Positively (Twenty-)Fourth Street

Okay, the headline reference is anachronistic, because this shot goes WAY back beyond Dylan. So evocative, though, we couldn’t resist the reference.

Few are still around who remember streetcars on 24th Street, now the cultural center of the City’s Latino community and known to many as Calle 24. But here we are in 1938 (based on the streetcar and the automobile license plate) looking east on 24th at York Street, staring at a 35-Howard line streetcar. It has just descended the very steep hill on 24th from its terminal at Rhode Island Street on Potrero Hill, crossed the Muni’s H-line tracks on Potrero Avenue, and is bound for South Van Ness, where it will turn right and continue on that street and Howard to reach the south terminal at the Ferry Building.

On the corner to the right, we see the St. Francis ice cream and candy store — still there! — and beyond it, the Roosevelt theater marquee. The Roosevelt wasn’t a tribute to a president, it was opened by a Dutchman named Roosevelt in 1922, who also owned other businesses on the block, including the Roosevelt Tamale Parlor, which reopened early this year after a hiatus.

And by the way, this is not just any old streetcar. This is one of five “Rail Sedans” that Muni’s then-competitor (and our namesake) Market Street Railway bought secondhand from the St. Louis & Suburban Railway in 1936. These cars, built in 1927 by St. Louis Car Company, were far more modern looking than anything else Market Street Railway ever owned. They were purchased when the company began converting lightly-ridden lines to be served by single-operator cars that saved labor costs. According to the definitive history of the Market Street Railway, The White Front Cars of San Francisco by Charles Smallwood, the five rail sedans spent their entire San Francisco career exclusively on the 35-line. The company felt if they spread these cars around to other routes, riders on those routes might demand more of them, and there were no more available.

The mandatory “Eclipse Fender” on the front of these cars in San Francisco detracted from the even more modern look they enjoyed in their original home, equipped with chromed spring bumpers (see photo from Smallwood’s book below).

These Rail Sedans only lasted three years in service in San Francisco, sent to the sidelines when the courts declared the single-operator arrangement illegal. Within two years, Market Street Railway had given up its franchise for the 35-Howard. Muni converted the portions on Howard and South Van Ness to its first trolley coach line (the R, later the 41) in 1941. The 24th Street portion later became Muni’s 35-line bus, and is now the 48-line bus. Sadly, all the rail sedans were scrapped in 1941. They’d sure look great in service on the F and E lines today!

This great photo comes to us from the Facebook Group San Francisco Remembered, where it was just made the group photo. Thanks for letting us share.

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Just Visiting

We stopped by Cameron Beach Yard this afternoon and what should be peeking out but the first of Muni’s new light rail vehicles, built by Siemens. Car 2001 was nestled in between 1914 Muni Car 130 (not visible, at right) and (visible to the left) 1952 Brussels, Belgium PCC 737.

There are Bredas under the canopy as well, which Market Street Railway fought for ten years to have built to protect the most vulnerable historic streetcars, which were then based at what was known as Geneva Division, built for some of the city’s first streetcars in 1900 and a Muni property since 1944. It was renamed for Cameron Beach, a board member of Muni’s parent, SFMTA shortly after his untimely death in 2011. (Cam had previously been vice chair of our nonprofit’s board.

But shortly after the facility was dedicated to Cam, the historic streetcars started leaving, as F-line (and later E-line) operations, maintenance, and storage were shifted across town to Muni Metro East. The reason given: rail replacement in the big LRV division across the street, Green Division, meant the tracks at Cameron Beach were needed for LRVs.

But that job, well behind schedule, is finally approaching the finish line, and we’re told the historic streetcars will return to Cameron Beach as soon as February 2018 — just three months for now.

And that Siemens LRV — just visiting during its testing operations, but we know that if Cam Beach himself had seen it today, he would’ve broken into his famous ear-to-ear grin and said, “Oh, YEAH!”  Because Cam loved effective rail transit, old cars or new!

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Van Ness and McAllister, Nov. 1, 1917

This photo from the SFMTA Archive was taken exactly 100 years before the date of this post, on November 1, 1917. No streetcars in the picture, but we do see important infrastructure: the poles that hold up the wires that bring power to the streetcars.

We’re at the corner of Van Ness Avenue and McAllister Street, looking northeast across Van Ness. City Hall, then new, sits on the southeast corner of this intersection. Across Van Ness, we see an apartment building with ground floor retail that’s still there. If you click the photo, at left center at the corner of Redwood Street, you can see a shop offering vulcanizing services (presumably for tires). Van Ness is so wide, and so devoid of traffic, that automobile drivers felt free to park perpendicular to the curb — or parallel, whatever they wanted.

On the left, we see a metal pole with a metal cap belonging to the privately owned United Railroads, used for the 5-McAllister line that ran essentially the same route as today’s 5-Fulton bus.

On the right, a concrete pole belonging to the Municipal Railway, then less than five years old. Van Ness, one of the city’s widest streets, hosted the H-Potrero streetcar line on this stretch of the street (replaced in 1949 by the 47-Potrero trolley bus).

