Future Meets Past in Muni Art

A few days ago, we were honored to participate in awarding prizes to the winners of this year’s Muni Art Program, organized by San Francisco Beautiful, whose write-up notes, “The 2020 Muni Art Project theme, ‘Hidden Gems of San Francisco’ is the fifth year that the The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), San Francisco Beautiful and The Poetry Society of America (sponsors of Poetry in Motion®) have collaborated to bring art and poetry to Muni commuters.”

As it turns out, one of the “hidden gems of San Francisco” is actually in Colma, the city of cemeteries just to the south. The art program involves ad-sized cards mounted in 100 Muni buses (we have asked that they be put in the historic streetcars as well). Each card includes a poem, which is illustrated by an artist reacting to the poetry.

One of the art cards is a collaboration between poet Tess Taylor and artist Vanessa Farjado, and involves time travel, both forward and back.

TRAIN THROUGH COLMA

But will anyone teach
the new intelligence to miss the apricot trees
that bloomed each spring along these tracks?
Or the way afternoons
blazed with creosote & ponderosa? Spring evenings flare
with orange pixels
in the bay-scented valley— where in the algorithm
will they account for
the rippling ponies
that roamed outside Fremont?
When the robots have souls, will they feel longing? When they feel longing,
will they write poems?

Tess Taylor (c) 2020, all rights reserved
Ex-Market Street Railway Car 950 at Molloy’s tavern on Old Mission Road, Colma, c.1948. Courtesy FoundSF

The poetry muses on the rise, and limitations, of Artificial Intelligence, seemingly in the context of today’s BART trains, which do run through Colma (note the reference to Fremont, among other examples). Yet the artist chose to illustrate it with a representation of the days of streetcar service through Colma. Specifically, it appears was inspired by the photograph above, of a 14-Mission streetcar running extended service to the cemeteries located along the old 40-San Mateo line. The venerable saloon Molloy’s, occupying a building constructed in 1883 and still there today (below), shares both the photograph and the art.

Of course, the poet could intend ‘Colma’ to be metaphorical, rather than geographical, an allusion to the death of poetry when ‘the robots’ take over. We’ll leave that to those more literary than we are, or perhaps muse further on the subject over an Irish Whiskey at Molloy’s, which we visited today.

Molloy’s now, 1655 Mission Road, Colma, from Google Maps

We love the way the Muni Art Program gives riders a chance to spend a little travel time being enriched by words and images. As new SFMTA Director of Transportation Jeff Tumlin noted at last week’s City Hall ceremony, “Art connects people. Transit connects people. This is a perfect combination.”

To which we would only add, “Especially when it also connects the past to the present to the future.”

Muni Art Bus at City Hall ceremony, January 9, 2020. SFMTA photo by Jeremy Menzies
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107 Years Ago Today

December 28, 1912, about 1 p.m., looking west on Geary Street at Grant Avenue. A crowd estimated at 50,000 people engulfs Muni’s first streetcars as they inaugurate the A-Geary line. Car 3 is in the foreground, left, trailing Cars 2 and 1 (which carried Mayor “Sunny Jim” Rolph). Click the photo and enjoy the wonderful detail. Try to find a bareheaded person (we found only one). Go window shopping at The Paragon, where a year-end 1/4-1/2 off sale is underway (that building is still there). Note that Car 3 is missing its rear “A” route plate (Did they run out? Was it filched?) A remarkable image. Courtesy SFMTA Archive.

On December 28, 1912, ten shiny gray streetcars with brick-red roofs lined up on Geary Street, from Kearny Street to Grant Avenue. The first, Numbered 1 in gold leaf outlined in black, opened its black scissor gate. Up stepped the Mayor of the City and County of San Francisco, James Rolph, Jr.

From his pocket, he took a Liberty Head nickel, with a large “V” on the back (people knew back then that was the roman numeral for “five”). He nodded at conductor Nathan Rahn, in his crisp navy blue uniform, and dropped it into the firebox. It clanked. The press was told this 1912-S nickel was one of the first 40 ever minted at the San Francisco Mint at Fifth and Mission. The Mayor strode through the car, its crisp pale yellow rattan streets still pristine, its wood paneling still smelling of varnish.

Originally, the streetcars were to have been decorated, and the Municipal Band was supposed to be aboard the first car, playing its way along the line to the initial terminal at 33rd Avenue. The Mayor personally scotched this idea, saying, “Let’s get the cars going all right first, and toot our horn afterward”. Still, the crowd estimated at 50,000 San Franciscans roared for a speech from the mayor. He answered their call with these remarks:

“It is in reality the people’s road, built by the people and with the people’s money. The first cable road in the country was built in San Francisco, and now the first municipal railway of the country is built in San Francisco. Our operation of this road will be closely watched by the whole country. s must prove a success! … I want everyone to feel that it is but the nucleus of a mighty system of streetcar lines which will someday encompass the entire city.”

