“San Francisco Repurposes Old for the Future”

It has become as predictable as summer fog on Great Highway. If you’re planning a project in the red-hot mid-Market neighborhood, or reporting on it in the media, you’ve simply got to have one of those colorful F-line historic streetcars in the frame.

The New York *Times* is the latest bigfoot to jump on this, with this main photo (left, click to enlarge) on a long but very worthwhile story describing how the tech-driven mid-Market revival is focused on adaptive reuse of historic buildings, rather than on new campus-type construction as in Mission Bay (or Silicon Valley).
Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen literally dozens of architectural renderings for proposed new developments all along Market Street, and almost every one has included an F-line streetcar — usually a PCC, but sometimes a Milan (invariably orange, though we have yellow and green ones too). The building that kicked off the mid-Market boom, the old Merchandise Mart owned by the Shorenstein Company (and now headquarters to Twitter) is just one example.

If you look at all the new, high-end condo and apartment developments on upper-Market, same deal: gotta have that streetcar in there, presumably because they think the streetcars add character and appeal to the development, along with a sense of place. Of course, the streetcar images also send an unmistakable signal to prospective tenants and buyers that there is efficient and fun public transportation right at the development’s front door.
For that matter, Muni’s parent, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) gives prominence to the historic streetcars in their public promotional and informational materials to a degree way out of proportion with their proportion of passengers carried on the system (though it’s true the F-line is indeed one of Muni’s busiest lines).
We think it’s great that both those who profit from the F-line’s presence (especially Market Street developers) and those who put the cars on the street (SFMTA) see the value of putting the streetcars front and center in their promotional material. In fact, if you only read the subhead of that New York Times story: “San Francisco Repurposes Old for the Future,” you’d be forgiven for thinking the story was about the streetcars, not the historic buildings.
But they do go together beautifully on mid-Market, don’t they?

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Maya Angelou, SF Streetcar Conductor

Maya Angelou has passed away, at the age of 86. As an adult, she gained global fame as a writer. Well before that, as as a teen-ager, she broke barriers right here in San Francisco, when she was hired by our namesake, Market Street Railway, as the first female African-American streetcar conductor in the city.
She first told this story in “I Know Why the the Caged Bird Sings,” many years ago. She didn’t name the line she worked, but based on her description, it was more than likely the 7-Haight.
She talked to Oprah about it last year. We have a clip of that interview. It’s well worth watching.

During her tenure with Market Street Railway Company, which did not last very long, she more than likely worked out of the Haight Street car barn near Stanyan. The type of streetcar she worked on was almost certainly from Market Street Railway’s “100-class,” built by the Jewett Car Company of Ohio in 1911, pictured below.

100-class Streetcar image
Maya Angelou worked as a conductor on the rear platform of a streetcar of this type, most likely on the 7-Haight line. Here, the streetcar is crossing Golden Gate Park, having just left Playland-at-the-Beach for another trip to the Ferry Building. They were long trips, and after dark, pretty lonely in the western end of the city back then. Photo from Market Street Railway Archives, Walt Vielbaum collection.

In our San Francisco Railway Museum, you can stand at the conductor’s station of a streetcar identical to the one Maya Angelou worked on. Our volunteers have constructed an exact replica, complete with firebox, conductor’s bell, and all the other details from the period. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. across from the Ferry Building at the F-line Steuart Street stop (77 Steuart Street), and it’s free.

We are all enriched by the legacy of wonderful works left by Dr. Angelou. A life well lived, indeed.

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Celebrating Dashiell Hammett’s 120th Birthday

Sam Spade IT cover

Dashiell Hammett was born May 27, 1894. He essentially created the modern detective novel. His most famous fictional character was Sam Spade. To celebrate Hammett’s 120th birthday, and the enduring greatness of the Spade character, we’re providing a link to a Feature article that appeared nine years ago in our member newsletter, Inside Track.

It tells the story of how Hammett wove his own rail riding experiences in San Francisco (both streetcars and cable cars) in to his novels. Check it out, and remember, most of the members-only content in our newsletter never makes it to the web. So if you love our historic streetcars and cable cars, or San Francisco history in general, please consider joining Market Street Railway.

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Tipple Your Way Along the F-line

1061 and Twin Peaks bar sign 17thCastro Elrond Lawrence photo.jpg
The Twin Peaks bar is right at the F-line Castro terminal. Photo (c) Elrond Lawrence.

We’re not in the business of promoting booze, but San Francisco is, after all, a great drinking town, and if you’re going to do that, you need a designated driver.
How about letting an F-line operator fill that role, by patronizing establishments along the route? Our friends at Thrillist have put together a list of bars and restaurants all along the F-line with dandy libations waiting for you along the way.
Take a look here for the entire list. From the Twin Peaks at Castro and Market to Pier 23 (and beyond), it’s a great ride!
Oh, and if you’re looking for a different kind of guide to the F-line, without the bars but with just about everything else concerning the historic streetcars (and cable cars too), drop by our San Francisco Railway Museum or click here to buy our new book ON TRACK.

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Walgreen’s Invents New Transit Vehicle

Underneath the very intersection of historic transit in San Francisco, in the basement of the old Emporium (now a food court named — wait for it — the Food Emporium), is a shiny new Walgreen’s. Kind of a mini-Walgreen’s, actually. There are a couple of bigger ones within a block or two (are drug stores multiplying like Starbucks?) Anyway, just so you don’t think you’re dealing with some kind of national chain or anything, they’ve got a sign saying they’ve… — Read More

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Photo of the (Past) Moment: Centenarian at Birth

Muni streetcar No. 130, still in service, at Geary and Grant, c. 1920. Click to enlarge. This year, two Muni streetcars celebrate their centennials. Both were bought from the Jewett Car Company of Ohio in 1914 as part of an order of 125 streetcars to serve lines Muni was then building to serve the following year’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition. These two streetcars, No. 130 (now painted in its later 1940s blue and gold livery) and No. 162 (now under repair)… — Read More

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