On December 29, 1914, the original F-line opened: the San Francisco Municipal Railway’s F-Stockton line. It was Muni’s sixth streetcar line and was given impetus by the huge Panama-Pacific International Exposition which opened just two months later at the end of the new F-line on Chestnut Street, in what’s now the Marina District.
The original F-line ran just one block east of the Powell Street cable car lines (then owned by private competitor United Railroads). The F-line, though, provided a much faster trip to Chinatown and North Beach because of the Stockton Tunnel, completed just one day before the line opened. The Stockton Tunnel was built primarily for streetcars, but unlike Muni’s later Twin Peaks and Sunset Tunnels, it was shared with other vehicles.
The photo above, from our archives, shows Muni streetcar No. 9 emerging from the south portal of the Stockton Tunnel in 1946, ready to run the final five blocks past Union Square to its terminal at Market and Stockton. (Soon, the line would be extended over former Market Street Railway tracks to reach the S.P. Depot at Third and Townsend Streets.)
The wonderful 1916 photo below, courtesy of the SFMTA Archives, shows a scene almost unimaginable today: Stockton and Vallejo Streets with no one on the sidewalks and just one parked car. Chinatown did not yet reach this far west. Today, Stockton Street is considered Chinatown’s main commercial street, with Grant Avenue primarily for tourists.
Muni records from 1920 show that it took 17 minutes to ride the F-line its whole length, from Market and Stockton to Chestnut and Scott. Today, it seems like it takes 17 minutes to ride just the 6 blocks on Stockton through Chinatown from Columbus to the tunnel on the 30-Stockton, the trolley bus line that replaced the original F-line streetcars in 1951.
Okay, we exaggerate. No question, though, that the congestion along Stockton Street (along with strong demands from leaders of the Chinatown community for better transit) was a major driver of the new “Stockton Tunnel,” the Central Subway, which is being built underneath Fourth and Stockton Streets (including underneath the existing tunnel) to carry Muni’s T-line trains starting in 2019.
But that’s the future. Today, we celebrate the past: the centennial of the original F-line and the Stockton Tunnel. Happy 100th Birthday!