Giddy riders. Laughing kids. Happy crew members. Public transit that takes people where they want to go with flair and fun. THIS is why Market Street Railway worked hard to bring two Blackpool, England open-top “Boat Trams” to San Francisco and gift them to the City’s transit agency, Muni, 30 years apart.
But no need to talk about it when you can see rider satisfaction in action, on Sunday, October 10, 2021 during the City’s annual Fleet Week celebration, featuring Navy ships and the famous Blue Angels aerobatic team. Sit back and enjoy the ride, with motorman Mike Delia and conductor Damon Williams. Just click on the video below.
Thanks so much to SFMTA’s Jeff Tumlin and Julie Kirschbaum for bringing out the Boat (and 1928 Melbourne Tram 496 too) for Fleet Week. Thanks to the operators and maintainers who made it such a smooth, fun ride on both vintage trams.
There would be no F-line today without the concerted effort of a group of advocates and enablers in the early 1980s. Many of them were openly gay. No better time to celebrate their achievements than Pride Month.
That list simply has to start with Maurice Klebolt, a force of nature. Klebolt, who came to San Francisco from Chicago, ran a one-man travel agency, served as a part-time Muni operator, and cultivated elected officials on a single issue: operating historic streetcars on Market Street after regular streetcar service on the J, K, L, M, and N lines went underground with the opening of the Muni Metro Subway in the early 1980s. Others talked about it and began to plan for it, but Klebolt believed in actually DOING something instead. And did he ever. This story from the San Francisco Chronicle captures his activism perfectly.
Klebolt and then-downtown business executive Rick Laubscher, who mobilized that community through the Chamber of Commerce, teamed up in something of a “Mr. Outside, Mr. Inside” pairing to win acceptance of a proof of concept in the form of a summer “Historic Trolley Festival” in 1983, which was renewed for a total of five seasons and built public support for the permanent F-line in 1995 and its extension to Fisherman’s Wharf in 2000.
Klebolt brought numerous international vintage streetcars to San Francisco for Muni’s fleet, and led the charge to grow the new, seven-member nonprofit known as Market Street Railway into a vibrant membership organization by personally shaking down – er, soliciting – everyone he know (and many he didn’t) for what were then $10 memberships. that remains in Muni’s fleet (and remains in need of restoration). Maury’s untimely death in 1988 at just 58 left a real void, but the success of the Trolley Festivals had put a permanent F-line squarely on City Hall’s agenda. Read our tribute to him here, with more hard-to-believe (but true) tales, including his personal version of Cold War-era glasnost.
While Klebolt may have been the most visible openly gay man associated with the creation of the F-line, several others played very significant roles. The solid and enduring support of then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein was essential to the Trolley Festivals and permanent F-line, but the implementation of her wishes was carried out by her top transportation staff member, Alan Lubliner. Alan’s attention to detail and follow-through kept the project progressing, even when some inside Muni and other city agencies didn’t see the urgency of action. Alan went on to a very successful career in New York with the transportation consulting firm Parsons-Brinkerhoff (now WSP).
The city’s nonprofit partner in facilitating the first two Trolley Festivals was the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce (Market Street Railway took on that role starting in the third year). Lee Knight led the internal Chamber team that made dozens of arrangements on a faster schedule than the City’s procedures would allow. Lee later joined Muni’s then-parent, the city’s Public Utilities Commission as planning manager, before his life was tragically cut short by AIDS.
Once in operation, the spirit of the Trolley Festival was definitively captured by the senior motorman operating the vintage streetcars, Jack Smith, the son of one of San Francisco’s first African-American streetcar operators. Jack literally learned the craft of piloting streetcars at his father’s knee. His encyclopedic knowledge of San Francisco transit history and his unquestioned expertise in streetcar operation was looked up to by the other operators and by management as well. After his retirement from Muni, he served on Market Street Railway’s board of directors with distinction for several years, and was a long-time volunteer on restoration activities of our organization, focused on original San Francisco streetcars. Here’s how we remembered him after his unexpected passing in 2004, at age 72.
There were many other members of the LGBTQ community that played positive roles in the Trolley Festival, particularly residents and merchants the Castro’s District, whose embrace of the vintage streetcars were a significant boost to their success. The Festival streetcars had to go where tracks already were, making Castro Street the logical terminal. Several gay business groups came together to issue a guide to introduce streetcar riders to neighborhood businesses. A booster committee was formed, led by a gay man named Robert Hunter, who asked the Chamber if they could create their own poster. Of course, came the reply. We have recently been offered a mint-condition copy of this artifact and offer this rough photograph we’ve been sent here.
And speaking of posters, we celebrate John Wullbrandt, then a young San Francisco artist who had done whimsical posters of a PCC and a cable car when we approached him to create posters for the first two Trolley Festivals. John raised the money from two other gay men, Bob Campbell and Joe Caplett, and we gained wonderful promotional tools. John is now a renowned fine artist based near Santa Barbara. We offer John’s 1984 poster of famous San Franciscans riding the Boat Tram (shown below) in our online store and at our museum store. The Chamber of Commerce focused on patronizing LGBTQ businesses for the promotional services needed for the Trolley Festivals, including purchasing signage from a small business on Brady Street, Budget Signs, owned by a young gay man named Mark Leno, who went on to a very successful political career in San Francisco and Sacramento.
