Play Ball…the Muni way!

Today is Opening Day at home for the San Francisco Giants, the first time in 18 months they’ll play in front of fans at Oracle Park. Often, sporting events like this feature a live band, though we’re probably not far enough in our reopening for that. But we can look back to such days, not just for the Giants, but for another San Francisco institution: Muni.

You might call this a double-header: band and ball team all in one shot. We got this photo from member Mike Parkinson. It’s dated February 2, 1930, and we like to think it demonstrates team spirit. Check out the detail by clicking on the photo above and looking at the crops below.

First off, the obvious: all men, and all white as well — the City was indeed discriminatory in its hiring practices 90 years ago, as we’ve discussed here before. We wish we knew more details about the band and the ball club. Who did the team play, for example? Were there grudge matches against Rec & Park, which kept Muni streetcars from crossing Golden Gate Park? Was there a District Attorney’s team, and if so did they prosecute stolen bases? Did the band ever “mount up” on Work Car C-1 and tour the town as “Musicians in Motion”?

For this post, we’ll just focus on style. The ball players look natty in those dark unis with the white pinstripes. But wait, there’s more than one uniform type.

The player lower center has this cool diagonal script thing going on his jersey, plus the interlocked “SF” on his sleeve; quite a style step up from the arched block letters on the “base” jerseys. And what else do we spy?

Yes, indeed, the famed “O’Shaughnessy logo”, supposedly designed by legendary City Engineer Michael M. O’Shaughnessy to symbolize the first big-city transit system owned by the people themselves: Muni. By this time the logo was placed on all new equipment Muni bought but was not yet universal around the system. An “alternate jersey” three-quarters of a century before Major League Baseball embraced the idea.

The logo also appears on the band hats. It looks like these are enamel pins; very stylish. Coincidentally, we offer these enamel logo pins in our online store, though we never knew before now that there was an actual prototype for them. For that matter, we don’t know whether the band played at the team’s games, either. But it’s cool to see this pride in the workplace. (By the way, you can get your O’Shaughnessy fix in a number of ways with us.)

Good luck to the Giants this season, and equally good luck to Muni. They had an extremely challenging “season” last year, but through the determination and hard work of their team, both the front line “players” and the “coaches” (pun intended) that kept moving San Franciscans on essential missions, they have emerged as winners in our book. With the best yet to come: F-line historic streetcar service slated to resume next month, and cable cars later in the year!

Play ball!

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St. Patrick’s Day, 1906

Workers of Irish extraction played a major part in laying and maintaining track for United Railroads in 1906. Here’s a crew at work on tracks along Fourth Street, looking north from Bryant. It’s dated March 17, 1906, one month and one day before the earthquake and fire that devastated San Francisco.

The images, both full-sized at the bottom and cropped two ways here, come from a glass plate made by United Railroads photographer John Henry Mentz and preserved by the fabulous SFMTA Photo Archive, to whom all the credit.

Click any image for a full-res version and then zoom in to see details like the ad for Columbia, “the gem of Talking Machines”, available at 125 Geary Street and perfect for the double parlor of your Victorian home. Or lots on which to build your dream San Francisco house: one dollar down, one dollar a week! And if you need to get out of town, check in at the Marine Corps Recruiting Station at 21 Powell Street, right at the cable car turntable!

After a hard day on the job, though, the crew shown here was more likely to stop in at the Transfer Saloon, just steps away at the corner, for a St. Louis Beer or Harper’s Whiskey, as advertised out front. And if they were privileged enough to have a phone at home, they could use the Bell pay phone inside to let the family know where they were…and then maybe drop in at the vaudeville show at Fischer’s theatre, advertised on the Bryant Street wall.

When Mentz took this 1906 photo, streetcars on Fourth ran north to Market, then out Ellis to Golden Gate Park. San Francisco’s oldest preserved streetcar, 1896 “Dinky” 578, ran on this line, on this very track in fact, when it was new. A dinky is faintly visible on the extreme right of the photo below, at about Harrison Street. Could it be our 578?

“Dinky” 578 still carrying passengers before the pandemic at 20th & Church Streets.