Mayor James Rolph, Jr., December 28, 1912

Mayor Rolph then joined Motorman Eugene Clisbee on the front platform of Car 1, gave the signal, and the streetcar inched forward through the swarms of people to loud cheers, and the silent salute of dozens of American flags hanging from the upper floors of surrounding buildings. Filled with dignitaries and (literal) hangers-on, Car 1 picked up speed as the crowd thinned, and by Jones Street, was making good time. A photographer snapped the shot below, with an escort automobile next to it. (That photo ended up in the San Francisco Public Library with a notation “date and location unknown”. Until our nonprofit recognized it for what it was, documented the location and event, and publicized it.)

Car 1 on December 28, 1912, westbound on Geary at Jones Street. San Francisco Public Library.

While Mayor Rolph loved photo-ops, he was no one-block-and-off guy. He rode every inch of track, followed by the other cars that had lined up behind. Muni only owned ten streetcars initially, but just over two years later, they would be operating almost 200 streetcars on seven lines (plus two special lines for the 1915 exposition). With the opening of tunnels under San Francisco hills in 1918 and 1928, Rolph’s vision of city-wide Muni service would be achieved during his own tenure as mayor (he was elected governor in 1930).

Car 1 (center) near the end of its first service life at Sutro Barn, 32nd Avenue and Clement Street, 1949. MSR Archive.

Muni’s first ten streetcars were retired in 1951. Only Car 1 of this group was preserved, for possible static display in a museum. But in 1962, Muni craftworkers restored it to its original appearance to celebrate the Railway’s 50th anniversary, and it gave rides on Market Street for a nickel one week. This was the germ of an idea to operate historic streetcar service on our main street, brought to reality with the Historic Trolley Festivals of the 1980, which were the result of advocacy from early leaders of Market Street Railway (the nonprofit named for Muni’s old private competitor). The success of the Trolley Festivals led to the permanent F-Market line, which opened in 1995 and was extended to Fisherman’s Wharf in 2000, again thanks in large measure to the persistent and persuasive advocacy of Market Street Railway.

Rust and rot, Car 1, 2004. MSR Archive.

As for Car 1 itself, it began to rust and rot in the sun and rain after the covered storage sheds at Geneva Division were demolished in the 1980s. Market Street Railway advocated successfully for both restoration of this priceless vehicle and construction of protective covered storage for the historic streetcar fleet, both achieved around Muni’s centennial year of 2012.

Running any big-city transit agency is tough, to say the least. Running one in a high-density city with increasingly crowded streets is tougher yet. Despite the challenges, Muni’s leaders, with strong support from elected officials, have managed to turn one of America’s oldest transit fleets into one of its newest, and its greenest as well, in the past eight years. All while operating the nation’s largest fleet of vintage transit vehicles (cable cars as well as streetcars) in regular daily service, taking people where they want to go with delight.

Car 1, completely restored, at Muni’s centennial celebration on April 5, 2012, with many dignitaries including (on platform) Mayor Ed Lee, former Mayor Willie Brown, and Senator Dianne Feinstein. SFMTA photo.

Market Street Railway is proud to serve as Muni’s nonprofit preservation partner and salute it on its 107th anniversary. Please consider a year-end tax-deductible donation or membership to help us in our mission of preserving historic transit in San Francisco by clicking here. Thanks, and Happy 2020, everyone!

Source credit for opening day detail: “The People’s Railway” by Anthony Perles.

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Jeff Tumlin New SFMTA Leader

Jeff Tumlin on the N-Judah line at Carl and Cole Streets. Photo courtesy San Francisco Chronicle.

Bay Area native and long-time San Francisco resident Jeffrey Tumlin will take over Muni’s parent agency, SFMTA, on December 16. Mayor London Breed announced Tumlin’s new position as Director of Transportation at a City Hall news conference this morning, subject to appointment by the SFMTA Board of Directors (expected to be a formality).

Tumlin will take over the permanent job held by Ed Reiskin for the past eight years until Reiskin announced his resignation earlier this year. SFMTA’s Director of Sustainable Streets, Tom Maguire, has been filling in on an interim basis. Tumlin and his husband live in Noe Valley; he is a regular Muni rider and bicycle commuter.

Details on Tumlin’s career are here in this Examiner story, and here in SFMTA’s news release and in this SFMTA blog post.

We especially recommend the blog post to gain a perspective on Tumlin’s values and priorities. A couple of excerpts give insight. First, it’s clear one of his top priorities is “getting more people out of their cars and onto our buses and light rail vehicles”:

Getting people to change their travel behaviors won’t be easy. But living in San Francisco has taught me that we’re all in this together and riding Muni taught me how to be a San Franciscan.