Beyond the openly LGBTQ people who helped enable the F-line to become reality, there were other prominent people involved who chose not to reveal their sexual orientation during their lifetimes, and we honor that choice. But their contributions are certainly remembered and appreciated. (Anytime one attempts recognizing people who contributed to a team effort, there is always the risk of missing someone. We apologize if so.)
The historic streetcars have always been wildly popular in the Castro District, from the first article we remember being written about them in a local gay publication (with the headline “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart” from Judy Garland’s ‘Trolley Song’) to loud complaints from merchants and residents when F-line service was threatened with extended interruptions. On several occasions, vintage streetcars have taken pride of place in the annual Pride Parade, something we hope will happen again in the future.
On a national and international level, many gay men took leadership roles in rescuing streetcars from the scrap heap starting after World War II, and in creating museums to operate them. They did this in an era when coming out was to risk severe professional and personal consequences, so they often did not reveal their preferences. But you can see their legacy in museums all over the world. Our nonprofit has likewise benefited by the work of openly gay folks who have served on our board, among them Maury, Jack, Steve Ferrario, and our longtime board member and secretary, Art Curtis, who worked his way up from PCC operator to Chief Inspector at Muni.
Today of course, Muni’s parent, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) is headed by a gay man, Jeff Tumlin, a San Franciscan for 30 years and frequent F-line rider. Its board of directors currently includes out small business leader Manny Yekutiel and has had other prominent LGBTQ leaders in the recent past, including former State Senator and State Democratic Party Chair Art Torres, and long-time board Chair Tom Nolan, who was previously a San Mateo County Supervisor. Indeed, at all levels, from front line workers to leadership to governance, the LGBTQ community is extensively represented at SFMTA.
Our dual vintage streetcar popularity contests have yielded two ‘winners’, though in fact every one of the 32 streetcars in the polls put together by our board member, Chris Arvin, drew love from fans of historic transit from around the world.
In the Twitter poll, 64% of voters chose the Boat vs. 36% for the Dinky. In the Facebook poll, the Dinky garnered 68% of the vote to the Boat’s 32%. Overall, because more people voted on Twitter than on Facebook, the Boat came out on top by a margin of 57%-43%.
So we hail both of these venerable streetcars, the 87-year old Boat and the 115-year old Dinky. That’s more than 200 years of streetcar beauty combined.
Here are the finished brackets for both the Twitter and Facebook polls. You’ll see some differences in the outcome of the rounds leading up to the finals. For example, the “Mint Milano” (green paint scheme on the popular 1928 Italian trams) faced off against the Boat in the Twitter semi-finals, while the last PCC built in North America, Muni’s own Car 1040, earned that spot in the Facebook poll (and was just barely beaten in that round by the Boat). In both polls, the other semi-final matchup was the Dinky against the very first streetcar Muni owned, Car 1, built in 1912. Many fans commented it was just too hard for them to choose between these most historic symbols of our city. Click to enlarge the brackets.
Thanks to all who participated, and if you missed this first contest, stay tuned. We’ll have additional ones down ther road!
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.
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.
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. 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… — Read More
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
Cable cars on Castro? An ‘elevated’ railway at Harvey Milk Plaza? Four streetcar tracks on Market? It’s all part of the transit history in a San Francisco neighborhood that has truly seen it all over the years. What the heck is a steam dummy? That’s one, right there, on Market at Castro in the 1880s, looking north from where the Chevron station is now. The little box on the right, called the dummy, holds a steam engine and the operator.… — Read More
The Zoom app, an obscure business conferencing tool just a few months ago, is suddenly the star and salvation of the shut-down world, with millions of people jumping on to videochat with friends and family. Zoom offers the option of putting an electronic backdrop behind you, and offers some stock scenics. But you can also upload your own, which gave the archives and communications staffs at SFMTA a great idea. We love it! There are samples above and below. Here’s… — Read More
Muni’s historic streetcars, and the people who love them, keep gaining media attention, both in their hometown, and far afield. For your Thanksgiving weekend reading pleasure, we’re sharing two stories from the San Francisco Chronicle, and its associated website, sfgate.com. Both stories show how the historic streetcars continue to attract new generations of fans, thanks in part to Market Street Railway’s continuing efforts aimed at exactly that goal. It’s a core part of our mission to keep the past present… — Read More
Check out this article in the San Francisco Examiner by Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez about this Pride Month initiative taken on a personal basis by our board member, Chris Arvin. Chris’ design work is on display on our website in the engaging streetcar icons featured on the live streetcar map designed by fellow board member Kat Siegal. We offer stickers of those icons at our San Francisco Railway Museum and online store. A wide variety of Pride-related items, including tee shirts… — Read More