City Hall Avenue, Around 1913

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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 fixed up and is back in use, but it too is headed for demolition as a new vision for a grand Civic Center takes shapes. The only other buildings in the shot were thrown up after the earthquake and look temporary, which they turned out to be. The overhead wires and tracks turn from Leavenworth Street (to the right in the photo) onto City Hall Avenue.

14938351_10209745024253921_2384041602252333076_nThe map to the left shows the street grid of the time, with City Hall Avenue just to the right of Market Street, with a plaza connecting the two where Hyde Street is today.

So why put a photo without streetcars on a streetcar site? Because streetcars were pretty rare on this line by this time.

With the abrupt shift from cable cars to streetcars on Market Street after the quake, and establishment of other streetcar lines, the meandering Tenth and Montgomery line became an anachronism, just a few years after its opening in 1900. It only drew decent ridership during rush hours, with so few riders the rest of the time that United Railroads kept the small single-truck “dinkys” (identical to preserved Car 578) on the line, while other lines got bigger streetcars. Before long, service was cut to the minimum necessary to retain the city-awarded franchise to use the streets.

When City Hall Avenue itself was ripped up within a few years of this photo, United Railways rerouted this line along existing tracks on Larkin and McAllister Streets, and it held on until 1931. Very few photographs have come to light of the early days of streetcars on this line but at least we have the tracks, and a vanished street, to look at.

Thanks to John A. Harris for posting the photo on the Facebook group San Francisco Remembered, and to Kevin Walsh for posting the map there with his comment. Thanks too to Emiliano Echeverria, who corrected a couple of facts in the post, which is now updated.

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Rainy Day on Market, World War II

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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 by Triple-A, points drivers toward the Bay Bridge entrance at Bryant Street (no connecting freeway then!).

Gray’s Navy Blues and GallenKamp Shoes are two of the stores in the building on the north side of Market, which would be ripped down a quarter-century later to build the Powell Street BART station and Hallidie Plaza. The awnings of the ground floor retail store in the Flood Building (where Gap’s flagship store is now) are just visible at the top. The patterns on the sea of umbrellas make us wish this shot was in color.

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Don’t Miss Fred Lyon’s Photo Exhibition

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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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Fleet Weekend Service Adjustments on E, F

The weekend of Fleet Week (that’s Saturday-Sunday, October 8-9 this year) is one of the most crowded weekends along The Embarcadero with pedestrians, motorists, and transit riders all jamming in along the waterfront to see the Navy ships, the Blue Angels air show and more. This year, the Italian Heritage Parade takes place Sunday on top of it all, closing Jefferson Street (and the F-line route) through Fisherman’s Wharf for a time.

img_6497Muni has just announced some service adjustments for the weekend on the E- and F-lines.  Here they are:

Saturday

F-Market-Wharves: streetcars will run regular service, except that if pedestrians spill over onto the trackway in the Wharf areas (which has happened before), F-line cars would be switched back at Pier 39. There will be supplemental bus service as well on the F.

E-Embarcadero: streetcars will turn back at Pier 39 to lessen congestion on Jefferson; however, if the F-line is cut back to Pier 39, E-line cars would then be cut back to the Bay Street crossover, two blocks farther south.

Sunday

F-Market-Wharves: streetcars will switch back at Pier 39 for the Italian Heritage Parade from 8 a.m. until the end of the parade.

E-Embarcadero: streetcars will switch back at Bay Street for the Italian Heritage Parade from 8 a.m. until the end of the parade.

Here’s a tip for people driving into the city for the events: park in Mission Bay where there are several lots and either take the T-line on Third Street and transfer to the E-line at 2nd and King (AT&T Park) or walk to the Caltrain depot and take the E from there.  E cars will have space in that direction.

