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

B-Geary last revenue run 122956 Jack Tillmany

 

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 Park; the B, which reached Ocean Beach and later Playland via 33rd Avenue, Balboa, 45th Avenue, and Cabrillo); the C, which turned north at Second Avenue then followed California Street west to 33rd Avenue; and the D, which turned north at Van Ness, then East on Union, jogging into the Presidio via Steiner and Greenwich.

last-b-geary-run-122956-wayne-pickering-motorman-copyThe Geary lines were Muni’s busiest by far. The B-line alone required more than 50 streetcars at peak hours. But that fact alone couldn’t save them. We reported on the factors that led to the demise of the B-Geary in 2002 in our exclusive member newsletter, Inside Track, and later posted here. (You can join Market Street Railway here to get this great quarterly newsletter, either electronically or in hard copy.)

These two photos come to us from Jack Tillmany through our friends at the Western Neighborhoods Project, showing the final passenger run of the B-Geary on December 29, 1956. Car 77, shown here, was not preserved but two other cars of the same class, both Geary veterans, 130 and 162, have been. So has the last PCC ever built in North America, Muni 1040, which carried a load of railfans out Geary the following day, December 30.

The bus line that replaced the B-Geary, the 38, has been Muni’s busiest bus line ever since, and Muni has been working for years to upgrade it to bus rapid transit, still a number of years in the future. Meantime, many San Franciscans continue to regret that streetcars ever left Geary, even 60 years after the fact.

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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.msry-christmas-car-1930s-copy

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.

santacade-washington-masonIn the 1950’s, the Emporium department store, on Market opposite Powell (where Bloomingdales is today) would charter a cable car with a specially strengthened roof to bring Santa to the store. The “Santacade” always drew big crowds, including a generation of kids who believed that the REAL Santa was at the “Big E” because of course Santa would take the cable car!  (That cable car, by the way, is the one now on the centerfield arcade at AT&T Park.)

1010-west-portal-xmas-portalAlso in the 1950s, West Portal merchants turned the portal of the Twin Peaks Tunnel into a fireplace (another proof that Santa rode Muni!!). The streetcar shown, 1010, is one of the ones saved from destruction thanks in large measure to the advocacy of our non-profit, and runs today on the E-Embarcadero line (another of our advocacy successes).

dsc_5248In recent years, Market Street Railway volunteers have decorated one or more F-line historic streetcars. We look to resume this next year when the streetcars have returned to Cameron Beach Yard (shown here) from their temporary quarters at Muni Metro East off Third Street. This year, as always, we’ve decorated the F-line and E-line streetcars with wreaths.

DSC04133.JPGFor sheer enthusiasm and beauty, nothing beats the cable cars decorated every year by gripman and cable car historian Val Lupiz. This year’s prize is Powell Car number 1, in the original 1888 livery of the Powell cable lines with wonderful decorations inside and out. Our volunteers assisted Val and friends in bringing this joy to the streets of San Francisco this season. (Val took the shot below; the others come from our archives.)

powell-1-2016-xmasAs 2016 ends, we at Market Street Railway thanks our 1,000 members and our friends for their ongoing support. We invite everyone who loves the cable cars, streetcars, and San Francisco history in general to join us or support us, to make 2017 a year of preservation and celebration of historic transit.

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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 the shoddily built City Hall to the ground. As an important street, it rated a streetcar line, the Tenth and Montgomery line of United Railroads, a meandering route that started at Tenth and Bryant, crossed Market, zigzagged on Polk and Grove to run along City Hall Avenue, then turned north on Leavenworth to Post, Post to Montgomery (where those two streets intersect Market Street), and then north via Montgomery and Washington to Kearny Street. In the photo above, looking west from Leavenworth Street and dated around 1913, City Hall Avenue looks like a ghost town. The old City Hall is gone, with plans being made to build the grand new one we love today two blocks away. The Hall of Records, not too badly damaged in the quake, has been… — 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 stripe” on the side) of our namesake, Market Street Railway. American flags and a striped banner hang from the streetcar span wires. The switches from the inside tracks to Fifth Street, where the 40-line interurbans to San Mateo terminated, are visible around the traffic cop with his bright raincoat (was it white or yellow?). Engulfed in the crowd at the extreme center right of the shot (to the left of the word “The” for the Owl Drug Company store at the corner) is the patented Wiley “birdcage” traffic signal unique to San Francisco. How were motorists and streetcar motormen expected to see it? (You can see an operating one at our San Francisco Railway Museum.) Next to the birdcage, a small porcelain traffic sign, put there… — 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 21 at the Leica Gallery, 463 Bush Street.  If you miss it, you’ll be sorry. We also recommend you purchase his great coffee table book, San Francisco Then, available at  at the Leica Gallery and also at our San Francisco Railway Museum. We also have a great set of notecards at the museum featuring Fred’s San Francisco images. Take time to savor the work of this San Francisco treasure, still active at 92!

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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 painted for one specific line, with the streets that it ran on listed on the letterboards above the side windows and the name of the line underneath the side windows. (Route numbers weren’t adopted until after 1906, and yes, “Devisadero” was spelled that way until 1909.) But when work was done on the car about 20 years ago, the hand-lettering on the sides was painted over. Now, it’s back, thanks to decals we designed and supplied to Muni.  We thank them for applying them in time for Muni Heritage Weekend. Also, in doing our own research to try to get the decals as accurate as possible, we reached out to ace historian Emiliano Echeverria, who sent us this notice from a Market Street Railway Manager in… — Read More

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Honoring Labor

  Happy Labor Day 2016! Here’s a shout out to San Francisco past and present, who built, maintained, and operated our transit system. Its history was punctuated by struggles on behalf of unions, including strikes that cost workers’ lives early in the century, that led to a solid union environment today. In celebration of the hundreds of thousands of good jobs transit provided through the decades, two photos from the wonderful SFMTA Archives (with a hat tip to Archivist Jeremy Menzies and the staff and volunteers that have unlocked this priceless resource to the public). Above, on Kentucky Street (now Third Street between China Basin and Islais Creek) is one of San Francisco’s first electric streetcars, built by San Francisco workers at the Hammond car shop (which also built cable cars), operating on the Third and Kearny line, somewhere between 1894 and 1899. Being a streetcar motorman or conductor was a prestigious job in that era. On Saturday and Sunday, September 24-25 , you can ride its sister car 578, free, between our San Francisco Railway Museum and Pier 39. Car 578 is scheduled to operate both days from about 11 a.m. to about 4 p.m. Below, track workers install new switches and track… — Read More

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Patriarch Streetcar Turns 120

According to our historian, the redoubtable Emiliano Echeverria, 120 years ago, August 10, 1896 (give or take a day), a new streetcar was delivered for service in San Francisco. Streetcars themselves had only become a viable transit technology eight years before in Richmond, Virginia. San Francisco got its first streetcar line only four years before, in 1892, but transit companies led by Market Street Railway Company were replacing cable car lines with streetcars and building new lines with the electric vehicles. The first streetcars that appeared in San Francisco looked a lot like cable cars, except for the trolley pole on the roof that conducted electricity from the overhead wire. That wasn’t surprising. The standard cable car design of the time, the “California Car” (named after the California Street cable car design still used today), was popular with riders, with open end sections and a closed center section. And many of the early San Francisco streetcars were built by cable car builders. That new streetcar delivered in August 1896 still operates today. Built by Hammond, which later built today’s fleet of California Street cable cars, No. 578 is the oldest passenger transit vehicle in America still on the operating roster of… — Read More

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