In 1947, after Muni took over, the Fourth Street tracks were switched to connect to the original F-line at Stockton and Market, extending the F, which served the Marina, North Beach, and Chinatown, down to the old Southern Pacific train depot. (The 30-Stockton bus took over this route in 1951.)

And today, as seen in the then-and-now view of the whole original photo, the track’s back on Fourth!

Google Streetview

Yep, the spot where the crew was working on Fourth Street in 1906 is now the portal for the lonnnng-awaited Central Subway, which will carry the T-line north under Fourth and Stockton Streets to Union Square and Chinatown, come next year (so we’re told).

In 1906, crews like this one got the tracks on both Fourth and Bryant Streets back in service within two weeks after the quake, even though the saloon and every building in the 1906 photo was incinerated on April 18. The saloon site is now the offramp for the last San Francisco exit from Interstate 80 before the Bay Bridge. So, if you’re hunting for St. Paddy’s Day cheer, look somewhere else. Or better yet, wait til next year, when hopefully we can all celebrate the wearin’ of the green together!

If you enjoy these looks back, and want to keep seeing the past (like 578) present in the future, please consider supporting us. Even the price of a beer helps!

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Powerhouse goes to the dogs (and cats)!

Image from Instagram, San Francisco Animal Care & Control.
Bryant and Alameda Street Powerhouse, 1904. John Henry Mentz photo, SFMTA Archive.

Another artifact of San Francisco’s transit history has gained new life for a worthy cause. The Market Street Railway Company powerhouse at Bryant and Alameda Streets in the Mission District, build in 1893 and expanded in 1902, opened on March 8 as the city’s new Animal Care & Control Center.

The $76 million project retained the building’s historic brick facade and industrial wood windows, but completely gutted the interior to provide state-of-the-art facilities, including a roof run for animals and an open courtyard to provide them (and the humans involved) with fresh air. The city agency takes in around 10,000 domestic and wild animals every year and operates an extensive adoption program for rescued dogs, cats, and other small animals.

Tank Car 0201 transports fuel oil along a spur track on Alameda Street to fill the big oil tank that fueled the original steam generators in the Bryant Street powerhouse, about 1903. This unique streetcar survived into the Muni era, finishing its career by spraying weed-killer on the M-Ocean View line right-of-way. John Henry Mentz photo, SFMTA Archive.

The Bryant Street Powerhouse originally used fuel oil to generate steam that powered the generators. When completed, it was one of the largest electrical generating facilities in the United States. Back on line quickly after the 1906 earthquake, it supplied the city’s surviving downtown buildings, as well as streetcar lines, with power for a time.

Engine Room at the Bryant Street powerhouse, November 9, 1906. SFMTA Archive

The powerhouse was fitted with updated equipment in 1911, which lasted for decades, but it became less central to the transit company’s operations as newer power facilities went up around town. Iconic newer buildings surrounded it: Seals Stadium just one half-block south and the Rainier (later Hamm’s) Brewery across Bryant Street.

Looking northeast from Bryant and Alameda Streets at the Powerhouse, 1942. Market Street Railway’s 25 and 27 lines ran along Bryant. A spur track runs east on Alameda serving an equipment yard a block away. Horace Chaffee photo, SFMTA Archive.

In 1944, Muni took over the building as part of its acquisition of private competitor, Market Street Railway. The power substation soldiered on with its obsolete equipment until 1980, when Muni installed a solid state rectifier in a new building next door where the oil tank pictured above was. (Muni continues to use that power substation.) The old Bryant Street powerhouse hosted Muni’s Overhead Lines Department for the following decades, the building becoming increasingly decrepit.

Muni’s Overhead Lines Department replacing power feeder cables emanating from the Bryant Street powerhouse, November 5, 1951. The Marmon-Herrington trolley coach on the 47 Potrero line is identical to Coach 776, preserved by our nonprofit for Muni. Marshall Moxom photo, SFMTA Archive.

By the mid-2010s, the building had long been stripped of its magnificent electrical equipment. Modern solid-state substations, like Muni’s next-door replacement, were far more compact. (The Bryant facility covers an entire city block.) It provided a poor working environment for the Overhead Lines Department and was really a white elephant for Muni.