Muni generally preferred concrete poles for their streetcar lines. They used streetcar rail for reinforcement. The poles on Van Ness were installed in 1914 without streetlights. Those were bolted on in the late 1930s, as Van Ness was readied for an increased flow of automobile traffic from the new Golden Gate Bridge.

Bringing the light pole story up to date, the metal poles came to Muni with the rest of the private company’s infrastructure in 1944, when the city took over. The metal poles on lines that were converted to trolley coach, many are still in use.

As for the concrete poles, they have badly deteriorated, as would be expected after a century. In planning the new Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project, SFMTA (Muni’s parent) proposed replacing the old concrete poles with modernistic metal ones. They felt this was necessary not only because many of the old poles were structurally unsound, but also because the poles needed to be taller because the trolley bus wires were being moved from the curb lanes to the center right-of-way.

But at the last minute, after repeated public outreach and hearings, a group of influential people in Pacific Heights demanded that the old poles and lights be retained or replicated. After negotiations, they settled for getting rid of the modern lights and substituting some old-timey looking lights that have no history in San Francisco.

But hey, those concrete poles lasted a century. The one is this picture is still there (although the metal pole on McAllister has been replaced, probably when the State of California was built a quarter-century ago on the spot occupied by the bar in the photo offering Golden State Beer for a nickel).

And oh, by the way, traffic on much of Van Ness was diverted today to clear two lanes for sewer replacement, one component of the BRT project.

Thanks as always to SFMTA for preserving the photographic history of transit in San Francisco.

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Baltimore Blues

Of all the comments we’ve received about Muni’s restored PCC streetcars over the past 30 years, nothing comes close to carping about colors. “You’re half a shade off there, you know.” “I can’t believe you didn’t get that green right.” And on and on and on.

Which is why you can call this a pre-emptive post. All you Baltimore Transit experts who look at the photos in this post with your fingers twitching to launch a tirade, step back from the keyboard and read the rest of the post first.

In a lifetime of photography, I (MSR President Rick Laubscher) have never seen such an odd color shift from the actual as I got today in photographing newly restored PCC 1063, honoring Baltimore Transit, which arrived at Muni Metro East first thing this morning.

When i first laid eyes on the 1063, just inside the shop, the color seemed to be accurate — a blue-green some call teal, some cyan. But when I photographed it, the result is way more blue than it really is, as seems evident in my photos above and below. (Also, the orange belt rail looks redder than it actually is.)

I had seen earlier shots of the car, taken at Brookville Equipment Company before it left for San Francisco, that concerned me because the body of the car, which is supposed to be a very unusual teal tone, looked flat-out blue. Which would be wrong. But another photo from Brookville looked just right, and we were told the car actually matched the sample panel we created after consultation with the Baltimore Streetcar Museum, which restored authentic Baltimore Transit car 7407. Both shots that looked too blue, in SF and Brookville, were taken indoors, so maybe it’s the temperature of the artificial lighting affecting the camera sensors. All I can say is that when I looked at it with my own eyes, it looks correct. Weird.

The right color was even more important because when it was first restored for Muni, in the early 1990s, Muni only allowed eight colors to be used in the palette for all the PCCs. Consequently, a number of the restored cars were indeed a “half-shade off”, including the 1063. (The actual Baltimore paint scheme is just below in the snow, with 1063 in its 1990s paint just below that.)

Anyway, on the recommendation of several people we respect, including then-head of Muni historic rail maintenance Karl Johnson, we opted for the original Baltimore PCC scheme, dating back to 1936. In working with the museum in Baltimore, we were told that photographs of their 7407 might appear to show silver lettering and logos, but the originals were actually gold, so we made them that way.

Without exact, modern paint codes, which we could not obtain for the 1063’s teal, you have to do the best you can. The different temperatures of old film don’t make it easier. The color photos of the Baltimore yellow/orange online, for example, run the gamut from almost as yellow as 1063 used to look to as orange as Muni’s Milan trams. And it’s important to remember that traction companies often mixed their own paint, and some cars came out of the repair shop in a slightly different shade than it went in. In the days of old lead-based paints, oxidation played a major role as well, which is why some old-timers swear a particular paint scheme is “off” when they’re remembering the oxidized shade, not the shiny color it wore when factory fresh.

Whatever. Car 1063 is here; it looks as good inside and out as the six cars already delivered in this restoration contract (1051, 1055, 1056, 1059, 1060, 1062). Don’t know when it will hit the streets for testing and its 1000-mile testing before being accepted for service, since 1055 is ahead of it. When it’s out, we expect to see a whole lot of photos in different lighting conditions. And when people see it in person, on the street, not through an internet post, it’s going to look right.

By the way, the 1063 came out on the return trip that took Pacific Electric 1061 to Brookville for rehab. No additional cars left today.

