Buses & Streetcars: New Exhibit at SF Railway Museum

View Northeast on Market Street From 2nd Street | March 29, 1951. SFMTA Archives

This coming October marks 100 years since Muni ran its first buses. We chronicle a century of coexistence — and competition — between buses and streetcars in San Francisco in a new exhibit now open at our San Francisco Railway Museum.

Originally obtained to extend the reach of Muni’s streetcar lines, buses got bigger and more capable but still were relatively unimportant until World War II. Then, after the war, they sidetracked streetcars to become the dominant form of transit in the city.

Come see this free exhibit at the museum, 77 Steuart Street between Market and Mission, across from the Ferry Building, Tuesdays through Sundays, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. (Oh, and come in soon: we’ve just put our great 2017 calendar on sale at the museum only, for just $5 (down from $12.95).)

Later this year, our members will be able to peruse an enhanced version of the exhibit in our quarterly newsletter, Inside Track.  Join now!

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Great Displays at SF History Days March 4-5

 

San Francisco History Days, the popular annual event, fills up the historic Old Mint at Fifth and Mission Streets this weekend. Hours are 10-5 Saturday, March 4, and 10-4 Sunday, March 5.

This year there’s a special treat: SFMTA (Muni’s parent) has created a great slideshow from its Archives to celebrate the centennial of the J-Church, Muni’s oldest surviving line, which has of course been operated by streetcars its entire 100-year life. Here’s a sneak peek. 

Market Street Railway will have a historic display too, as will dozens of other city history groups. We’ll also be offering our 2017 calendar at a special price, along with unique pint glasses and coffee mugs displaying vintage San Francisco streetcar advertisements.

It’s a great event. Stop by!

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Stunning Composite Photographs

 

This isn’t new, but if you haven’t seen these wonderful composite photographs by San Francisco photographer Sean Clover, you’re in for a treat.

These are just a couple of them, comparing the damage caused by the 1906 earthquake and fire with the exact same location today.

Above, the gate of the cable car barn on Washington Street just east of Mason, showing how Car 155 was crushed by falling bricks. Within a few hours of the original photograph, it and all its mates from the Powell Street cable lines would be incinerated. (They were replaced by cable cars used on the Sacramento-Clay lines, stored out of the fire zone. Some of these cars, much rebuilt, are still on the Powell lines today.)

Below, two of the California Street cable cars of the type built in 1907 to replace the ones destroyed in the earthquake pass between Grant Avenue and Stockton Street, with 1906 rubble from Nob Hill to the right.

 

We’re lucky to live in a city with artists as talented as Sean Clover.

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Clarifying the 1947 Threat to the Cable Cars

This week is the 70th anniversary of the failed effort by Mayor Roger Lapham (at left in the photo above) to “junk the cable cars.” It’s truly something to celebrate, and it has engendered several news articles, such as this badly flawed one, which confuses the cable cars with streetcars and doesn’t know how to spell “trolley” and this one recounting the fight.

Most of these accounts get a fundamental point wrong, and it’s an important one.  Lapham’s misguided effort was only aimed at the two Powell Street lines. Even if he had succeeded, the three lines run by the private California Street Cable Railway Company (Cal Cable) would have remained, and they made up more trackage than the two Powell Street lines.

The Powell lines came under city ownership in 1944, when the private Market Street Railway Company (our namesake) was taken over. Lapham, a businessman with no government experience and no sentiment for history (sound familiar?) blindly ignored the affection San Franciscans felt for the cables and roused up powerful opposition led by Friedel Klussmann, who continued her stalwart defense of the cable cars for the rest of her life. Today, the failed cable car shutdown attempt is the only thing anyone remembers about Lapham’s time as mayor.

