Cable Car Holiday Tradition

DG0005, Californa St cable car decorated for Christmas, California at Presidio, early 50's(Phillip Scherer)We’ve been loving the decorated cable cars on the Powell and California lines this holiday season (see photo below). The idea of decorated cable cars actually goes back at least 65 years to the last desperate years of the California Street Cable Railway Company.

After Muni took over the Powell Cable lines in 1944, “Cal Cable” soldiered on with its three lines: California from Market all the way out to Presidio Avenue (where the car above is pictured, in front of the old Jewish Community Center); O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde (the northern end of which was later incorporated into one of the Powell lines); and the Jones Street shuttle from Market to O’Farrell. But Cal Cable, a small privately owned company, was getting deeper and deeper into financial straits. This led to creative fund-raising ideas, such as soliciting “all over” advertising for some of their cable cars, precursors to the ghastly ad “wraps” we see today on Muni LRVs and buses (but thanks in part to our advocacy, not on the historic streetcars!).

The shot above dates to the last holiday season of operation for Cal Cable. It has to be 1950, since the trolley bus wires are in place for the impending conversion of Muni’s 1-California to trolley coaches. Cal Cable shut down operations in mid-1951 when they were unable to get insurance, leaving their cables silent for holiday season of that year. (Muni took over Cal Cable and resumed operations in early 1952.) The car is sponsored by Hiram Walker, a Canadian distiller, and advertises its Imperial whiskey.

Below, we see a decorated California Street cable car headed downtown from Powell Street in a December 17 photo from the SFMTA blog.

Night Street Scenes and Cable CarsHappy Holidays, everyone!