Cheating Muni — in 1916!


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Muni scholar’s tickets, about 1916. Market Street Railway Archives. Click to enlarge.

This weekend, Market Street Railway is joining the exhibitors at the Second Annual San Francisco History Expo. (Old Mint, Fifth and Mission Streets, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, March 3-4, Admission FREE). Our exhibit this year celebrates Muni’s history as part of this, the centennial year of America’s first big city publicly owned transit system.
Our volunteers, led by Alison Cant, have dug into our archives for some cool history, including items that really resonate today.
Like “scholar’s tickets.” Right now, politicians are debating making Muni free for all youth (gee, seems like it already is, judging from all those kids going through the back doors, but that’s another topic).
Well, nothing’s new about students trying to save money on Muni. The scholar’s tickets came in booklets, offering a discount from the regular five cent fare. (When I was a kid, they used a card, good for ten rides for 50 cents — a 67% discount over the then 15-cent regular fare. The conductor or operator would punch out a space each time you rode.)


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Muni conductor’s report, December 12, 1916. Market Street Railway Archives. Click to enlarge.

Back in 1916, though, the rules were clear, printed right on the cover of the scholar’s ticket booklet: you had to be under 18 AND in “actual and regular attendance in school” to qualify. As we see from the handwritten report from conductor A. J. Cadwallader on the H-Potrero streetcar at San Francisco General Hospital on December 12, 1916, two student nurses, at least 20 years old and from Stanford no less, were abusing the system!
Two days later, D. Collins, the assistant superintendent at 17th Street streetcar division (now Potrero trolley coach division), thought this petty larceny serious enough to write a letter to Tom Cashin, Muni’s first superintendent, asking for guidance, since some conductors were letting ’em ride anyway, while others were enforcing the rules. (Sound familiar?)


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Letter to Muni Superintendent Thomas Cashin, December 14, 1916. Market Street Railway Archives. Click to enlarge.

Superintendent Cashin’s response, if any, is not in our archives, so we’ll never know how many pennies Muni lost to scurrilous students in its first decades of existence. But it won’t cost you even a nickel to see these pieces of history and more Muni artifacts at the Old Mint this weekend. C’mon down!

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Mustn’t Miss Display at Our Museum – and On Market St.

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Poster of 1914 image by John Henry Mentz, part of the Treasures From the Muni Archive Display on Market Street and (in this case) at our museum on Steuart Street, very close to the spot where this image was taken.

As part of Muni’s centennial year activities, Mayor Ed Lee has unveiled a new, multi-faceted display that brings the history of Market Street, and its transit, to life. Part of it centers on our San Francisco Railway Museum. SFMTA (Muni’s parent) has partnered with us (Market Street Railway) and with the online non-profit Historypin, to create a cool window into our storied main street’s past.

It’s all based on Muni’s photo archives, long unavailable to the public, but now coming into view, thanks to the efforts of archivist/photographer Heather Moran. Our museum features a wall of fantastic large blow-ups of shots taken by Muni photographers (and their counterpart at the old United Railroads, John Henry Mentz) over the past 110 years. Outside the museum, more great archival photos, tied to our physical location — just across from the Ferry Building and its famed streetcar loop (preceded by a colossal cable car turntable before the 1906 earthquake and fire).

But that’s just the beginning of the show. On many Muni passenger shelters along the downtown part of Market Street, you’ll find historic photographs of that very location screened onto the glass itself. Each one of these has a QR code, which, if you scan it with your app-equipped mobile phone, will take you to a spot on the Historypin site that shows you more photos of that same location over the decades. (Don’t worry; if you don’t have all that capability, you can see all the photos linked to the shelters in one place.) Additionally, SFMTA has set up a supporting photo archive site.

In announcing the exhibit, Mayor Lee said, “San Francisco is excited to launch the ‘Treasures from the Muni Archive’ exhibit to engage the City about Muni’s rich past and begin the celebration of Muni’s centennial. The high-tech features of this exhibit make history come alive and represent San Francisco’s commitment to innovation.”

SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin added, “With nearly 30,000 photos in the SFMTA archive, we are pleased to have such a unique way to share them with residents and visitors. We are grateful to our long-standing partner, MSR, and one of our newest partners, Historypin, for making this exciting exhibit possible.”