And perhaps, most relevant for our nonprofit advocacy group, its members, and our many supporters and friends, this concluding remark:

Another thing that excites me is that, in San Francisco, we incorporate a sense of delight into mobility. I love taking the F Line, riding the cable cars at dawn, biking on the Embarcadero, driving across Golden Gate Bridge. What we have here is special…and unique.  

We at Market Street Railway are excited about Jeff Tumlin’s arrival at SFMTA and look forward to working with him. We also thank Tom Maguire for doing a great job in the interim.

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Pier 39 is now E/F-line terminal for at least a year

F and E line streetcars take their layovers at their new terminal (for at least the next year) at Pier 39.

This morning, operators on Muni’s E-Embarcadero and F-Market & Wharves historic streetcar lines started rolling their destination signs past “Fisherman’s Wharf” and stopped at “Pier 39”, the big visitor attraction a block east of what’s traditionally considered the Wharf. And those Wharf destination signs are supposed to stay dark for at least a full year, maybe longer, while the city makes changes to three blocks of Jefferson Street, from Powell to Jones, changes that do NOT include the F-line tracks or overhead wires themselves.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed (in blue, center) leads city officials in a “groundbreaking” ceremony for the Jefferson Street Public Realm project, which will shut down streetcar service in Fisherman’s Wharf for a year or longer. The area where they’re standing, a parking lot, will become a public plaza.

This morning, city officials lauded the project in a ceremony under the Fisherman’s Wharf sign at Jefferson and Taylor Streets. Meanwhile, a few blocks away, confused riders at Beach and Stockton, one of the busiest streetcar stops, struggled to find where to board their F-line cars for Downtown or E-line cars for Caltrain.

Muni had posted confusing signs (a key one already graffitied) at the Beach and Stockton stop. The sign, missed by most intending riders, instructed them to board “across Beach Street”, where the Pier 39 garage and a patch of grass sits. Muni had a couple of young “ambassadors” out there handing out fliers, but they sometimes gave contradictory information about where to go.

You can see where to park, but not where to board the streetcar on Beach St. opposite Pier 39.

We had been told last week that the new Ferry-bound stop would be across Stockton Street on Beach, but there was no signage of any kind there, leaving riders to guess where to stand, and choosing several different locations amid the thick ficus trees, which shielded them from view of the F-line operators. At least we didn’t see any intending passengers passed up while we were there.

The signage needs to improve dramatically and quickly, and we have sent Muni our observations and recommendations about this already.

Multiple streetcars were backed up the first day of the F-line service cutback when the car at the head of the pack developed a track brake problem at Pier 39. Joseph Macasocol photo.

Meanwhile, on the first day of the new arrangement, a PCC streetcar encountered a track brake problem, backing up at least a half-dozen streetcars behind it because the overhead power had been turned off on the straight track beyond Pier 39, which would have been an easy place to store a disabled streetcar and keep the line moving. Several operators immediately suggested that one block of power on the straight track, between Pier 39 and Powell Street (not in the construction zone) be turned back on for this purpose. Muni management told us they’re considering this.

It remains to be seen how this year-long cutback of F-line service to Pier 39 affects the various businesses at the Wharf. Muni has instituted a shuttle bus to carry F-line riders from Pier 39 to the Jones Street terminal four blocks away, but bus ridership was scant the first morning, with many F-line riders going straight into Pier 39.

The construction taking place is the second phase of a plan to make Jefferson Street, which runs the length of Fisherman’s Wharf, more pedestrian-friendly while discouraging automobile use. The first phase, completed a couple of years ago, widened the north-side sidewalk on Jefferson for two blocks between Jones and Hyde Streets and put in fancy paving that designers said would slow down automobiles. On these two blocks, modern Danish streetlights and poles were installed, and those same modern poles will be added in between the existing streetlights that hold up the F-line overhead wires on the other three blocks. (Note: we initially reported the Danish lights would replace the existing poles on those three blocks but that is incorrect. Sorry.)

While it certainly would have been possible to phase the work so that the F-line could have been back in service before next Memorial Day, that wasn’t done, and the Wharf merchants have apparently acquiesced in this extended construction schedule.

Market Street Railway has offered to help the merchants see what can be done to get the E- and F-line streetcars back sooner, but unless something changes, you’ll see “Pier 39” as the destination of all streetcars heading north on the waterfront for at least a year.