The antiquated power equipment was still in use in 1979. SFMTA Archive.

The agencies involved addressed the problem by exchanging one white elephant for another, swapping the Bryant Street building for the existing Animal Control & Care facility, nearby on 15th Street. That 1931 warehouse facility lacked adequate space for the animals, staff, and volunteers and did not meet current seismic and safety codes. The Overhead Lines Department has been relocated to another facility in the Bayview District; no plans for the old animal care facility have been announced.

Above, open courtyard inside the old Bryant Street powerhouse, with room for animals to exercise. Below, the entrance to the new facility. Courtesy photos.

The successful reuse of the Bryant Street Powerhouse, coupled with the recent opening of the Excelsior District community and arts center in the old Geneva Avenue Powerhouse, leaves only one major power facility from the old Market Street Railway days unrestored and unused: the Turk and Fillmore Powerhouse, an iconic landmark in its neighborhood, still sadly neglected. We’ll write about it in the future.

And since you’ve read down this far, here’s another cute photo from SF Animal Care’s Instagram account to see you off. That’s what a lot of you were scrolling down for, right?

You’re welcome!

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Rise and Fall of United Railroads

Excerpted from a chapter in the forthcoming book by Emiliano Echeverria and Michael Dolgushkin, chronicling the complete history of San Francisco’s dominant transit operator for the first two decades of the 20th century.

At the turn of the twentieth century, San Francisco’s transit was coming of age.  The Market Street Railway was in transition from being owned by interests in common with the Southern Pacific, to coming under the control of the partnership of Henry Huntington and I. W. Hellman: The Huntington – Hellman Syndicate.  Management continued with Southern Pacific by mutual agreement.    Things were going quite smoothly, indeed.   Then everything changed.

In August 1900, the power behind everything connected with the Southern Pacific, and the Market Street Railway, Collis P. Huntington, died of heart failure.  In the months just prior to his death, Collis P. Huntington had taken out large loans from the Speyer Brothers, which gave the investors of those loans “temporary” effective control of the Southern Pacific.  Following Collis Huntington’s death, the Speyer Brothers had enough control to decide that they did not want “another Huntington” in the presidency of the Southern Pacific.  With enough intrigue for a spy novel, they elected Arthur Hayes to the presidency of the Southern Pacific Company.

Henry Huntington, as a result, sold all his Southern Pacific stock holdings to investors who sold them to Edward H Harriman of the Union Pacific.  Within a year Harriman would come to control the Southern Pacific.  In addition to selling his holdings in the Southern Pacific, Huntington figured that it may be time to sell his interest in the Market Street Railway, as well.  During the spring of 1901, he was noticing that a group of eastern investors were becoming more than casually interested in Bay Area transit systems.   He decided that conversation with them may be opportune.

The amazing Ferry Terminal near the end of the United Railroads era. At the south terminal, 10, 11, 35 and 36 cars are awaiting their respective departure times.  The loop is full of cars while the North terminal has a 16 car and a Muni E car in the distance.  Click on the photo for a large version, then enlarge it and look around. You’ll see some people wearing masks for the 1918 flu pandemic, some great businesses and ads, and of course, streetcars bearing route numbers still used by Muni today. Is it any wonder that this terminal, with its ferryboats and streetcars was the second busiest intermodal passenger terminal in the world after Charing Cross Station in London?  Photo by John Henry Mentz, URR #U07146, Courtesy, Western Neighborhoods Project # wnp100.10021

Eastern Investors, the Brown Brothers, Get Their Foothold

The group of “Eastern Capitalists,” The Brown Brothers, known locally as “The Baltimore Syndicate,” first entered the San Francisco transportation scene with the purchase of the San Francisco & San Mateo Electric Railway on May 12, 1901. This meant that the San Francisco & San Mateo Railway was the founding basis for URR, not the Market Street Railway which was several months later. The following July 1 the Syndicate bought the Sutter Street Railway, which included the two Richmond District lines purchased from the Sutro Railroad in 1899.

