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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Muni Heritage Weekend Confirmed for Sept. 9-10

 

Mark it down in ink. Muni’s annual Heritage Weekend has now been confirmed for September 9-10, 2017.

This year marks the centennial of Muni as a bus operator, and we will be working with Muni to showcase several of its historic buses, in addition to the usual array of special vintage streetcars and cable cars that will operate that weekend.

Operating hours will be 10 a.m. until about 5 p.m.  The action will be centered again around our San Francisco Railway Museum, across from the Ferry Building, where our exhibit on the transition from streetcars to buses in San Francisco will take center stage. More details will be forthcoming as they develop, but our Market Street Railway members can count on some special events, including a reception and charter for our more generous members and donors on Thursday evening, September 7, and special riding opportunities for all our members outside the regular weekend operation. Again, details to come on this.

Thanks to all our members and friends for their patience in waiting for the dates to be finalized. Other city agencies besides Muni are involved, so thanks to SFMTA’s Communications group for persisting in getting these dates arranged.

Those planning to visit from far away still have time to lock in the lowest air fares! We hope to see you September 9-10!

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First Rebuilt PCC, Honoring Harvey Milk, to be Welcomed Back March 15

 

The first of 16 PCC streetcars to go back into service following a complete rebuilding at Brookville Equipment Corporation in Pennsylvania will be celebrated at 10:15 a.m. on Wednesday, March 15 at the F-line terminal on 17th Street at Castro and Market.

Streetcar 1051 will be rededicated to Harvey Milk, to whom it was originally dedicated in 2009. The streetcar contains informational displays, prepared by Market Street Railway, celebrating Harvey Milk not only as a pioneering openly gay elected official and champion on LGBTQ rights, but also as a vocal advocate for public transportation.

Milk was the first member of the Board of Supervisors to regularly use a Muni Fast Pass. He rode PCC streetcars painted exactly like the 1051 between his City Hall office and his home and camera store in the Castro. District Supervisor Jeff Sheehy will speak, as will SFMTA officials and a representative of the Castro Merchants, a strong supporter of the F-line.

“We are proud to welcome this streetcar back into Muni service fully restored, rebuilt and ready for action,” said Ed Reiskin, SFMTA Director of Transportation, in a SFMTA news release. “The Harvey Milk streetcar honors the memory of Supervisor Milk. His legacy is well-known and this permanent exhibit honors his life and draws additional attention to his efforts to improve Muni and make San Francisco a better place to live.”

The historic streetcar displays the simplified green and cream livery of the 1970s and is the same Presidents’ Conference Committee (PCC) model that was in service at that time. It was featured in the film “Milk,” starring Sean Penn, which debuted in 2008.

The current $31.5 million rehabilitation of the original 16 PCCs in the F-line fleet, which were built between 1946 and 1948 and were last overhauled 25 years ago, includes re-engineering of the electrical and propulsion systems, inspection of current ancillary electrical systems and rewiring all lighting systems. The cars are being “skinned” down to their frames, which are inspected and repaired where needed. New sheet metal is applied over the whole body.

The streetcar will be open for public inspection before and after the brief 10:15 ceremony and is then cleared to enter regular passenger service. Come by for the event, and then look for the shiny new car on the street.

 

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Buses & Streetcars: New Exhibit at SF Railway Museum

View Northeast on Market Street From 2nd Street | March 29, 1951. SFMTA Archives

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 in the city.

Come see this free exhibit at the museum, 77 Steuart Street between Market and Mission, across from the Ferry Building, Tuesdays through Sundays, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. (Oh, and come in soon: we’ve just put our great 2017 calendar on sale at the museum only, for just $5 (down from $12.95).)

Later this year, our members will be able to peruse an enhanced version of the exhibit in our quarterly newsletter, Inside Track.  Join now!

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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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“Service Improvement” on the F-line? You decide.

If you’re riding the F-line this sunny Saturday morning, you’ll find fewer streetcars out there, and longer wait times. But not to worry, it’s a “service improvement.”  Who says so? Muni. Muni’s parent, SFMTA, sent out a blog post entitled “More Muni Forward Service Improvements Roll Out”. The F-line is mentioned. But when you click through to the story, it’s, well, a different story. After listing other “improvements” (including cutting back a major crosstown bus line to eliminate transfers to the… — Read More

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E-line Problem Discourages Riders

A technical problem with a switch near the southern E-line terminal has forced certain streetcars to skip the final stop at Caltrain, discouraging some riders from using the service. As it was explained to us by Muni management, two of the seven double-end PCC streetcars assigned to the E-line have problems reversing at the Sixth and King Streets terminal because of a fault in a switch. The other five PCCs are able to bypass the problem by cutting power and… — 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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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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Unique SF Transit Gifts at our Museum Store

Looking for unique holiday gifts for friends and family, kids and former kids? Look no further than our San Francisco Railway Museum and Online Store. We’ve got a whole range of new merchandise you can’t find anywhere else, because we designed it ourselves in support of our mission to preserve and celebrate historic transit in San Francisco. We’ve got four new 11-ounce mugs featuring images from our Vintage Travel Series — original art we commissioned in the style of classic… — Read More

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Take Famed Streetcar No. 1 to See “Lost Landscapes”

  Rick Prelinger’s “Lost Landscapes: San Francisco” is celebrating its eleventh year at the Castro Theater in December. What better way to get there for the showing on Wednesday, December 7, than a ride on Muni’s very first streetcar, car 1, built in 1912. The streetcar ride to the Castro Theater will follow a special reception at our San Francisco Railway Museum. Here’s a brief description of “Lost Landscapes 11”: This year’s program features new scenes of San Franciscans working, playing,… — 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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Terrific Heritage Weekend

This year’s Muni Heritage Weekend was the best of the five that have taken place so far. Biggest crowds, more kids and families, more vintage vehicles operating, more variety in the routes operated. Kudos to everyone involved on Muni’s side — and there were dozens, operators, mechanics, supervisors, and more, directed by Ed Cobean. Here are a few shots of the action. The weekend started with a ceremonial run of O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde cable car 42 over Hyde Street… — Read More

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