107 Years Ago Today

December 28, 1912, about 1 p.m., looking west on Geary Street at Grant Avenue. A crowd estimated at 50,000 people engulfs Muni’s first streetcars as they inaugurate the A-Geary line. Car 3 is in the foreground, left, trailing Cars 2 and 1 (which carried Mayor “Sunny Jim” Rolph). Click the photo and enjoy the wonderful detail. Try to find a bareheaded person (we found only one). Go window shopping at The Paragon, where a year-end 1/4-1/2 off sale is underway (that building is still there). Note that Car 3 is missing its rear “A” route plate (Did they run out? Was it filched?) A remarkable image. Courtesy SFMTA Archive.

On December 28, 1912, ten shiny gray streetcars with brick-red roofs lined up on Geary Street, from Kearny Street to Grant Avenue. The first, Numbered 1 in gold leaf outlined in black, opened its black scissor gate. Up stepped the Mayor of the City and County of San Francisco, James Rolph, Jr.

From his pocket, he took a Liberty Head nickel, with a large “V” on the back (people knew back then that was the roman numeral for “five”). He nodded at conductor Nathan Rahn, in his crisp navy blue uniform, and dropped it into the firebox. It clanked. The press was told this 1912-S nickel was one of the first 40 ever minted at the San Francisco Mint at Fifth and Mission. The Mayor strode through the car, its crisp pale yellow rattan streets still pristine, its wood paneling still smelling of varnish.

Originally, the streetcars were to have been decorated, and the Municipal Band was supposed to be aboard the first car, playing its way along the line to the initial terminal at 33rd Avenue. The Mayor personally scotched this idea, saying, “Let’s get the cars going all right first, and toot our horn afterward”. Still, the crowd estimated at 50,000 San Franciscans roared for a speech from the mayor. He answered their call with these remarks:

“It is in reality the people’s road, built by the people and with the people’s money. The first cable road in the country was built in San Francisco, and now the first municipal railway of the country is built in San Francisco. Our operation of this road will be closely watched by the whole country. s must prove a success! … I want everyone to feel that it is but the nucleus of a mighty system of streetcar lines which will someday encompass the entire city.”

Mayor James Rolph, Jr., December 28, 1912

Mayor Rolph then joined Motorman Eugene Clisbee on the front platform of Car 1, gave the signal, and the streetcar inched forward through the swarms of people to loud cheers, and the silent salute of dozens of American flags hanging from the upper floors of surrounding buildings. Filled with dignitaries and (literal) hangers-on, Car 1 picked up speed as the crowd thinned, and by Jones Street, was making good time. A photographer snapped the shot below, with an escort automobile next to it. (That photo ended up in the San Francisco Public Library with a notation “date and location unknown”. Until our nonprofit recognized it for what it was, documented the location and event, and publicized it.)

Car 1 on December 28, 1912, westbound on Geary at Jones Street. San Francisco Public Library.

While Mayor Rolph loved photo-ops, he was no one-block-and-off guy. He rode every inch of track, followed by the other cars that had lined up behind. Muni only owned ten streetcars initially, but just over two years later, they would be operating almost 200 streetcars on seven lines (plus two special lines for the 1915 exposition). With the opening of tunnels under San Francisco hills in 1918 and 1928, Rolph’s vision of city-wide Muni service would be achieved during his own tenure as mayor (he was elected governor in 1930).

Car 1 (center) near the end of its first service life at Sutro Barn, 32nd Avenue and Clement Street, 1949. MSR Archive.

Muni’s first ten streetcars were retired in 1951. Only Car 1 of this group was preserved, for possible static display in a museum. But in 1962, Muni craftworkers restored it to its original appearance to celebrate the Railway’s 50th anniversary, and it gave rides on Market Street for a nickel one week. This was the germ of an idea to operate historic streetcar service on our main street, brought to reality with the Historic Trolley Festivals of the 1980, which were the result of advocacy from early leaders of Market Street Railway (the nonprofit named for Muni’s old private competitor). The success of the Trolley Festivals led to the permanent F-Market line, which opened in 1995 and was extended to Fisherman’s Wharf in 2000, again thanks in large measure to the persistent and persuasive advocacy of Market Street Railway.

Rust and rot, Car 1, 2004. MSR Archive.

As for Car 1 itself, it began to rust and rot in the sun and rain after the covered storage sheds at Geneva Division were demolished in the 1980s. Market Street Railway advocated successfully for both restoration of this priceless vehicle and construction of protective covered storage for the historic streetcar fleet, both achieved around Muni’s centennial year of 2012.