On July 11, 1901, the Market Street Railway President Henry Huntington and financier I. W. Hellman met with Baltimore Syndicate representative George R. Webb who began negotiations toward purchase, along with California State Attorney General Tirey L. Ford and San Francisco mining operator R. G. Hanford representing the Syndicate.

The agreements were announced in the press on November 7, 1901, and the Market Street Railway’s operating assets were transferred to the new United Railroads of San Francisco on March 18, 1902.  Market Street Railway was reorganized by I.W. Hellman as a holding corporation handling the financial obligations of both the Market Street Railway and the United Railroads, particularly its bonded indebtedness.

Brown Brothers representative Arthur Holland became president of United Railroads.  George F. Chapman was appointed General Manager on May 22. It soon became obvious that the Baltimore Syndicate had paid far too much for the property, somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 to 40 million dollars. This overvaluation proved an untenable situation for the company and plagued it throughout its existence.

It soon also became apparent that Patrick Calhoun of the United Railways investment Company, URR’s largest individual stockholder, acted as the power behind the scenes. Indeed, Calhoun was sent to San Francisco in 1903 to mediate the company’s dispute with the carmen’s union, a situation which prompted a news reporter to ask President Holland who was actually running the company.  

The Brown Brothers Get Cold Feet: Ladenburg-Thalmann and The Rise of Patrick Calhoun

By April of 1905 the Brown Brothers had realized the futility of making a profit from a transit operation with overly watered stock, franchises of limited duration, and an only partially modernized system; and began negotiations to sell their interests in the United Railways Investment Company including its subsidiary United Railroads to the merchant banking firm of Ladenburg, Thalmann and Company.   

In November Calhoun was back in San Francisco ostensibly for the purpose of attempting to negotiate a solution to the question of overhead trolley wires on Market and Sutter Streets, a matter which had been stewing all year. A few days later, on November 23, Arthur Holland announced his resignation as president of United Railroads, citing the Brown Brothers desire to withdraw from management of the company. Calhoun’s presence in San Francisco at the time Ladenburg, Thalmann & Company was taking over management can hardly be seen as a coincidence and, indeed, he was elected president of United Railroads on December 30, 1905. Among other factors, the new ownership and Calhoun’s ascendancy resulted in a much less friendly attitude toward organized labor.  Calhoun, after a lengthy stay in New York, returned to San Francisco on March 12 to deal with proposed improvements to the United Railroads system and the perennial overhead trolley issue.

Here we see a typical street scene on the 5 McAllister line looking east from Webster in April 1920.  This line was roughly the same as today’s 5-Fulton trolley coach.  McAllister Street’s buildings in this area were 40-50 years old already and passing their prime.  Indeed, by this time McAllister Street was settling into its role as “Second-Hand-Row”, with its proliferation of thrift stores and the like lining the street from Octavia to Fillmore.  This was indeed “The City That Was” too, as everything in this image was destroyed for redevelopment in the late 1960s. Click to enlarge and look at the storefronts.  Photo by John Henry Mentz, URR, Courtesy SFMTA Archives # U06974

Everything Changes

The great earthquake and fire of April 18-21, 1906 stopped United Railroads operations – cold, although cars began running on Fillmore Street the night of the 21st.  Company headquarters moved temporarily to the Turk and Fillmore Car-house. The Royal, New York Underwriters, and Phoenix Insurance Companies were named adjustors of United Railroads losses. As the city rebuilt the company’s route structure and methods of operation changed.   A couple of months later URR set up a more substantial temporary headquarters at the location of the former Oak & Broderick Power House.  Here, company management could function until a new headquarters was found at 58 Sutter, its permanent home.

Then, on March 10, 1907, the receivers of the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company joined other creditors (including General Electric and the Lorain Steel Company) in an adjustment of their claims against United Railroads, which had a floating indebtedness amounting to $3,500,000 and faced receivership. United Railways Investment Company agreed to issue notes in that amount to be secured by an issue of first preferred stock in United Railroads, to bear a 6 per cent interest, and be payable for the first half in August 1912, and the second half in February 1914. Patrick Calhoun blamed this situation on money lost during the recent strike, and said that the company was “cleaning up its finances.”