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Terrific Heritage Weekend

This year’s Muni Heritage Weekend was the best of the five that have taken place so far. Biggest crowds, more kids and families, more vintage vehicles operating, more variety in the routes operated. Kudos to everyone involved on Muni’s side — and there were dozens, operators, mechanics, supervisors, and more, directed by Ed Cobean. Here are a few shots of the action. The weekend started with a ceremonial run of O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde cable car 42 over Hyde Street trackage it hadn’t felt in 62 years. The car, under the command of ace grip Val Lupiz, operated like a charm. The old Hyde terminal was just a switch, because the cars were double ended. Val took the opportunity to put the car on the Turntable, using the switch at the terminal to change tracks first, so photographers could get the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. (No, it doesn‘t fit on the turntable.)   Muni’s fabled streetcar number 1 was out and about, signed for its original route, the “A-Geary.” This weekend, it operated along Market to Castro on Saturday on the F-line and to Pier 39 on The Embarcadero on Sunday. 2016 marks the 75th anniversary of Muni’s… — Read More

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Here Comes Muni Heritage Weekend

This year’s Muni Heritage Weekend got off to a great start with a special reception, sponsored by Market Street Railway, honoring San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board Chair Tom Nolan, who just received a prestigious industry award. The universally-respected Nolan, a steady hand in leading SFMTA for many years, was just named board member of the year by the American Public Transportation Association. Following the invitation-only reception at our San Francisco Railway Museum, everyone hopped on 1934 Blackpool, England boat tram 233 for a sail along The Embarcadero to Pier 39 and back, spotting a bigger boat at the Pier 27 Cruise Ship Terminal.  (Click the center of the screen below to see!) The new-but-traditional colored lights on this boat were made possible by contributions at the museum to our “Float the Boats” fund, enhancing these two wonderful ambassadors from Blackpool. Boat tram 233 itself was brought to San Francisco by Market Street Railway in 2013 and given to Muni thanks to a generous donation by the Thoresen Foundation, with shipping underwritten in part by FedEx Trade Networks. Saturday and Sunday, September 24-25, starting at 10 a.m. and wrapping up between 4 and 5 p.m., there’ll be lots of vintage transit action.… — 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 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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Take a 1950 Trolley Bus to Streetcar Movies Sept. 24

In a new addition to Muni Heritage Weekend, we — Market Street Railway — have chartered vintage 1950 trolley coach 776 to a special encore showing of Streetcar San Francisco Movie Night at the Balboa Theater. The 90-minute programs features archival footage (much of it supplied by us), new and original short films, highlights from the OpenSFHistory collection, and other historically-inspired surprises around the theme of San Francisco public and private transit. It’s narrated with zest by Woody LaBounty and David Gallagher. In this case getting there will be at least half the fun. We’ll leave the San Francisco Railway Museum at 5:45 pm sharp on 1950 Marmon-Herrington trolley coach 776 and follow the 31-Balboa route (which was electrified after this bus was retired so it’ll be a historic trip in that respect) through the Tenderloin and Western Addition, over Lone Mountain, and then out Balboa Avenue to 38th Avenue and Balboa Theater. There, we’ll give you a ticket for the show. After the show, use whatever Muni route you like to get back (though you would wait a long time for the B-Geary streetcar, which passed the theater until 1956). The whole package is $20 for Market Street Railway members, $30 for non-members. Reserve your space… — 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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“R” You Ready? Muni’s First Trolley Bus Line Runs Again Sept. 24-25

  Seventy-five years ago this month, Muni opened its very first trolley bus line. The “R-Howard” ran from Beale and Howard Streets out Howard and South Van Ness to Army Street (now Cesar Chavez). This Muni Heritage Weekend, September 24-25, you’ll be able to ride the R-line one more time, to celebrate its 75th anniversary. The action starts at our San Francisco Railway Museum, 77 Steuart Street between Market and Mission (across from the Ferry Building). There at the curb you’ll see the last surviving trolley bus that originally ran the R-line, a 1941 model that Market Street Railway acquired some years ago and cosmetically restored. It doesn’t operate — getting it back into running shape is a priority of ours, and we’re working with some good folks at Muni to see what can be done — but it will be on display carrying a timeline of Muni’s trolley bus history inside. Once you’ve inspected the original R-Howard bus, you can board one of its two descendants — a 1950 Marmon-Herrington or 1975 Flyer — for an actual ride that gets pretty close to the R-line original. (The R-line became part of the 41-Union-Howard in the late 1940s, a route… — Read More

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