Waiting for Muni, About 1940

 

Here’s an unusual shot, photographer unknown (at least to us). We’re at Market and McAllister, looking west. It appears to be about 1940.  When our main drag had four streetcar tracks side by side, there were very few spots where there was enough room to build actual boarding islands like you see on Market now. Instead, there were just raised dots to mark what were optimistically called “safety zones”.

But here we have a real concrete island with its own concrete bench, a rarity back then. There’s a woman on the island with a suitcase on the bench, peering down the tracks waiting for her car to come. (Streetcars were called “cars” in San Francisco then, automobiles were only starting to pick up that designation. Some San Franciscans called automobiles “machines.”)

The tracks of Market Street Railway Company’s 5-McAllister streetcar line (now Muni’s 5-Fulton bus) turn off here to the right, headed for Playland. Within a few years, streetcars will again turn off Market here, thanks to an initiative spearheaded by our non-profit (named for the old Muni competitor) to create a turnback loop for F-line streetcars near Civic Center, allowing Muni to add additional service between downtown and Fisherman’s Wharf when needed. The loop will wrap around the building right center, then called Hotel Shaw, with a layover on Charles Brenham Place (the extension of Seventh Street north of Market), a street that didn’t exist when this photo was taken.

We see a few Market Street Railway Company “White Front” cars in the distance to the woman’s right, headed to the Ferry (or maybe East Bay Terminal), but nothing outbound, either MSR or Muni. One other thing: in another rarity, the photographer has captured the Wiley “bird cage” signal to the right with its reading blank, in that fraction of a second as it was changing from GO to STOP or vice versa (there was no “caution” phase in between). Note the small pedestrian signal beneath it. Countdown timer?  What’s that?

You can see a working Wiley signal, unique to San Francisco and gone from our streets by 1962, at our San Francisco Railway Museum across from the Ferry Building.  Drop by and see our exhibits and unique gifts, perfect for San Franciscans to give to others to demonstrate their love of our city’s transit history.

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Patriotic Celebration, 1909

Lots of streetcars but even more American flags on and around the Ferry Building on a bright afternoon in October 1909, 1:29 p.m. We don’t know the exact date or who took the photo; if someone knows, fill us in with a comment.

Lots to see in this shot. Double-click on the photo to enlarge it and take a tour. Permanent buildings are in place after the 1906 earthquake, some with electric signs (waffles, anyone?). The Southern Pacific is advertising train service atop that building to the left (it would soon build its impressive headquarters — still there as One Market — immediately to the right of the camera). A teamster’s wagon is front and center with a horse drawn water tank wagon wetting the pavement right behind the last streetcar in the long line of them waiting to get to the Ferry Loop.

Those streetcars frame the range of dates for us. They all appear to be part of the order of 200 cars, numbered 1550-1749, ordered by United Railroads from the St. Louis Car Company and delivered by the end of 1907. They don’t yet have route boxes on their roofs, so it was early in their life. A group of 80 somewhat different looking streetcars (the 100-class) arrived early in 1911 and took over the Sutter Street lines; at least one would likely be in this shot if it was taken then. While the shot shows four tracks on Market Street, these were all United Railroads tracks; the outside tracks only extended as far as Sutter. When Muni’s first lines were extended from Geary and Market to the Ferry in 1913, they shared the outer tracks on this stretch.

While all the flags make one think of the Fourth of July, this hoopla was actually for the Portola Festival, a big celebration from October 19-23, 1909, that ostensibly honored the 140th anniversary of when Don Gaspar de Portola (properly pronounced port-o-LA) became the first European to see San Francisco Bay. The real reason, which no one hid, was to announce that San Francisco had recovered from the earthquake and fire and was again open for business and tourism. We think that object with the shield on it next to the outbound streetcar on the left is a parade float. Our unofficial historian, Emiliano Echeverria, says that United Railroads actually created several streetcar floats for the festival by tearing off the bodies of obsolete cars down to the floor level, later rebuilding them.

The US Pacific Fleet was anchored in the Bay along with warships of other nations. Parades drew huge crowds. It reinforced the city leadership’s desire to stage an even bigger celebration, the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, in 1915. But first, they held another Portola Festival, in 1913, and had smaller repeats now and then in the decades that followed.

In any event, all these flags make this photo look like a good one to post for the Fourth of July weekend. Enjoy!

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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… — Read More

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Happy 125th to San Francisco Electric Streetcars

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… — Read More

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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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