Since 1888, a small wooden structure has stood on the southeast corner of Powell and California Streets. It’s an essential sentinel protecting the world’s only cable car crossroads. Here’s its story.
Streetcars and water don’t mix well. Electric motors don’t work when they’re soaked. Water coming down from the heavens – rain – no worries. But water coming up from beneath – flooded streets – not good.
In 1947, San Francisco almost lost its Powell cable cars forever. A women-led campaign overcame male-dominated government and business interests to save them. That is a great story in itself. But there’s more to it, including lessons for today and tomorrow.
San Francisco has long been in the forefront of workers’ rights. This history extends back into the 19th century, but it was an event just one year after the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906 that shook the city all over again – one of San Francisco’s bitterest strikes that shaped the future of streetcar service in San Francisco and influenced the City’s labor movement in general.
If there’s a special heaven for photographers, greats like Dorothea Lange, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ansel Adams, O. Winston Link, and many others are welcoming San Francisco’s Fred Lyon, who captured the essence of this city in the mid-20th century in images just as brilliantly as Herb Caen captured it in words.
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 the team promoting this new technology, aimed at making horsecars obsolete.
Muni’s 21-Hayes bus line returned to service on July 9, 2022 after a 27-month pandemic suspension. Early in the pandemic, Muni management hoped that the crisis might give them an opportunity to rationalize the network by permanently shutting down some of the parallel routes that dated back to the 19th century. The 21 was one of several lines, including the 2-Clement and 6-Parnassus, on that list.
The 6-Haight-Parnassus trolley coach line returned to service July 9, 2022, after being shut down since the start of the Covid pandemic in Spring 2020. We recounted the history of this line in our exclusive member magazine, Inside Track, in 2019. We hope readers who enjoy this story will join us or donate, so we can keep telling stories like this.
On Saturday, July 9, Muni restarted service on several routes with long histories that were shut down at the beginning of the Covid pandemic; routes that at least some in Muni hoped would not come back at all. SFMTA’s blog has the whole list of Muni routes resurrected on July 9. We focus here on one of those routes, the 2-line, with a long history and possibly cloudy future. (We’ve also covered two other resurrected historic routes: the 6-line and the 21-line in other posts.)
NOTE: In late June 2022, a pandemic-delayed memorial service was held for Art Curtis, retired Muni Chief Inspector, long-time Market Street Railway Secretary and Board Member, and stalwart volunteer for many nonprofit groups. Art, who passed away in 2020 just after reaching his goal of his 80th birthday, was a great storyteller, and he had some good ones! A number of years ago, we asked him to share this one in our member magazine, “Inside Track”.
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