Vintage Pride: 1983

By the time historic streetcars returned to San Francisco’s streets for the first Historic Trolley Festival in the Summer of 1983, the annual LGBT Pride Parade was already a summertime fixture on Market Street. Even then, the parade was such a major event that streetcar service was suspended for its duration. But that first year of the Trolley Festival, two of the Trolley Festival cars showed their own pride by joining in. Here we look through the 1934 Blackpool, England boat tram used in the first Festival to see vintage 1912 Muni Car 1 strutting its stuff.

The streetcars were busy that weekend, though. In special service, Car 1 made a couple of trips in from Ocean Beach on the N-line to pick up parade attendees and bring them through the Sunset Tunnel, then down Church and up 17th Street to Castro.

Our non-profit, Market Street Railway, has worked closely with the Castro Merchants and neighborhood groups over the decades to advocate for top-notch F-line streetcar service to the Castro. Our volunteers even clean the streetcars at their 17th and Castro terminal to make the ride more pleasant for passengers. We don’t get any money from the government at all; we depend on memberships and donations from people who think the streetcars are an object of pride for San Francisco.

By the way, that particular boat tram in the 1983 photo, No. 226, was leased from the Western Railroad Museum in Solano County. It was so popular that Market Street Railway leaders went out and acquired one, No. 228, and gave it to Muni. We got a second boat, No. 233, just a few years ago. With two of the popular boat trams at Muni, there’s always one available for groups to charter for a fun, private ride on the waterfront or Market Street. (As for boat tram 226, it has not operated at its museum home for decades, resting with various ailments.)

Happy Pride Week, everyone!

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Geneva Car Barn & Powerhouse Gets Funding

Here’s an artist’s concept of how the restored Geneva Car Barn and Powerhouse might look, looking southwest across the intersection of Geneva and San Jose Avenue.

The long-running dream of transforming the 1901 Geneva Car Barn and Powerhouse into vibrant community space got a $3 million boost, making it far more likely to become reality.

As reported in Hoodline, the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Commission, which bought the building in 2004 from Muni, appropriated the $3 million at its June 15 meeting, bringing total approved funding for the project to $11 million.

The project involves two structures that sit next to each other, both originally built for the San Francisco and San Mateo Electric Railway Company but incorporated into the private United Railroads within a couple of years of being finished. The Office Building at the southwest corner of San Jose Avenue and Geneva Avenue housed workers for the adjacent streetcar storage area (now Muni’s Cameron Beach Yard, to which the historic E and F line streetcars will return later this year). The powerhouse housed large electric generators for the line. Both are built of brick, both suffered damage in the 1906 earthquake, but survived. Muni took them over in the 1944 merger with United Railroads’ successor, Market Street Railway Company, our namesake. Together with the adjoining tracks, they served as Muni’s only streetcar facility from 1957 until the Green Light Rail Division was opened across the street in the late 1970s.

Interior of the Geneva Powerhouse, which new funding will restore as a community performance and meeting space.

The 1989 earthquake damaged the two buildings further. Muni abandoned them at that point and wanted to tear them down. But community pressure to preserve the historic buildings led then-Mayor Willie Brown to direct Muni to sell them to the Recreation and Parks Department. A very active non-profit preservation group, Friends of Geneva Car Barn and Powerhouse, sprang up, led by Dan Weaver. We have had preliminary discussions about providing historical displays in the restored buildings to interpret their importance to transit.

But the Office Building (confusingly referred to as the Car Barn) still awaits funding for restoration. The current funding will finish design plans for both buildings but only provide construction funding for the large open space of the Powerhouse, which will be turned into a multi-purpose community performance and meeting space.

We salute Dan Weaver and all the supporters of this great project. We hope the remaining funds can be found soon to restore the Office Building too.

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Shoppers’ Shuttle

In the early 1950s, as tens of thousands of San Francisco families decamped for the new surrounding suburbs, merchants grew more and more anxious about getting customers into their stores. Muni’s response: a “Shoppers’ Shuttle” — actually two of them, one serving Market Street/Union Square and one the “Miracle Mile of Mission” between about 16th Street and Army Street (now Cesar Chavez Street).

When they started up in 1953 and 1954, the shuttles only charged a nickel (as opposed to the then-regular fare of 15 cents). The presumption, apparently, was that shoppers would be happy to save a dime on routes that duplicated numerous regular Muni lines on Market and Mission.

They ran weekdays midday only, which should have kept incremental operating costs to a minimum, since a few drivers could easily be diverted from regular lines to the shuttles between rush hours. Routes varied over the years. A third line was added in 1966 that generally went from Civic Center to the Second and Harrison Streets area (but what was there, then?).