It should be pointed out, though, that IF he had succeeded in shutting down the Powell lines, the California lines might well have died out within a decade as well. If Muni had gone out of the cable car business in 1947, Friedel Klussmann and her allies might well have been unable to convince the city to take Cal Cable over and operate its lines when the private company went broke in 1951. The combined cable system ended up getting cut in half in 1954, leaving us with the arrangement we have now: two busy Powell lines branching out to Mason and Hyde to reach two parts of Fisherman’s Wharf, and a truncated California Street line that abruptly ends at Van Ness (it used to go past Fillmore all the way to Presidio Avenue) and attracts far fewer riders because of its route.

An important remaining tangible object of that failed 1947 shutdown is one of the ten Faegol Twin Coach motor buses Muni bought specifically to replace the Powell cable cars. Lapham used these buses, which looked very modern for the era (and featured the same bodies as a fleet of trolley buses Muni bought a few years later) as props to try to convince voters to scrap the cables. One of the buses was even posed misleadingly next to a Cal Cable car, which as we said was not threatened by Lapham’s proposal (photo below).

The buses were assigned to other lines and were ultimately retired. Muni reacquired No. 0163 from a museum many years ago. Market Street Railway volunteers helped refurbish it cosmetically after it arrived in town, and we’ve asked Muni to display it this fall for Muni Heritage Weekend, the annual celebration of San Francisco transit history we co-sponsor with Muni’s parent, SFMTA. The dates for this celebration have not yet been finalized, but it’s looking like September 9-10.

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End of the B-Geary, 60 Years Ago

  On December 29, 1956, the last passenger-carrying streetcar ran on the tracks of Muni’s first street, Geary.  Muni became America’s first big city publicly owned transit system 44 years and one day earlier, on December 28, 1912, when it opened the A and B streetcar lines on Geary Street. Soon, four Muni lines were running along Geary from the Ferry Building via Market: the A, which went from the Ferries to Tenth Avenue, then south to Golden Gate… — Read More

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Merry Christmas…Transit-wise

There’s a long tradition in San Francisco of celebrating the holiday season with streetcars and cable cars. In the 1930’s, our namesake, Market Street Railway Company (Muni’s privately owned competitor) decorated its all-white private car (named the “San Francisco”, normally used to take school kids on field trips) for Christmas and New Year’s and ran it around town as a goodwill billboard. In the 1950’s, the Emporium department store, on Market opposite Powell (where Bloomingdales… — Read More

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City Hall Avenue, Around 1913

Almost no one is still with us who actually saw the street named City Hall Avenue.  It ran parallel to Market Street, half a block north, and stretched just two blocks between Leavenworth and Larkin Streets. The massive but poorly built City Hall and neighboring Hall of Records filled the north side of the street. Because of the municipal buildings, it was an important street, at least until April 18, 1906, when the giant earthquake shook… — Read More

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Rainy Day on Market, World War II

  Weather forecast says rain’s on the way for the Bay Area. As good a time as any to share this photo of Market Street, looking east from Fifth Street, taken during World War II (likely 1943 or early 1944). Rich detail in this photo. The blue and gold N-Judah on the outside track is trying to squeeze past the automobile so it can catch up to the competing 5-McAllister streetcar (with the flashy “zip… — Read More

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Don’t Miss Fred Lyon’s Photo Exhibition

Today, the New York Times’ Lens blog posted a long-overdue tribute to one of San Francisco’s greatest street photographers, Fred Lyon. The post includes 16 great San Francisco images, including the one above, one of our favorite shots, showing a pipe-puffing businessman in the late 1940s helping the crew push a Powell Street cable car off the turntable, not an uncommon site back then. There’s a great free exhibition of Fred Lyon’s San Francisco photos showing through October… — Read More

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Getting Ready for Muni Heritage Weekend

  What you’re looking at here is Muni maintenance folks applying decals the other day to Car 578, the oldest streetcar in Muni’s fleet, built in 1896. When Muni restored it to its original appearance in 1956, for the 50th anniversary of the 1906 Earthquake, the work was overseen by Charlie Smallwood, Muni maintenance manager and legendary San Francisco rail historian. Charlie had a Muni sign painter reproduce the original lettering on the car, which was… — Read More

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