MSR President Rick Laubscher hailed the multi-faceted partnership that made this possible “Our City has one of the richest transportation histories in America,” he said. “We salute Muni for the work it is doing in preserving its own precious archives and sharing them with San Franciscans and visitors alike through this project. We’re proud to help on this and other activities marking Muni’s centennial.” The shelter photos are scheduled to be up through the end of March, but we plan to keep our exhibit up all summer.

By the way, many of these images come from the great book on Muni’s first hundred years written by our members, including the late Cam Beach, the late Phil Hoffman, Bob Townley, Grant Ute, and Walt Vielbaum. You can get it at our museum, or in our online store.

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Photo of the (Past) Moment: Deja Vu, Chronicle?


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Jim Lekas photo, Market Street Railway Archive

Here’s an oddity. Not the photo, but where it showed up. We love this shot for two reasons: it features preserved Muni “Iron Monster” No. 162, near the end of its original service life on the M-Ocean View line on 19th Avenue crossing Junipero Serra, and it’s got that cool Nash keeping pace right alongside.
We know this photo, because it’s part of our collection, donated to us by MSR member Jim Lekas, who took it himself. We’ve never put it on the web before, but somehow — Jim doesn’t know how and neither do we — it has appeared in the Chronicle several times now in an advertisement for their website Groupon wannabe “sfgatedailydeals.com”. An even bigger mystery than where they got the photo is why they used it, since it has nothing to do with the copy.
Maybe they just think it’s cool.
We’re fine with that!
UPDATE: Mystery solved. Thanks to eagle-eyed member Walter Gerken, we now know how the Chronicle got the photo. The great Carl Nolte did a story on the return of Car No. 162 to the active fleet in 2008. Muni had asked us for photos of the streetcar; we provided Jim’s; it was attributed in the story to Jim, but courtesy of Muni, rather than us (which is fine). Frankly, we just missed that ball. Strike one!
Still, a good excuse to share a great photo. Thanks again to Jim for sharing it.

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Reminder of Our Roots, from Down the Coast

As our members and friends know, our organization is named for Muni’s old private competitor, Market Street Railway Company. That company actually went through several manifestations, starting back in the 19th century, when it was an arm of the Southern Pacific Railroad’s all-powerful “octopus,” famously novelized by Frank Norris.

In the 1920s, following a reorganization of United Railroads, the name appeared again, this time managed by a firm named Byllesby, which owned or managed numerous utility properties of many types around the country, not just streetcar lines.
Member Bob Davis recently sent us a reminder of Byllesby’s one-time reach with this photo of the restored downtown power station of San Diego Gas & Electric, with a medallion highlighting the Byllesby slogan, “Pioneers in Public Service.” What you don’t see, because the incised letters around the edge are painted the same color as the medallion itself, is the name “Byllesby” across the top and the words “Engineering-Finance-Management” around the edge.

On the similarly shaped original Market Street Railway logo (on which our non-profit’s logo is closely modeled), “Byllesby” appears in the same location along the top, and “Pioneers in Public Service” around the edge. When transit stopped being profitable in America (between the 1930s and late 1940s in most places), management companies like Byllesby gave up this part of their portfolio as public agencies took over. (Remember, Muni was the first big-city public transit agency when it started up in 1912; there were few like it around the country until after World War II.)
Now, though, we’re starting to see private-sector management of transit systems reappear in the U.S. and elsewhere, particularly with firms like Veolia, a French firm that now has contracts to run such systems as New Orleans’ RTA.
Thanks to Bob for the photo. By the way, in a little coincidence, San Diego’s weekend “Silver Line” loop, using an ex-Muni 1100-class PCC restored as a San Diego streetcar, runs right by this site today.

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The C-line is back!

Well, sorta. For the blink of an eye. Muni’s C-Geary-California line left California Street in 1949 after having the stretch from Sixth Avenue to 33rd Avenue on its route since 1915. (Before that, the stretch was part of its private competitor’s 1-California streetcar; after 1949 it became part of Muni’s 1-California trolley bus.) Car No. 1, still part of the Muni fleet today, in service at the end of the C-line on California near 33rd Avenue in 1944. Will Whittaker… — Read More

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