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The Lineup

Passing by Muni Metro East as today’s afternoon faded into evening, what should appear but a lineup representing 105 years of San Francisco transit history. Right to left, 1912 Car 1, the first publicly owned streetcar in America, getting ready to go out on a charter. Next to it, 1948 PCC 1015, signed for training duty. And then one of the new 2017 Siemens LRVs, number 2006, still being tested. Not something you can see in any other US transit… — Read More

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121 Years in One Day

Muni Supervisor Robert Parks, who trains operators on every type of streetcar and light rail vehicle in the city, may have set a record today. In the morning (above), he trained operators on Muni’s newest model of LRV, Siemens car 2001, delivered earlier this year. (The first Siemens cars are due to start carrying paying passengers next month.) Above. 2001at the N-Judah Ocean Beach terminal. Then, he got a call — could he do a shop move, transferring 1896 single-truck… — Read More

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10/15/17 — Twice!

Here are two photos at the same location. One taken 100 years ago today, the other taken…today. On October 15, 1917, United Railroads photographer John Henry Mentz shot the black-and-white photo at the top, looking north from 18th Street on what was then called Kentucky Street. Soon, Kentucky would have its name changed to match the street it connected with several blocks north at China Basin — Third Street. (To the south of Islais Creek, Railroad Avenue would get Third… — Read More

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Boat Tram An Added Attraction at Fleet Week

Blackpool “boat tram” 228 joined in the celebration of Fleet Week this past weekend, thanks to a decision by Muni to operate the popular 1934 open-top tram. Here are a few photos from a very happy weekend. At the top, MSR board member and #1 boat fan Katie Haverkamp caught some sailors in uniform enjoying the ride. (Muni has a tradition of letting military members in uniform ride free!) Below, MSR member Steve Souza caught the boat cruising with a… — Read More

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Boat Cruising This Weekend!

In a welcomed decision, Muni has launched one of the 1934 Blackpool “boat trams” to help carry crowds along The Embarcadero enjoying Fleet Week 2017! Open-topped boat Tram 228 will be shuttling between The Ferry Building and our San Francisco Railway Museum and Pier 39 Saturday and Sunday, October 7 and 8 from 11 am to 6 pm. Come out and enjoy a ride. Thanks to Muni for operating it on one of the most warm and beautiful weekends of… — Read More

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Merger Day, 73 years ago

September 29, 1944 — the privately-owned Market Street Railway Company turned over all its assets, including more than 500 streetcars, to the publicly-owned San Francisco Municipal Railway, following approval of San Francisco voters to buy the private company. Mayor Roger Lapham personally piloted the first ex-Market Street Railway Company streetcar as newspaper photographers clicked shots. Three years later, Lapham tried to kill off the Powell Street cable cars, included in the purchase of Market Street Railway. A grassroots citizens’ movement,… — Read More

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Best Muni Heritage Weekend Ever!

It had more vintage vehicles, more riders, and more fun than ever. We’re talking about the sixth annual Muni Heritage Weekend September 9-10, 2017. It also had some of the best photos we’ve seen over the years. The great one above, showing Martin (3) and Catherine (2) Andreev looking out the back window of 1950 trolley coach 776, is from Amy Osborne, part of a great photo essay she put together on sfgate.com. Great news pieces from Sal Casteneda on… — Read More

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Come On Down for Heritage Weekend!

Here’s the lineup for Muni Heritage Weekend, September 9-10, 2017 from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. All operations either start from or pass by our San Francisco Railway Museum, 77 Steuart Street between Market and Mission, across from the Ferry Building. Important note: What’s on the street each day and day part, along with departure schedules, will be posted on old-fashioned schedule boards outside the museum. STREETCARS Celebrating the centennial of the J-Church line, Muni Car 1 (1912) and PCC… — Read More

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Vintage Buses on the 7-Haight Friday, September 8

As part of its celebration of 100 years of buses at Muni, vintage motor coaches will make a rare passenger-carrying appearance on the 7-Haight line between the Ferry and Golden Gate Park, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday September 8. Here’s the schedule: At 10 a.m., 1970 General Motors coach 3287 (above) will leave the Ferry Terminal on Steuart Street to Stanyan Street via Market and Haight, and return. It will be followed by 1975 AM General coach 4154 departing the… — Read More

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Muni Bus Centennial Celebrated at Heritage Weekend

Muni operated its first bus on September 1, 1917. Their ace archivist and photographer, Jeremy Menzies, put together a great post with lots of photos that’s definitely worth a look. We got a bit of a head start on the Muni bus centennial with an exhibit we opened in March at our San Francisco Railway Museum, telling the story of how buses came to replace streetcars as the city’s dominant transit vehicle. It’s still up, and it’s one more reason… — Read More

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Our Spies are Everywhere!

  Even Truckee, where John Griffin snapped these two shots of the latest PCC to be rehabilitated by Brookville Equipment Company in Pennsylvania. The photos were forwarded to us by Market Street Railway member James Giraudo. Car 1055 should be at Muni Metro Center by the time you read this. It is the sixth of 16 PCC cars covered by the current rehabilitation contract with Brookville. The contract covers the original F-line streetcar fleet from 1995, including 13 single end streetcars… — Read More

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