Running any big-city transit agency is tough, to say the least. Running one in a high-density city with increasingly crowded streets is tougher yet. Despite the challenges, Muni’s leaders, with strong support from elected officials, have managed to turn one of America’s oldest transit fleets into one of its newest, and its greenest as well, in the past eight years. All while operating the nation’s largest fleet of vintage transit vehicles (cable cars as well as streetcars) in regular daily service, taking people where they want to go with delight.

Car 1, completely restored, at Muni’s centennial celebration on April 5, 2012, with many dignitaries including (on platform) Mayor Ed Lee, former Mayor Willie Brown, and Senator Dianne Feinstein. SFMTA photo.

Market Street Railway is proud to serve as Muni’s nonprofit preservation partner and salute it on its 107th anniversary. Please consider a year-end tax-deductible donation or membership to help us in our mission of preserving historic transit in San Francisco by clicking here. Thanks, and Happy 2020, everyone!

Source credit for opening day detail: “The People’s Railway” by Anthony Perles.

No Comments on 107 Years Ago Today
Share

Happy Centennial of a Big Global Streetcar Event

Tram procession on Riversdale Road, Camberwell, Melbourne, November 10, 1991. Courtesy Australian Rail Maps Group on Facebook.

Today is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Melbourne & Metropolitan Tramways Board (M&MTB), whose history is wonderfully summarized in the quoted sections below, which were originally posted on Facebook by the group Australian Rail Maps, which also provided the historic photo from 1991 above.

The M&MTB built both of Muni’s W-class trams: W2 496 in 1929, and SW6 916 in 1946. (Muni also has W2 586, built in 1930, complete and in storage.) W-class trams are generally considered among the best ever built anywhere: simple, reliable, and durable. There were eight evolutionary classes of these vehicles, built between 1923 and 1956. In the photo above, W Class 380 and W1 Class 431 bring up the rear of this procession of older trams. Originally M&MTB painted its trams in a chocolate brown, but switched to the iconic green livery in the late 1920s. W-class trams still hold down service on the 35-City Circle line, as famous to Melbourne as cable cars are to San Francisco. These trams are in the process of being upgraded with some modern features while retaining their historic fabric into the W8 class, for decades more service. We have shared some of the details of these upgrades with Muni, for possible incorporation into its Melbourne trams.

You can find a complete all-time roster of Melbourne trams here.

Melbourne today continues to operate the largest electric streetcar network in the world, thanks to the enduring commitment started by M&MTB. Happy Centennial to our friends Down Under. And thanks to Adolfo Echeverry for the great photo immediately below of Muni’s 496 (left) and 916 at the Ferry Building.

Founded on November 1 1919, the Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board was a State Government instrumentality charged with integrating and operating Melbourne’s then fragmented tramways. The city and suburbs possessed an impressive but disjoint collection of tramways that had evolved over decades. The MMTB inherited the cable tram network built between 1885 and 1919 by the Melbourne Tramway & Omnibus Company (MTOC), and the Northcote Municipality Cable Tramway line. Comprising numerous lines centred on downtown Melbourne, cable trams ran in all directions into the inner suburbs and was world’s largest ever cable tramway network.
The MMTB also inherited a number of municipal-owned electric tramway networks that served surrounding municipalities. Many lines connected end-on with cable trams into the centre of Melbourne. These networks included those of the Prahran & Malvern Tramways Trust (PMTT), the Hawthorn Tramways Trust (HTT), the Melbourne, Brunswick and Coburg Tramways Trust (MBCTT), the Fitzroy, Northcote and Preston Tramways Trust (FNPTT), and the then under construction Footscray Tramways Trust (FTT). It also took over the operations of the privately owned North Melbourne Electric Tramway & Lighting Company and Melbourne’s last remaining horse tram route from Royal Parade to Melbourne Zoo in Royal Park.
The MMTB set about unifying and standardising the network. Over the decades it replaced cable trams with electric trams. The last cable tram route, along Bourke Street, closed in 1940. It embarked on a massive electric tramcar modernisation and building program that gave the world the famous W class tram and enabled the older pre-MMTB trams to be withdrawn.
Ultimately, it’s because of the MMTB that Melbourne was able to stand strong against the worldwide destruction of tram networks throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and has not only retained but extended its network so that it is now the world’s largest electric tram network. Trams are now the single most iconic and defining feature of the city.
Ultimately the MMTB was dissolved on July 1 1983 when it was replaced by the Metropolitan Transit Authority that merged tram, bus and suburban train services in Melbourne. Subsequent changes have led to operation of Melbourne’s trams nowadays being franchised to Keolis Downer and run under the banner of Yarra Trams.