On May 5, 1907, the carmen went out on strike, during which United Railroads Vice President and General Manager George F Chapman passed away from pneumonia. After a brief interim tenure by Thornwell Mullaly, he was replaced as General Manager by Charles N. Black on September 11, 1907.

In December 1908, the United Railways Investment Company gained control of the Stanislaus Water Power Company, giving United Railroads not only abundant power for its lines but also a surplus of approximately 40,000 horsepower available for sale, saving the company $300,000 to $500,000.

Holding Companies Take Over Ownership

The Railroads and Power Development Company was formed on June 9, 1909, as a holding company which owned all stock, except directors’ qualifying shares of the United Railroads, San Francisco Electric Railways, Sierra and San Francisco Power Company, and Coast Valleys Gas and Electric Company. It also served the purpose of shielding United Railways Investment Company from United Railroads’ financial obligations.

The California Railway and Power Company was organized under the laws of Delaware on December 18, 1912, to acquire from The Railroads and Power Development Company all of the outstanding stock of the United Railroads of San Francisco, The San Francisco Electric Railway Company. Sierra and San Francisco Power Company, and Coast Valley Gas and Electric Company. All the issued common and preferred stock of California Railway and Power Company was owned by United Railways Investment Company.  Ladenburg, Thalmann still retained some financial stake in United Railroads, but their influence immediately waned.

One of United Railroads’ worst defeats came in 1918 when Muni finally was able to have its rails reach from Castro to the Ferry, creating the famous four-track “Roar of the Four” on Market Street.   True city competition had arrived on Market, ending the transportation monopoly that URR and its predecessors had enjoyed on San Francisco’s main street for over a half a century.  Already crippled, URR would soon find its collapse, under the tragic circumstance of a horrible wreck in Visitacion Valley that year.  In this 1918 photo, only the J and K lines were in Muni service on Market Street, leaving those outside tracks looking pretty empty, a far cry from the conga line of continuous URR cars on the inside tracks. Click to enlarge and look around this intersection of Fourth Street, Market, Stockton, and Eddy, all of them served by streetcars then.  Courtesy Emiliano Echeverria / Randolph Brant Collection, Western Neighborhoods Project # wnp30.0143

Patrick Calhoun Out, Jesse Lilienthal Ascends to the Presidency

On August 28, 1913, Patrick Calhoun resigned, and after a very brief tenure by Mason B. Starring, Jesse W. Lilienthal assumed the presidency of United Railroads.

Calhoun quit the United Railways Investment Company Board in April, 1914. The following month it was revealed that Calhoun had gotten permission by the United Railroads Board to purchase outside stock with company money, which he used instead to invest in the failed Solano Land Company to the tune of what was reported in the newspapers as $1,096,000 but was actually closer to $3,000,000. This sparked an investigation by the State Railroad Commission as to whether the money had been returned to United Railroads, and what the company intended to do if it hadn’t. Tirey L. Ford stated that he voted for the resolution but never heard the land company’s name mentioned. Lilienthal called the matter “ancient history,” and said he was not positive where the money was placed. He was supposedly unaware of the company’s financial state when he accepted the presidency, and said he would not have accepted it had he known. He also came under fire for his handling of his predecessor’s actions.

In 1916, during the midst of much corporate chaos, William Von Phul was appointed to succeed Charles N. Black as general manager of United Railroads on June 1, 1916. Not long afterwards a reorganization plan for the company was announced, which would involve a blanket mortgage for the entire property. The $1,000,000 United Railroads notes and the $1,925,000 California and Power notes would be taken care of by stock in the reorganized company. The outstanding $7,053,000 Market Street Railway 5s would receive par or 90. Bankers immediately began to express doubt over this arrangement, particularly if 4 per cent bonds could be placed at 50.                  

Not long after, the company’s bondholders invited Frank B. Anderson, William H. Crocker, Herbert Fleishhacker, I. W. Hellman, Jr., and J. D. McKee to form a new reorganization committee. About two weeks later the committee asked the four percent bondholders to deposit their securities with the Union Trust Company, hinting that the next coupons could not be paid unless the proposed organization could be consummated. Late in September the committee announced a plan in which the 4% bonds would get 25% in Market Street 5s and 46% in first preferred, wiping out $44,330,100 in URR’s liabilities.

