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"San Francisco Repurposes Old for the Future"

It has become as predictable as summer fog on Great Highway. If you’re planning a project in the red-hot mid-Market neighborhood, or reporting on it in the media, you’ve simply got to have one of those colorful F-line historic streetcars in the frame.

The New York Times is the latest bigfoot to jump on this, with this main photo (left, click to enlarge) on a long but very worthwhile story describing how the tech-driven mid-Market revival is focused on adaptive reuse of historic buildings, rather than on new campus-type construction as in Mission Bay (or Silicon Valley).

Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen literally dozens of architectural renderings for proposed new developments all along Market Street, and almost every one has included an F-line streetcar — usually a PCC, but sometimes a Milan (invariably orange, though we have yellow and green ones too). The building that kicked off the mid-Market boom, the old Merchandise Mart owned by the Shorenstein Company (and now headquarters to Twitter) is just one example.

If you look at all the new, high-end condo and apartment developments on upper-Market, same deal: gotta have that streetcar in there, presumably because they think the streetcars add character and appeal to the development, along with a sense of place. Of course, the streetcar images also send an unmistakable signal to prospective tenants and buyers that there is efficient and fun public transportation right at the development’s front door.

For that matter, Muni’s parent, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) gives prominence to the historic streetcars in their public promotional and informational materials to a degree way out of proportion with their proportion of passengers carried on the system (though it’s true the F-line is indeed one of Muni’s busiest lines).

We think it’s great that both those who profit from the F-line’s presence (especially Market Street developers) and those who put the cars on the street (SFMTA) see the value of putting the streetcars front and center in their promotional material. In fact, if you only read the subhead of that New York Times story: “San Francisco Repurposes Old for the Future,” you’d be forgiven for thinking the story was about the streetcars, not the historic buildings.

But they do go together beautifully on mid-Market, don’t they?

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.

Tipple Your Way Along the F-line

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The Twin Peaks bar is right at the F-line Castro terminal. Photo (c) Elrond Lawrence.

We’re not in the business of promoting booze, but San Francisco is, after all, a great drinking town, and if you’re going to do that, you need a designated driver.

How about letting an F-line operator fill that role, by patronizing establishments along the route? Our friends at Thrillist have put together a list of bars and restaurants all along the F-line with dandy libations waiting for you along the way.

Take a look here for the entire list. From the Twin Peaks at Castro and Market to Pier 23 (and beyond), it’s a great ride!

Oh, and if you’re looking for a different kind of guide to the F-line, without the bars but with just about everything else concerning the historic streetcars (and cable cars too), drop by our San Francisco Railway Museum or click here to buy our new book ON TRACK.

Last Restored Double-End PCC Joins Active Fleet

The last of its class is now back in service, fully restored.

Muni was one of the few transit agencies that owned PCC streetcars that could be operated in regular service from either end. These double-end streetcars had significantly more flexibility than their much more common single-end cousins. Muni purchased a group of ten from St. Louis Car Company in 1948 and added them to a group of five similar-looking cars that were not technically PCCs, purchased in 1939.


PCC No. 1011 on Market Street during testing, May 5, 2014. Copyrighted photo by Peter Ehrlich

The ten bought in 1948, known inside Muni as “torpedoes,” because of their extra length and shape, were oddly assigned to lines, such as the N-Judah, that didn’t need double-end cars, and were soon converted to operate as single-end cars. In that capacity, these cars, Nos. 1006-1015, soldiered on through the early 1980s. Two, Nos. 1012 and 1013, were scrapped along the way, and one, No. 1014, was put on permanent loan by Muni to a museum in Australia. The other seven though, survived, and now, the last of these, No. 1011, has finished testing following a full restoration and is available for regular service.

This car is painted in tribute to our namesake organization, Muni’s old competitor Market Street Railway Company (MSRy), which dreamed of owning modern streetcars like the PCC in the late 1930s, but could never afford them. The striking livery features the solid white ends that were a trademark of MSRy, and its “zip stripe” on the sides echoes what they put on some of their old streetcars to make them look, well, zippy. It has garnered many positive comments on the street during testing. Some have said it is also a fitting livery because today’s Market Street Railway led advocacy efforts to preserve and then restore this special group of historic streetcars.


No. 1011 on its way out of town for restoration in 2010. It had been in storage for almost 30 years and had been vandalized in that time.

Three of the other six restored double-end PCCs are in Muni livery (No. 1010 in the blue and gold of the original double-end 1939 streamliners) and Nos. 1006 and 1008 in the green and cream “wings” 1948 livery in which they were delivered.) The others pay tribute to other cities that ran double-ended PCCs. You can explore the story of each of these streetcars by clicking here.

No. 1011 entered passenger service at 9 a.m., May 15, 2014. Keep an eye out for No. 1011 on the street by following the live F-line map, and go ride it while it still has that “new car smell.”

Welcome back to the fleet, No. 1011.

Walgreen's Invents New Transit Vehicle

Underneath the very intersection of historic transit in San Francisco, in the basement of the old Emporium (now a food court named — wait for it — the Food Emporium), is a shiny new Walgreen’s. Kind of a mini-Walgreen’s, actually. There are a couple of bigger ones within a block or two (are drug stores multiplying like Starbucks?)

Anyway, just so you don’t think you’re dealing with some kind of national chain or anything, they’ve got a sign saying they’ve been in San Francisco since 1937. And to PROVE it, they’ve got a drawing of a cable car. With a trolley pole on top. Wait. No, it’s a streetcar. Running on a cable car track. (Dear railfans, no lectures on Washington DC or Manhattan streetcar conduit systems, please. And no, we don’t think they intended to show the old Fillmore Hill counterbalance.)

Wait, maybe it’s a hybrid.

Or maybe it’s just a mistake.

Dear Walgreen’s-in-San Francisco-since-1937. Look here to learn the difference between how streetcars and cable cars look and work. And oh, by the way, we’ve got a great field guide for you to carry in your Market Street stores. (Smile.)

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!

"The Streetcar Named Common Sense"

That’s how Joel P. Engardio, columnist for the San Francisco Examiner, described Market Street Railway’s proposal to extend the E-Embarcadero line, south through Mission Bay and Dogpatch, sharing existing tracks of the T-Third light rail line.

In his April 27 column, Engardio cited strong support for the extended line in the neighborhoods it would serve. “We are exploding with development and we need more transit options,” Engardio quoted Janet Carpinelli, president of the Dogpatch Neighborhood Association, as saying. “Putting in the E-line is a no-brainer, especially when the T-line is so inefficient.”

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A Milan tram passes a T-line light rail vehicle on Third Street at 23rd Street in Dogpatch.Since October 2012, Muni’s Milan trams have been housed at Muni Metro East a few blocks away, with no incidences of them interfering with T-line operations when they enter and leave service via Third Street through Mission Bay and Dogpatch. This part of Third Street is slated for major residential and commercial development. Photo Copyright Peter Ehrlich.

The column also supported our belief that the relocation of the proposed Warriors Arena site to Third and 16th Streets makes E-line service through Mission Bay and Dogpatch even more important.

Engardio also laid out the case for extending the E-line at its other end, from Fisherman’s Wharf to serve Aquatic Park, the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, Ghirardelli Square, and Fort Mason.

Again, here’s the link to Engardio’s column.