In this shot from the SFMTA Archives, we see 1938 White motor coach 060 decked out for the “Mission Shuttle” with 5 cent flags and signs alerting intending riders to the bargain. It looks like it was taken around the rollout of Mission Shuttle service in November 1954 at Muni’s Ocean Division (where the Green light rail facility is now at Ocean and San Jose Avenues).

The shuttles did not generally do a booming business, despite the low fare. It was never clear how many non-shopper riders just hopped aboard because it was the first bus that came along while they were waiting, or who just like saving a dime (no Fast Pass or Clipper Card then!).

According to the definitive book on Muni operations, Inside Muni, all three of the Shoppers’ Shuttle routes were abandoned September 10, 1980. But this may have been just a technical route abandonment. The author of this post doesn’t recall seeing any Shoppers’ Shuttle buses after BART construction on Market and Mission began in the late 1960s. Perhaps readers can comment on their recollections of when the service ended.

This bus, however, would have only made a special guest appearance on the Shoppers’ Shuttle, in all likelihood. Because of its diminutive size (seven feet shorter than a standard White bus), it was regularly assigned to serve Telegraph Hill and North Beach riders on the 39-Coit line (because it could make the tight turn at the Coit Tower parking lot.) It lasted there until about 1974for another 20 years before being retired. It was subsequently purchased by a Muni employee and painted back into its original 1938 orange and black livery.

Its twin, 062, also a Coit Tower bus, has been restored by Muni to operating condition and is also painted in its as-delivered orange and black (no, it’s not for the Giants, nor for Halloween!). Unlike the 060, the 062 has been restored to its original fleet number, 042 (when Muni culled out the fleet of the “Baby Whites”, they renumbered the three survivors 060-062.

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Happy 125th to San Francisco Electric Streetcars

Double-ended San Mateo Streetcar 25 at Geneva Car House Yard | Circa March 1903. SFMTA Photo Archives.

On April 28, 1892, the first electric streetcar ran in San Francisco on a line that started just a few feet from our San Francisco Railway Museum on Steuart Street. The first practical electric streetcar system in the world was created by Frank J. Sprague in Richmond, Virginia, in 1888, so San Francisco was — then as now — an early adopter. (But then and now, it was also a NIMBY town because civic opposition to overhead wires kept streetcars off Market Street itself until the 1906 Earthquake and Fire destroyed the obsolete Market Street cable car system.)

The communications group at our partner, SFMTA, issued this great blog post today, which really says it all about that first electric streetcar line, and has two great vintage photos, so we won’t repeat their excellent content here. We borrowed the photo above so we could run a shot of the city’s oldest preserved streetcar, No. 578, built less than four years after that first run and very similar in appearance (though a tad shorter). This “California-type” body design, borrowed from the double-ended California Street cable cars of the day, was the early standard for San Francisco streetcar design, though it had already been surpassed by larger streetcars by the time of the 1906 earthquake.

Preserved San Francisco Streetcar 578, built in 1896, operating during Muni Heritage Weekend 2016.

It should be noted that 25 years ago, San Francisco put on a parade of streetcars to commemorate the centennial of San Francisco service. The tracks on Market Street had been upgraded for the forthcoming permanent F-line, but they weren’t being used yet, and it had been five years since the last Trolley Festival had graced Market Street. So Muni and Market Street Railway teamed up to bring life to those unused tracks with a parade featuring a variety of the old streetcars, with costumed San Francisco historic characters riding along on the boat tram.

 

Here’s a link to a great video of that parade. The video also includes lots of Trolley Festival activity from the 1980s. Worth watching as a way to celebrate this 125th anniversary.

And to close this post, a shot of 1912 Moscow tram 106 in the parade, the last time it has operated in San Francisco. The parade used BOTH tracks on Market to run vintage cars side-by-side. (We need a lot of help to get that Moscow tram restored…larger, already ADA accessible streetcars are rightfully ahead of it in the restoration queue.)

So there’s been a lot to celebrate in the 125 years of electric streetcars in San Francisco. Market Street Railway is working on some exciting projects to get the next 125 years of to a historic start! Please join us!