Shortly thereafter, bankers revealed plans to pay URR bondholders 71 cents on the dollar, the company announced default on its October interest, and doubts were raised about whether the committee’s plan would do what was intended. In November, the Railroad Commission requested an inventory and appraisal of URR property, and the Baltimore Trust Company opposed the reorganization plan, asking for a better deal for its bondholders. By the end of the year a suit was brought by the Oakland Bank of Savings and D. A. Bulmore, along with the Anglo and London Paris National Bank, to foreclose the trust mortgage securing the outstanding $1,800,000 in outstanding Market Street Cable Railway bonds.

The United Railroads reorganization scheme, and opposition to it, dragged through the beginning of 1917, as clamor for purchase by the city increased. By the end of April the reorganization plans appeared to have been completed, with the bondholders to receive 66 2/3% of their holdings in new 6% bonds, 1% to 3% in new 6% first preferred stock, and 33% in new common stock. This seemed to satisfy everyone for the time being, but the issue was pushed to the back burner for the rest of the year by the United States entry into World War I, and the carmen’s strike (resulting in further agitation for municipal purchase). During this lull in negotiations, in October 1918, the California Railway and Power Company reported on its poor financial state, and blamed it primarily on the previous year’s strike. 

The Reorganization Gets Back on Track

Early in 1919, the previously dormant reorganization plan was once again active, with Lilienthal explaining that the restructuring would be done in a way that would give a large margin between the expected earnings and the fixed charges, which would be accomplished by the holders of the United Railroads 4 per cent bonds taking junior securities in exchange, and that Ladenburg, Thalmann would accept junior securities of the reorganized company in exchange for the $5,000,000 obligation of the present one. The holders of the Market Street Cable 6s, the Ferries & Cliff House 6s, The Omnibus Cable Company 6s, and the Sutter Street Railway 5s, totaling $5,200,000, would receive par. Progress on this matter continued to be made into the next month, and its sinking fund 4 per cent bond certificates increased in value. However, Thornwell Mullally stepped down as assistant to the president of URR on February 25, 1919.

 Although no one knew at the time, Jesse Lilienthal’s appointment as President of URR, like for George Chapman before him, would be the death of him.  United Railroads President Jesse W. Lilienthal died of a stroke on June 3, 1919, as he was giving a speech at the Colonial Ballroom at the Hotel St. Francis, his last words being “In times like these we know no creeds. For the American of today there should be only this thought-one country, one flag, one God.” Lilienthal passed without having seen his desire for city purchase of the company come to fruition. William Von Phul took his place while also retaining the general manager position of United Railroads.

 During the summer and fall of 1919, the United Railroads reorganization plans continued and were further amended. In August it was announced that 100 per cent of par would be offered, but with a reduced proportion of Market Street Railway bonds, and the balance made up in stock of all three issues. The following month came the news that the reorganization plans had been perfected. The United Railroads would cease to exist and the Market Street Railway Company, with a new $32,150,000 capitalization, would reacquire all the properties. A few days later the United Railroads bondholders were asked to deposit their securities with E. H. Rollins & Sons in return for five year 6 per cent notes. As of late November 1920, the plan had met with approval among the bondholders, but had not yet gone before the Railroad Commission for approval.

We’re looking north on Fillmore in 1920. That’s Sutter Street crossing just ahead. This was one of the busiest transfer points in the whole URR system.  Here, Line # 3 Sutter – Jackson cars turned off Sutter onto Fillmore and turned to Jackson Street where the line served residents of Pacific Heights.  Within a few Months URR was no more: Market Street Railway arose from the ashes of URR.  (And those decorative arches are no more either, of course, torn down in a World War II scrap metal drive.) Click to enlarge, and check out the Uber-predecessor jitney looking to steal streetcar riders at left, parked behind an electric delivery truck, both proving that old ideas can become new again. Photo by John Henry Mentz, URR, Courtesy SFMTA Archives # U06961

