive Starts Coming Online

Photo of the (Past) Moment: 70-line to the Ball Park?

Photo of the (Past) Moment: Steamed Up at Castro

Photo of the (Past) Moment: Circus on Market!

RIP Transbay Terminal Streetcar Hump

O'Shaughnessy's Map Now Available at the Museum

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The Best Version of the Market Street Film Profiled on 60 Minutes

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175 Years of Rail on St. Charles Avenue

F is for Fifteen: Happy Birthday, F-line!

Third Street Memories

America 234, Market Street Rail 150

Castro and Market, Then and Now

"The Clangor of their Coming and Going..."

Memorial Day Tradition: Streetcar to the Cemeteries

Third & Market, 70 years ago

Remembering The Loop, As It Was in 1930

Truth about the "Trip Down Market Street" video on You Tube

Lost Streetcars of San Francisco, Now Lost in Missouri

Great Video of the "Not-So-Good Old Days" on Market Street

The Not-So-Good Old Days

Shaping San Francisco

The Key System's March of Progress

Remembering the Cable Car Rebuild 25 Years Later

The End of the Innocence: Market Street, 1957

Cable Car to Castro

Cable Cars Get Their Due

What Might Have Been

What Might Have Been: Geary

Special Delivery

Great History Lessons a Click Away

Streetcar No. 162: Tested Tough!

Driving Equality

Video of Muni, 1969

How the F-Market & Wharves Line Came to Be


Third Street Memories

Vehicles of Recovery

The Octopus Moves the Mail

Ding Dong Daddy: The real story

"My City, My Game"

"Fair, Please": Streetcars to the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition

Cable Cars 1954: Bitter Loss

Streetcars in the Sunset: Trolleys transformed sand dunes into neighborhood of today

Historic Transit Heartland: The Castro District Has Seen Just About Everything

A Streetcar Named Undesirable