 

 

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Buses & Streetcars: New Exhibit at SF Railway Museum

This coming October marks 100 years since Muni ran its first buses. We chronicle a century of coexistence — and competition — between buses and streetcars in San Francisco in a new exhibit now open at our San Francisco Railway Museum. Originally obtained to extend the reach of Muni’s streetcar lines, buses got bigger and more capable but still were relatively unimportant until World War II. Then, after the war, they sidetracked streetcars to become the dominant form of transit… — Read More

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Great Displays at SF History Days March 4-5

  San Francisco History Days, the popular annual event, fills up the historic Old Mint at Fifth and Mission Streets this weekend. Hours are 10-5 Saturday, March 4, and 10-4 Sunday, March 5. This year there’s a special treat: SFMTA (Muni’s parent) has created a great slideshow from its Archives to celebrate the centennial of the J-Church, Muni’s oldest surviving line, which has of course been operated by streetcars its entire 100-year life. Here’s a sneak peek.  Market Street Railway… — Read More

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Stunning Composite Photographs

  This isn’t new, but if you haven’t seen these wonderful composite photographs by San Francisco photographer Sean Clover, you’re in for a treat. These are just a couple of them, comparing the damage caused by the 1906 earthquake and fire with the exact same location today. Above, the gate of the cable car barn on Washington Street just east of Mason, showing how Car 155 was crushed by falling bricks. Within a few hours of the original photograph, it… — Read More

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Clarifying the 1947 Threat to the Cable Cars

This week is the 70th anniversary of the failed effort by Mayor Roger Lapham (at left in the photo above) to “junk the cable cars.” It’s truly something to celebrate, and it has engendered several news articles, such as this badly flawed one, which confuses the cable cars with streetcars and doesn’t know how to spell “trolley” and this one recounting the fight. Most of these accounts get a fundamental point wrong, and it’s an important one.  Lapham’s misguided effort was… — Read More

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End of the B-Geary, 60 Years Ago

  On December 29, 1956, the last passenger-carrying streetcar ran on the tracks of Muni’s first street, Geary.  Muni became America’s first big city publicly owned transit system 44 years and one day earlier, on December 28, 1912, when it opened the A and B streetcar lines on Geary Street. Soon, four Muni lines were running along Geary from the Ferry Building via Market: the A, which went from the Ferries to Tenth Avenue, then south to Golden Gate Park; the B, which reached… — Read More

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Merry Christmas…Transit-wise

There’s a long tradition in San Francisco of celebrating the holiday season with streetcars and cable cars. In the 1930’s, our namesake, Market Street Railway Company (Muni’s privately owned competitor) decorated its all-white private car (named the “San Francisco”, normally used to take school kids on field trips) for Christmas and New Year’s and ran it around town as a goodwill billboard. In the 1950’s, the Emporium department store, on Market opposite Powell (where Bloomingdales is today) would charter a… — Read More

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City Hall Avenue, Around 1913

Almost no one is still with us who actually saw the street named City Hall Avenue.  It ran parallel to Market Street, half a block north, and stretched just two blocks between Leavenworth and Larkin Streets. The massive but poorly built City Hall and neighboring Hall of Records filled the north side of the street. Because of the municipal buildings, it was an important street, at least until April 18, 1906, when the giant earthquake shook the shoddily built City Hall… — Read More

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Rainy Day on Market, World War II

  Weather forecast says rain’s on the way for the Bay Area. As good a time as any to share this photo of Market Street, looking east from Fifth Street, taken during World War II (likely 1943 or early 1944). Rich detail in this photo. The blue and gold N-Judah on the outside track is trying to squeeze past the automobile so it can catch up to the competing 5-McAllister streetcar (with the flashy “zip stripe” on the side) of… — Read More

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Don’t Miss Fred Lyon’s Photo Exhibition

Today, the New York Times’ Lens blog posted a long-overdue tribute to one of San Francisco’s greatest street photographers, Fred Lyon. The post includes 16 great San Francisco images, including the one above, one of our favorite shots, showing a pipe-puffing businessman in the late 1940s helping the crew push a Powell Street cable car off the turntable, not an uncommon site back then. There’s a great free exhibition of Fred Lyon’s San Francisco photos showing through October 21 at the Leica Gallery,… — Read More

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Getting Ready for Muni Heritage Weekend

  What you’re looking at here is Muni maintenance folks applying decals the other day to Car 578, the oldest streetcar in Muni’s fleet, built in 1896. When Muni restored it to its original appearance in 1956, for the 50th anniversary of the 1906 Earthquake, the work was overseen by Charlie Smallwood, Muni maintenance manager and legendary San Francisco rail historian. Charlie had a Muni sign painter reproduce the original lettering on the car, which was painted for one specific line,… — Read More

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Honoring Labor

  Happy Labor Day 2016! Here’s a shout out to San Francisco past and present, who built, maintained, and operated our transit system. Its history was punctuated by struggles on behalf of unions, including strikes that cost workers’ lives early in the century, that led to a solid union environment today. In celebration of the hundreds of thousands of good jobs transit provided through the decades, two photos from the wonderful SFMTA Archives (with a hat tip to Archivist Jeremy Menzies… — Read More

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