Streetcars bring smiles to the streets

Smiles are breaking out along the city’s waterfront and along Market Street, as Muni’s vintage streetcars are out in force for the first time in more than a year. The F-line is running a full test schedule, including pull-outs and pull-ins along the J-Church line, in advance of the official reopening of the line for passenger service on May 15. Initial service will run seven days a week, but just eight hours a day (11 am-7 pm) initially, running the whole route from Castro to Fisherman’s Wharf.

EXTRA smiles popped out today with refresher training on two of Muni’s most popular vintage streetcars, including the oldest operating passenger streetcar in America, single-truck “Dinky” 578, which celebrates its 125th birthday at the end of the summer. The great shot above, on the Castro curve at 17th and Market, comes from Jeremy Whiteman.

Traci Cox, normally a master of the low-angle shot, checks in with an “above-it-all” shot of Boat Tram 228 cruising along Church behind a new Siemens LRV, with PCC 1071 in its yellow Minneapolis-St. Paul livery, headed toward its F-line test run.

Here are some other great shots from today. It feels a lot different — and better — on the streets of San Francisco now. The colorful F-line cars make a huge difference.

Cincinnati “Bumblebee” 1057 at the Castro terminal. Peter Straus photo
Chicago “Green Hornet” 1058 on Upper Market. Peter Straus photo
Boston PCC 1059 at Powell, with Cable Car 24 on display on Willie Mays’ 90th birthday. Val Lupiz photo
Philadelphia “Cream Cheese” PCC 1060 at Westfield Centre. Val Lupiz photo

And to finish, c’mon, you know you want to see another boat photo. Here’s a great one to end with, another Traci Cox high angle shot on San Jose Avenue, as the boat tram headed back to Cameron Beach Yard today.

And don’t forget you can vote for your favorite streetcar right now! Click here to learn more!

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Vote for your favorite streetcar!

People all around the world love San Francisco’s vintage streetcars…and now you can vote for your favorite no matter where you are. Our board member Chris Arvin has put together brackets on Facebook and Twitter to make it easy and fun. It’s part of our continuing celebration to welcome back F-line streetcar service from Fisherman’s Wharf to Castro, which resumes May 15.

Fans know that Muni has streetcars from all over the world. Many are unique streetcars more than 90 years old, including its very first streetcar, built in 1912, and an even older little San Francisco streetcar, built in 1896. The largest single group of streetcars are the Art Deco-looking “PCC” cars, of the kind Muni, and 32 other cities around North America once ran. Most of the ones in Muni’s fleet are painted in colorful, accurate designs used 70-80 years ago in those cities.

See all the streetcars in Muni’s historic fleet here.

We’re doing this in a bracket competition like the NCAA “March Madness”. Because brackets require a fixed number of entries, we’ve had to leave off a few cars this time around. So this competition is between cars we expect to actually see operating at some point this year (with a couple of PCCs also held out for space limitations.)

We’re releasing the pairings two at a time on our Twitter account (sfmta), and our Facebook Group (Market Street Railway). You have to request to join the Facebook group, but we’re processing those requests immediately. Once you’re in the group, just scroll down until you see the first round pairings, and vote for your choice. The “polls” will only be open for a limited time for each pair before we have to move on. After we’ve completed the first round of pairings, the survivors will pitted against each other in the second round, and so on. So check our Twitter account or Facebook Group frequently to see new pairings.

If you don’t have Facebook or Twitter, but still want to follow along, here’s a sheet with all the pairings on it. If you have questions, ask them in the comments section below this post, and we’ll try to answer them.

If enough fans like this idea, we’ll do it again!

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Take a 1906 “Trip Down Market Street” with experts

April 18, 1906, a date forever seared into San Francisco history. The cataclysmic earthquake and fire divided eras and impressed unforgettable memories on all who experienced it.

Still frame from “A Trip Down Market Street”

All who experienced that horror firsthand are gone now. But by unbelievable good fortune, a compelling vision of the old San Francisco survives in the form of a motion picture, and the knowledge it provides us of the way it was keeps growing. Sunday afternoon, April 18, 2021, 115 years to the day after fire engulfed the shaken city, there will be a free webinar talking about how that previously little-known film became world-famous due to a combination of tireless detective work and creative technology. The link to sign up for the webinar is below.

We’re talking about the famous “Trip Down Market Street”, filmed just four days before the earth shook and the sky burned, by professional filmmakers the Miles Brothers, shooting a hand-cranked motion picture camera mounted on the front of a cable car as it rolled eastward on Market between Eighth Street and the Ferry Building. It was long thought to have been shot in 1905, and the only surviving copy, in the Library of Congress, was badly degraded.

But then, magic happened. Film historian David Kiehn, head of the Niles Film Museum in Fremont discovered the true filming date, greatly increasing the historic value of the film. Archivist and film preservationist Rick Prelinger arranged for a vastly improved transfer of the film, revealing many new details. And television’s most-watched news program, 60 Minutes, did a remarkable story, produced by David Browning and reported by Morley Safer, that brought much new attention to the film. (Safer later said it was among his favorite stories of the more than 900 he reported for 60 Minutes.)

Market Street Railway President Rick Laubscher was interviewed for the 60 Minutes story, in part because he had written and recorded a narration for the film, explaining what the camera sees as it moves along Market Street, adding economic and social context as well as explaining the extensive cable car system then operating on our main street. You can watch that narrated version here, and purchase your own DVD of it in our online store.

The webinar is sponsored by the Niles Film Museum as part of its annual 1906 earthquake commemoration. Rick Laubscher will moderate the webinar, talking with David Kiehn, Rick Prelinger, and two descendants of the Miles Brothers, covering all aspects of the film and the 60 Minutes story. The experts will answer questions you have about the film.

You can join the webinar via Zoom at this link. The webinar will then be posted online so you can watch anytime; we’ll update this post with that link when we have it.

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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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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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Streetcars to buses

See gallery at end of story The Covid-19 pandemic caused Muni to convert all its rail lines to buses in 2020, with rail service fitfully resuming, in stages, in 2021. Quite a reversal for the transit agency born as the San Francisco Municipal Railway, whose service was dominated by streetcars for the first 35 years of its existence, and had never before been strictly a bus operation for longer than a weekend at a time. Here’s a story we put… — 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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Happy 108th Birthday, Muni!

December 28, 1912. Fifty thousand San Franciscans gathered at Market and Geary Streets. Was it a presidential visit? No, it was the transit equivalent of a late visit from Santa. It was a new streetcar line. But symbolically it was a lot more than that. For the ten locally-built gray and maroon streetcars that began running up and down the A-Geary line that day had letterboards on the side emblazoned in gold leaf “MUNICIPAL RAILWAY.” They were the first publicly… — Read More

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