New Orleans “Desire” streetcar No. 952 crosses Golden Gate Bridge!

See for yourself.

Really cool idea, putting a garden railway in the Conservatory of Flowers. By the way, the model of No. 952 is a commercial product from the great German G-scale garden railway manufacturer LGB. The write-ups on the streetcar describe it as being in New Orleans Public Service livery, which it is (essentially identical to today’s NORTA St. Charles line livery), but what a coincidence that they protoype they chose, No. 952, is not one of the 35 streetcars still running in New Orleans. Or maybe there’s just a secret fan of the F-line over in Germany!

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End of the Line, 1955

We’re going to post photos from time to time that we think are iconic in one way or another. The Ocean Beach terminal of the N-line is an iconic place in general, at least to railfans, with that lonely loop and mission-style shelter hard by the sand dunes that form the last barrier to the Pacific (if you don’t count the public convenience station). (The city knew that most folks would reach the beach by streetcar back when Muni built its Sunset District lines, so there are matching bathrooms and tunnels under the Great Highway at Judah and Taraval.)

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Anyway, this shot, taken by the late Bob McVay we believe, has an extra sense of loneliness to it. We know it’s 1955 from the license plate on the Ford. Check out the Studebaker convertible on the right. Then there’s that weary looking building between the Studebaker and the streetcar that looks empty with the unconvincing writing above the door, “Public Library – Post Office – Store.” Sure.

As for the streetcars themselves, a “Big Ten” torpedo is in the distance at the loop, just seven years old but already converted to single-end, one-man operation. And the central object, “Iron Monster” No. 172, with a (now forbidden) ad for Early Times bourbon on the side, and a crew in the front window maybe thinking about a drink … but not at the ever-popular Dick’s at the Beach opposite the torpedo at La Playa. They’re switiching back short because they’re about to pull into Geneva, as indicated by their Hunter roll sign over the front window, “Market to 11th St.”

Anybody want to share other memories of the N-line terminal? Post a comment.

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Foot of Market’s Future

John King, the Chronicle’s excellent urban design writer, is taking a look at the “re-imagining” going on about the public space surrounding San Francisco’s most famous transit shrine: the old Ferry Building streetcar loop.

The goal is to create a lively crossroads of enticing fun, rather than the 20 acres of scenic but little-used space that now spills inland from the Ferry Building. Chicago’s lakefront is a model: Millennium Park, where 24.5 acres of train tracks were transformed into a wildly popular phantasmagoria that draws locals and tourists alike. Or Grant Park, where President-elect Barack Obama spoke on election night to more than 200,000 people.

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Ferry Loop, around 1927. San Francisco Municipal Railway archives.

Most of the space in question, now called Justin Herman Plaza, was created at the same time as the Embarcadero Freeway went up in the 1950s, by “redeveloping” (in this case bulldozing) a block of older buildings, mostly sailors’ haunts, between Market and Mission Streets, Steuart Street and The Embarcadero, along with other buildings, on the blocks north of Market. As part of the massive redevelopment, the old Produce District gave way to the Golden Gateway residential complex and Embarcadero Center’s office highrises and hotels.
The foot of Market itself was cut back a block, with a aggregate pedestrian way replacing the last block of vehicular use between Steuart and The Embarcadero. And the traditional transit loop (streetcars until 1949, then buses) in front of the Ferry Building, disappeared, with the bus turnaround relocated to an asphalt lot at Mission and Steuart Streets.

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This aerial view, shows the open space around the foot of Market Street is considerable, but very chopped up.

When the Embarcadero Freeway was finally vanquished after the 1989 earthquake, the roadway area itself was remade into a grand boulevard, including the F-line streetcar right-of-way.
The asphalt bus turnaround became the trendy Hotel Vitale, bringing Muni millions in lease revenue and a home for Market Street Railway’s San Francisco Railway Museum.

But the old brick and concrete plaza was little changed (though because it’s technically parkland, the F-line wasn’t allowed to follow streetcars’ traditional path straight down Market to the Ferry Building, but had to loop along Steuart to the south end of the plaza).

Now city planners are rethinking the whole plaza configuration. Streetcars will frame the project visually as well as providing the most visible and attractive transit to and from this new gathering place.

So what do our readers think this new space should look like, and what should it be used for? Let us know in the comments below.

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Philly’s Ghost Line

If you build it, will they run? Not in Philadelphia, apparently. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports on 3,000 feet of brand new streetcar track and wires on a historic transit street, Germantown Avenue, that’s likely to just gather rust, despite the strong desire of neighbors for streetcars. What’s up? Well, the transit agency, SEPTA, which “temporarily” took trolleys off the street in 1992, says buses are better, never mind what residents think, never mind the $3 million in state funds to put down new tracks and wires at the residents’ request as part of a street overhaul.  This is, as Yogi would say, “deja vu all over again.” SEPTA dragged its feet for years when residents on Girard Avenue demanded that the 15-line there be restored to PCCs. Editorial comment: all San Franciscans who complain about Muni, take a field trip and see SEPTA.

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Evocative Cal Cable Book Worth a Read

Nothing evokes vanished San Francisco more than the old California Street Cable Railroad Company, more familiarly known as “Cal Cable.” This private company, founded by Leland Stanford, operated cable cars from 1878 to 1951, when it went bankrupt and was taken over by Muni. After that, politicians effectively dismembered it, and we’re still talking about whether its remnants can be improved. Cal Cable’s three lines, California Street from Market to Presidio Avenue, O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde Streets from the downtown… — Read More

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