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Fabulous Fleet Week

This year’s San Francisco Fleet Week (October 7-14) saw more vintage streetcars participating than ever. It all came together quickly, once SFMTA (Muni) was able to sign up operators for overtime work. Muni’s 1934 Blackpool Boat Trams delighted riders with open-air rides in perfect weather past Navy Ships tied up along the Embarcadero. Some lucky riders, like our Board member Chris Arvin, got to see the Navy’s famed Blue Angels flight team streak by as they rumbled along the pavement… — Read More

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A Stealth Boat

USS Zumwalt

Take a quick ride on Blackpool Boat Tram 233 during San Francisco’s Fleet Week, where you’ll see a slightly newer boat, the US Navy’s first stealth destroyer, USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000), and get the sights and sounds of this authentic 1934 streetcar from England on a perfect fall day. You can ride the boat until Sunday afternoon, October 13, at 6 p.m., as part of Muni’s tribute to Fleet Week. And it’s FREE!

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Boat to Cruise on Fleet Week Weekend

UPDATE, FRIDAY MORNING, OCTOBER 11 — The Boat is out today as well, a bonus day! The copy below has been adjusted to reflect this. Thanks to initiative by staff at SFMTA, led by Randy Catanach, chief of rail maintenance, one of Muni’s two 1934 Blackpool, England, open-top Boat Trams will cruise the waterfront from our San Francisco Railway Museum to Pier 39 on Fleet Week Weekend — Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, October 11-13, from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.… — Read More

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Back On Track — After 77 Years Off!

Early this morning, a cable car originally constructed in 1883 became Muni’s oldest operating transit vehicle. Early this morning, Sacramento & Clay Sts. cable car 19 made a full trip on the California Street line pulled by the cable. It was the first time this cable car was pulled by a cable on the street in 77 years, since its retirement in 1942. This news, and these wonderful photos, come from Market Street Railway member Traci Cox who documented the… — Read More

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Crazy Day on the Waterfront

Yesterday (July 25) was an action-packed day on the waterfront, and included an opportunity seized, and one missed. Here’s what went down. E-and F-line service north of the Ferry Building was disrupted by a power problem at the Wharf and a couple of streetcar breakdowns (not sure if they were related). This occurred around the time EuroPCC 737 arrived at Don Chee Way to go into service. Inspectors sent several cars south on the E-line to get out of the… — Read More

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Thank You, Ed Reiskin

Note: A version of this article is contained in the current edition of the Market Street Railway magazine Inside Track, reaching mailboxes now. It has been updated here.   By Carmen Clark, MSR Board Chair and Rick Laubscher, MSR President Edward D. Reiskin, Director of Transportation (the top executive) of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, is moving on from his post. His last day in the office was this week. We at Market Street Railway will greatly miss his… — Read More

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Melbourne Tram Subs for Boat This Week

The popular 1934 Blackpool (England) open-topped “Boat Tram” encountered a problem at the end of its service week last Wednesday and is being worked on this week, so 1929 Melbourne Tram 496 will substitute for it on the special waterfront service Tuesday and Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Muni assures us they’ll make every effort to return Boat service as quickly as possible. The Melbourne tram is a sweet ride, and with windows that drop all the way… — Read More

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Great Start to Summer Boat Service

The first day of summer boat tram service, May 28, went very well. Some highlights: The Boat ran great, the banners Market Street Railway prepared looked great; thanks to Randy Catanach’s rail maintenance crew. The operating crew (Angel Carvajal and Juiel Rice) were great with riders, very welcoming. Market Street Railway had docents on board all day answering questions. Loads were good all day; full both directions on final few trips. Lots of waves and positive feedback from onlookers all… — Read More

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Boat Tram About to Land

You may have already caught a glimpse of it along the J-line, or Market Street, or The Embarcadero, this week. Here are a couple of shots from Jeremy Whiteman’s Behind the Lens Facebook Group. Blackpool, England Boat Tram 228 is celebrating its 85th birthday this year by taking San Franciscans and visitors for a cruise along our waterfront boulevard, The Embarcadero, from the Ferry Building to Pier 39 (gateway to Fisherman’s Wharf) starting the day after Memorial Day. The past… — Read More

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Sail the Boat Starting May 28

As a Summer gift to San Francisco, Muni will be operating the fabulous Blackpool Boat Tram in regular service on Tuesdays and Wednesdays starting May 28. The special service will last at least through Labor Day, perhaps longer, running from the Ferry Building to Pier 39, adjacent to Fisherman’s Wharf along The Embarcadero. (The Pier 39 terminal will allow more trips per day, avoiding the long queue of E- and F-line regular service streetcars taking their layover at Jones Street.)… — Read More

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The E is Back!

After a hiatus caused by project work on two of Muni’s light rail lines, the E-Embarcadero line has returned to service. Nice writeup in the SFMTA blog. Show your support for the E-line! Take a ride anywhere between Caltrain and Fisherman’s Wharf along the waterfront, from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. seven days a week. We’re going to be strengthening our advocacy to expand the hours of service and extend the line to Aquatic Park and then to Fort Mason Center.

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