–From Australian Rail Maps Group on Facebook, November 1, 2019
No Comments on Happy Centennial of a Big Global Streetcar Event
Share

Flashback to 1906 on June 26

Where is this exactly? Come to our museum on June 26 and find out.

In the latest installment of Market Street Railway’s series of history talks, called Inside Track Live, you’ll be able to see the famous 1906 Miles Brothers film, “A Trip Down Market Street”, as you’ve never seen it before.

On Wednesday, June 26 at 6 p.m., at our San Francisco Railway Museum, MSR President Rick Laubscher will present the highest-quality transfer of this precious film ever made, showing a 12-minute ride from Eighth Street to the Ferry along Market Street, shot from the front of a cable car just a few days before the Earthquake and Fire destroyed almost everything visible in the film.

Rick has narrated the film, providing insights into not only the transportation history involved, but the social and economic history of 1906 San Francisco as well.

At Inside Track Live, we’ll play the film all the way through with its narration, asking audience members to note anything they see that they have questions. Then, we’ll play the film again, pausing to discuss audience questions with Rick wherever one comes up. It should be a lively, interactive hour or so of history.

Admission is free for Market Street Railway members. We ask a voluntary $5 donation from members of the public.

Take a free ride on the 1934 Blackpool Boat Tram from our museum to the Wharf the afternoon before the film presentation.

BONUS: the 1934 Blackpool “Boat Tram” will be running from our museum to Pier 39 and back that afternoon, with the last trip leaving about 4 p.m. Come down early, take a “boat” ride (free!) and peruse the Ferry Building’s great market. Make an afternoon/early evening of it!

By the way, our newly-enhanced, exclusive narrated version of “A Trip Down Market Street”, with realistic sound effects, is available on DVD both at our museum and our online store.

No Comments on Flashback to 1906 on June 26
Share

Best Version Yet of Iconic 1906 Movie

In 1906, it didn’t get more high tech than this iconic 12-minute movie, filmed from the front of a cable car headed down Market Street. If you’re a San Francisco history buff (or transit buff), you’ve probably seen it before, but not like this. A new digital transfer by the noted film archivist Rick Prelinger breathes more life into it, sharper and wider-screen. (Back then, the image was captured to the edges of the film, even between the sprocket holes; this version includes that.)

Surprisingly to us, the film had never appeared in a narrated version, explaining exactly where you are and providing the social and economic context of what you’re seeing. Market Street President Rick Laubscher, a San Francisco historian and former journalist, did that several years ago, and has now updated that narration with new information that has come to light. Additionally, we have added sound effects by Mike Upchurch to provide some atmosphere.

Thanks to film historian David Kiehn, we now know that this iconic film, by the Miles Brothers, was shot on or about April 14, 1906, just four days before the great Earthquake and Fire. (It was previously believed to have been filmed in August 1905.)

To commemorate the 113th anniversary of the April 18 catastrophe, which ended an era in San Francisco, we have posted this new version of the film on YouTube. We will be providing it through our online store and in our San Francisco Railway Museum in coming weeks.

No Comments on Best Version Yet of Iconic 1906 Movie
Share

Happy Centennial to One “L” of a Streetcar Line

On April 12, 1919, the first L-Taraval streetcar hit the rails, overcoming obstacles to begin a century of service that continues today. The Twin Peaks Tunnel had opened fourteen months before, bringing fast streetcar service from downtown to the nearly empty southwestern quadrant of the city. Initially, there was just one line, the K, but property owners in the areas above and west of the tunnel, who had paid for its construction, expected – and demanded – more. So, Muni… — Read More

No Comments on Happy Centennial to One “L” of a Streetcar Line
Share

Black Barrier-Breakers in San Francisco Transit

In recent decades, memorable African-American leaders have made history in San Francisco transit. There’s Curtis E. Green, Sr., the first black general manager of a major US transit agency. H. Welton Flynn, first black San Francisco City Commissioner, and leader of Muni’s governing boards for many years. Larry Martin, a powerful and persuasive head of Muni’s operators’ union. For this year’s Black History Month, we’ll reach back further in time, to highlight three women and one man who broke barriers… — Read More

No Comments on Black Barrier-Breakers in San Francisco Transit
Share

London Buses in SF: 1952

The librarian for the San Francisco Chronicle, Bill Van Niekerken, comes up with some dandy articles by digging through the newspaper’s voluminous archives. Somehow, we missed this great story and photos, showing three double-deck London Transport buses coming to, and driving through, San Francisco on a cross-country British tourism promotion in 1952. The photo above shows one of the RTL-type buses (predecessor to London Transport’s famed Routemasters) on Market Street at Eighth, sharing the street with three “Iron Monster” Muni… — Read More

