Philip Hoffman: An Historic Loss

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Phil Hoffman volunteering for MSR in February. Tammy Pollard photo.

Philip Hoffman died last Wednesday. He was a true San Franciscan, of a kind they are not making any more. He passed away at St. Mary’s Hospital, where he was born 80 years ago. Death came suddenly and unexpectedly.
Phil fell in love with the city’s streetcars as a young boy and was constantly out and about on them. Growing up in Cow Hollow, Muni’s original E-line, with its distinctive single-truck “dinkies” was his favorite. (Our next issue of our member newsletter, *Inside Track*, was already slated to carry a story by Phil on this type of streetcar.) Phil loved cable cars as well, and in 1954, joined with Friedel Klussmann and others to fight plans to reduce the cable car network.


Phil Hoffman (center, under banner) protests the last run of the O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde cable line in 1954.

A long-time volunteer at Market Street Railway, Phil served as our unofficial historian and joined our board of directors just this past January. (He had declined repeated invitations in the past, but after his wife Nancy passed away last year, he accepted our invitation.)
His passing is a real loss, not only to us, but to the San Francisco history community as a whole. Phil’s knowledge was encyclopedic. At the time of his death, he was volunteering with Muni’s archives project, helping archivist Heather Moran identify the location of various photographs, even those taken decades before his birth. He was also helping us on a variety of our own projects tied to Muni’s centennial next year.
Phil’s wit and sense of whimsy was delightful. To him, history was not some dry series of events, but a joyous carnival to celebrate. We will miss him greatly, but take some consolation that some of his knowledge and wit will live on in a forthcoming book on Muni’s centennial he co-authored (which is due for release this fall and will be featured in our museum) and in videotaped recollections, some snippets of which have been shown on our museum video screens for several years and others of which will be added in coming months.
In many ways, Phil was very much like his friend Cam Beach, whom we also recently lost. Both kept a delightful boyishness about them their entire lives, reflected in their great enthusiasm for remembering – and preserving – transit history. You couldn’t be in the company of either many for more than a minute or two before a smile would flash across their face as they remembered something, smiles that would make you smile too.
It is not yet clear whether Phil wished a memorial service. If one is scheduled, we will post information about it here.
Godspeed, Phil.
UPDATE: There will be a mass to celebrate Phil’s life at St. Dominic’s Church, Bush and Steiner Streets, at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, May 12, 2011. The family suggests that donations in his memory may be made to Market Street Railway or to the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The Chronicle has published an obituary of Phil here.
Market Street Railway will hold a remembrance of Phil at our museum and will announce the date and time here.

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Muni Honors Cam Beach


Cam Beach with Muni Executive Director Nat Ford and Cam’s favorite vintage streetcar, 1914 car No. 162, part of Muni’s original fleet. SFMTA photo.

The members of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board of directors have unanimously honored their late colleague, Cameron Beach, by naming the Geneva Yard, where Muni’s historic streetcars are stored and service, for him.
It is a highly fitting tribute. Geneva Yard was a magnet for Cam Beach when he was a boy, when it served as Muni’s only streetcar division starting in 1957. He kept his affection for streetcars his whole life, and was a champion of Muni’s F-line service and the future E-line during his four years of service on the SFMTA board.


The Geneva Canopy, championed by the late Cam Beach (background, center) is dedicated on December 2, 2010.

Even though the Geneva Yard has carried that name since the site was first occupied in 1900, Market Street Railway believes renaming it to honor Cam Beach is appropriate. The original name comes from the yard’s street address, not a more significant origin. And Cam’s work in helping win completion of the long-awaited canopy structure to protect the streetcars from the elements when they are out of service is only one of his many contributions to Muni’s historic preservation efforts. It is, we believe, a fitting tribute.
We will inform everyone here of formal dedication ceremonies when they are scheduled. And our members will see a full tribute to Cam Beach in the next issue of our member newsletter, *Inside Track*.

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Great Photo Archive Starts Coming Online

One of San Francisco’s great photographic treasures belongs to Muni! Or more specifically, its parent agency, the SFMTA. It includes wonderful images that actually extend back before Muni opened in 1912: glass plates and negatives from erstwhile competitors United Railroads (URR) and our namesake, Market Street Railway, acquired in the 1944 merger of transit systems in the city.

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Through a special grant, SFMTA is finally archiving these images in a program managed by archivist Heather Moran, with lots of guidance and support from MSR member Grant Ute, as part of his San Francisco Railway Archives project. (Grant has been invaluable in helping us prepare shows for our San Francisco Railway Museum and is just wrapping up preparation for a Muni centennial photo book due out this fall, with proceeds benefiting our organization).
The first photos to be put online from the SFMTA archive include a great selection covering the 1906 earthquake and fire, very timely given the 105th anniversary of that temblor and conflagration on Monday. The photos cannot be downloaded, to protect SFMTA’s rights to the images, but they’re great to look at. Most of the earthquake and fire images, including the thumbnail on this post, were shot by United Railroads photographer John Henry Mentz, whom we hope to feature (in an exhibit created by Grant and Heather) at our our museum starting this fall, if details can be worked out with SFMTA. This would be a prelude to our planned Muni Centennial exhibit at the museum next year.

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Market Street Movie, Shot 105 Years Ago Today

It was on (or very close to) April 14, 1906 that the Miles Brothers, early San Francisco commercial filmmakers, bolted a hand-cranked camera to the front of a United Railroads cable car and created one of the longest “dolly shots” in film history, a 12-minute nonstop ride down Market Street between Eighth Street and the Ferry Building.
It is an astonishing piece of history. We know the date of the filming (which was previously believed to be in 1905) because of the relentless sleuthing of film historian David Kiehn of Niles (his museum is well worth a weekend visit). David’s detective work, along with film preservation efforts by San Franciscan Rick Prelinger, were featured on CBS’ *60 Minutes* last fall. That story also included an interview with Market Street Railway President Rick Laubscher on the social and political context of what’s seen on the film. We offer what we believe is the only narrated version of this film, now 105 years old, for free viewing at our San Francisco Railway Museum (77 Steuart Street across from the Ferry Building, open daily except Mondays 10-6). We also offer it for sale on DVD at the museum and on our online store. Here’s an excerpt from that narrated version.

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Photo of the Moment: The Streak

This great picture by Patrick Boury is just one of more than 3,000 F-line and cable car pictures on Market Street Railway’s Flickr group. It’s No. 1053, the “Brooklyn Dodger,” crossing First Street, striped by the taillights of passing vehicles. By the way, the original name of the Giants’ arch-rival team (both when in New York and now) was the “Trolley Dodgers.” So No. 1053 is welcome in our town, even if the team named for the trolleys isn’t.

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Cargo Streetcar

Muni’s hunting for more revenue almost everywhere these days. Check out this video at about the two minute mark for an idea: cargo streetcars. Volkswagen moves parts to its Dresden factory on special cargo-carrying streetcars (trams to them). Maybe Muni could do the same…oh, wait, that’s right, we don’t have industry in San Francisco anymore. Never mind. 🙂 Thanks to MSR Member Roger Goldberg for the link.

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