1920-21 – The Death of URR and the Rebirth of MSR

The petition for the United Railroads reorganization was not presented to the Railroad Commission until June 18, 1920, as clamor for city purchase persisted. The plan was formally submitted on September 10, with a reduction in the company’s capitalization from $81,945,600 to $47,516,000. The Railroad Commission approved the plan, and on January 29, 1921, the Union Trust Company began foreclosure proceedings against United Railroads, with the reorganization expected to take effect in 60 days. Those proceedings were temporarily halted on February 5, but were soon allowed to continue. The receiver’s sale took place on March 21, signaling the corporate end of United Railroads, and brought $7,000,000. Several steps remained to be taken, but on April 1, 1921 the Market Street Railway Company regained operation of most of San Francisco’s privately-owned street railway lines.

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F-line to return in May, Hyde cable later this year!

Mayor London Breed told a group from Fisherman’s Wharf this morning that F-line vintage streetcar service will return to the full length of the route, from Castro to Fisherman’s Wharf, in May. Cable car service on the Powell-Hyde line (only, for now) will resume as early as mid-summer, but many details remain to be worked out and that date could change. There is no word at this point when service on the Powell-Mason or California lines might resume. It is… — Read More

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End of (last original) track

When street railway companies laid tracks in San Francisco streets, they were responsible for maintaining the area around the tracks. That’s part of the reason it was customary to lay a row of basalt pieces right next to the outer rails. The dense, heavy, gray stone is correctly called Belgian block or sett though often mistakenly called cobblestone. (Cobbles are more egg shaped.) The Belgian block provides a buffer between the rails and the street paving. When streets are paved… — Read More

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The 15-Third is back

Though not this exact bus. In a time when many of its well-established lines, including the F-Market historic streetcars (which carried more than 20,000 riders a day) are still suspended because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Muni is adding an entirely new route. No, wait. What they’re doing is reviving the well-known bus line known as the 15-Third, and setting it up kind of like a T-Express, to provide faster service downtown from the Hunters Point neighborhood and points along Third… — Read More

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Final restored PCC back home

The last of 16 streamlined PCC streetcars completely rebuilt for Muni by Brookville Equipment Company was delivered to its owner today. Car 1007 was built for Muni by St. Louis Car Company in 1948 and ran daily until it was retired in 1982. Our nonprofit successfully lobbied for it and the other surviving cars in the original class of ten cars to be preserved by Muni when it scrapped or sold many of its other 100+ PCCs. Our advocacy was… — Read More

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Unique gifts for SF transit fans

Our online store is the place to get transit-related San Francisco gifts you can’t find anywhere else. And with our physical museum across from the Ferry Building closed by the pandemic, the online store is the ONLY place to find these unique items. Take a look at the wonderful array of gifts for everyone on your list. Big or small, we have it all, from apparel and books to cute little stocking stuffers! Don’t hesitate – we have a limited… — Read More

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Market Street 1932: Wowza!

Market Street, in color, in 1932, when essentially all film was black and white. And not just static, like the photo above, but in full and glorious rumble. Click the video below and prepare to get lost in the past for the next four minutes. This trip up Market Street between the Ferry and Grant Avenue was original actual black and white motion picture footage that our friend Rick Prelinger, founder of Prelinger Archives, turned us onto several years ago.… — Read More

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Uncovering Cal Cable’s past

Constructing a new form of transportation for San Francisco, workers uncovered an old one the other day. Contractors building the Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project scraped away asphalt to find the vertical curve of the original California Street cable car line bending westward and upward towards Franklin Street. Below, that same block, with a cable car descending the hill on this same track, before the Cal line was savagely cut in half on December 30, 1956 (a dark… — Read More

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What might have been: Geary

Editors Note: An early version of this article appeared in a past issue of Inside Track, our member magazine with exclusive stories and inside information about Muni’s historic streetcars and cable cars. Click here to become a member and receive it. Geary was Muni’s first “backbone”. It is still easily its busiest corridor, operated now with buses longer than it was with streetcars. By any transit measure, its ridership justifies rail service on Geary, including a subway through at least… — Read More

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