No Comments on London Buses in SF: 1952
Share

Muni: 106 and Counting

On December 28, 1912, Mayor James Rolph, Jr. took one of the first five cent pieces minted in San Francisco, put it into a farebox, pulled on his operator’s cap, and personally piloted it out Geary Street. It was the first run, on the first day, with the first streetcar owned by the public in a large American city. It was the birth of Muni. Today, Muni is celebrating with a post highlighting some of the great photos of their… — Read More

No Comments on Muni: 106 and Counting
Share

See ‘Lost Landscapes’ Dec. 4 and 5

  Our friend Rick Prelinger, creator of the Internet Archive, has been making special programs of vintage films of San Francisco for over a decade now. Rick has collected a wonderful mix of home movies, commercial film outtakes, travelogues, and other celluloid representations of our city, and invites the audience to shout out their reactions. It’s the ultimate interactive show! This year’s event is extra special, because Rick has made the best restoration yet of the famed “Trip Down Market… — Read More

No Comments on See ‘Lost Landscapes’ Dec. 4 and 5
Share

Steam Streetcar on Market Street, 1864

Yep, you read that right. Before Market Street had electric streetcars, cable cars, or horse-powered streetcars, it had a STEAM-powered streetcar. In fact, this was the first rail transit on Market Street, started up in 1860. This photo, which we had not seen before, just surfaced on a Facebook group, without a source reference. It shows Market Street during the Civil War (the date given is 1864, and that seems at least very close). We’re looking west, toward Twin Peaks.… — Read More

No Comments on Steam Streetcar on Market Street, 1864
Share

“Coming to Town” Talk to Help Open Salesforce Transit Center August 11

  Lots of buzz about the new $2.1 Salesforce Transit Center holding its grand opening Saturday, August 11. For example, this story in the Examiner, worth a read for the historic context. Or this one, about the incredible park atop the terminal. Or this one, about the loonnng delay in getting train service (commuter and high-speed to LA) into the terminal  in the afternoon. But in this post, we’re inviting everyone to the new center’s bus deck at 1 pm… — Read More

No Comments on “Coming to Town” Talk to Help Open Salesforce Transit Center August 11
Share

Happy 145th Anniversary, Cable Cars!

August 2, 1873 — In the wee small hours of a misty San Francisco night (they didn’t call the month “Fogust” back then, but it was), a new type of transit was about to be inaugurated. An endless wire rope clattered beneath Clay Street. An odd open vehicle sat on the rails at the top of the hill. Standing by was Andrew Smith Hallidie, a Scot who had experience using wire rope in the mining business, and was part of… — Read More

No Comments on Happy 145th Anniversary, Cable Cars!
Share

A Gripping Evening with Val Lupiz

Val Lupiz, expert gripman and San Francisco historian, was hosted on July 18 by MSR Board member Paul Lucas in the second installment of Market Street Railway’s quarterly series Inside Track-Live! A packed house at our San Francisco Railway Museum was treated to hearing how Val started as a rail-obsessed kid, to being the only gripman to operate historic Cable Car 42 in multiple Muni Heritage Festivals. Val’s stories ranged from heartwarming— helping passengers with marriage proposals— to uproarious— how… — Read More

No Comments on A Gripping Evening with Val Lupiz
Share

Meet Cable Car Historian Val Lupiz July 18

San Francisco has a tradition of unique personalities who share a deep love of this special place. Nothing is more special in our special cities than the cable cars, and no one has a deeper love for our rolling National Historic Landmark than Val Lupiz. Val just celebrated his 19th anniversary as a cable car gripman, so he knows today’s system inside out. He also knows cable car history better than almost anyone else. That photo, above, is Val’s creation:… — Read More

No Comments on Meet Cable Car Historian Val Lupiz July 18
Share

New Heritage Cable Car Livery Selected

Thanks to a rare photo posted by cable car gripman and historian Val Lupiz, Market Street Railway has selected its next heritage cable car livery. We’re calling it the “blank slate” livery. Ten of the Powell Street cable cars are painted in heritage liveries — the paint schemes Powell cable cars actually wore at different points in their 130 year history.  But no heritage liveries have yet been applied to California Street cable cars as yet because, except for one… — Read More

No Comments on New Heritage Cable Car Livery Selected
Share