St. Patrick’s Day, 1906

Workers of Irish extraction played a major part in laying and maintaining track for United Railroads in 1906. Here’s a crew at work on tracks along Fourth Street, looking north from Bryant. It’s dated March 17, 1906, one month and one day before the earthquake and fire that devastated San Francisco.

The images, both full-sized at the bottom and cropped two ways here, come from a glass plate made by United Railroads photographer John Henry Mentz and preserved by the fabulous SFMTA Photo Archive, to whom all the credit.

Click any image for a full-res version and then zoom in to see details like the ad for Columbia, “the gem of Talking Machines”, available at 125 Geary Street and perfect for the double parlor of your Victorian home. Or lots on which to build your dream San Francisco house: one dollar down, one dollar a week! And if you need to get out of town, check in at the Marine Corps Recruiting Station at 21 Powell Street, right at the cable car turntable!

After a hard day on the job, though, the crew shown here was more likely to stop in at the Transfer Saloon, just steps away at the corner, for a St. Louis Beer or Harper’s Whiskey, as advertised out front. And if they were privileged enough to have a phone at home, they could use the Bell pay phone inside to let the family know where they were…and then maybe drop in at the vaudeville show at Fischer’s theatre, advertised on the Bryant Street wall.

When Mentz took this 1906 photo, streetcars on Fourth ran north to Market, then out Ellis to Golden Gate Park. San Francisco’s oldest preserved streetcar, 1896 “Dinky” 578, ran on this line, on this very track in fact, when it was new. A dinky is faintly visible on the extreme right of the photo below, at about Harrison Street. Could it be our 578?

“Dinky” 578 still carrying passengers before the pandemic at 20th & Church Streets.

In 1947, after Muni took over, the Fourth Street tracks were switched to connect to the original F-line at Stockton and Market, extending the F, which served the Marina, North Beach, and Chinatown, down to the old Southern Pacific train depot. (The 30-Stockton bus took over this route in 1951.)

And today, as seen in the then-and-now view of the whole original photo, the track’s back on Fourth!

Google Streetview

Yep, the spot where the crew was working on Fourth Street in 1906 is now the portal for the lonnnng-awaited Central Subway, which will carry the T-line north under Fourth and Stockton Streets to Union Square and Chinatown, come next year (so we’re told).

In 1906, crews like this one got the tracks on both Fourth and Bryant Streets back in service within two weeks after the quake, even though the saloon and every building in the 1906 photo was incinerated on April 18. The saloon site is now the offramp for the last San Francisco exit from Interstate 80 before the Bay Bridge. So, if you’re hunting for St. Paddy’s Day cheer, look somewhere else. Or better yet, wait til next year, when hopefully we can all celebrate the wearin’ of the green together!

If you enjoy these looks back, and want to keep seeing the past (like 578) present in the future, please consider supporting us. Even the price of a beer helps!

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F-line to return in May, Hyde cable later this year!

Mayor London Breed told a group from Fisherman’s Wharf this morning that F-line vintage streetcar service will return to the full length of the route, from Castro to Fisherman’s Wharf, in May.

Cable car service on the Powell-Hyde line (only, for now) will resume as early as mid-summer, but many details remain to be worked out and that date could change. There is no word at this point when service on the Powell-Mason or California lines might resume.

It is our understanding that initial F-line streetcar service will be provided for eight hours a day by the streamlined PCC cars only, with operator protective shields to be installed around the operator’s position, as is done on the buses. For further operator safety, the same operator will keep the car all day, taking it out of the barn and bringing it back at the end of the shift, as is currently being done with buses and light rail vehicles.

This will limit F-line operation initially to eight hours a day, with exact hours to be determined in consultation with merchant groups along the line. (Pre-pandemic, the F-line operated 18 hours a day, with most F-line cars staying out the whole time, with one operator relieving another in the middle of the day.) The time between cars (service frequency) will be less than the approximately 6-8 minutes pre-pandemic and will depend to some extent on demand

It appears resumption of full-line F-line service will be brief, however. Work to replace the tracks between Fifth and Eighth Streets as part of the Better Market Street Project is slated to begin this fall and could last up to two years. Market Street Railway is working hard to convince the Department of Public Works, which is in charge of the project, to stage the work in a way which gets the tracks done in the shortest amount of time possible so that streetcar service can resume. During whatever period the tracks from Fifth to Eighth have to be out of service for replacement, we are working with SFMTA in hopes of operating double-end streetcars from the Wharf to the crossover at Fifth Street, with single-ended cars providing additional service along the waterfront between the Ferry Building and the Wharf area.

Market Street Railway has worked very hard for months now, side by side with Muni’s operator’s union (Local 250A) and numerous business and neighborhood groups to get the iconic cable cars and F-line streetcars back on the street. We thank Mayor Breed and SFMTA leadership for finding a way to return these symbols of our city to the street during these challenging budget times. They’ll send a sign to the Bay Area, California, and the world that San Francisco is back in business.

We will have a complete report on this for our members in the new edition of Inside Track, our quarterly member magazine, due out next week. Click here to become a member and get it. We’ll send you the last two issues as a bonus.

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Black barrier-breakers in San Francisco transit

In recent decades, memorable African-American leaders have made history in San Francisco transit. There’s Curtis E. Green, Sr., the first Black general manager of a major US transit agency. H. Welton Flynn, first Black San Francisco City Commissioner, and leader of Muni’s governing boards for many years. Larry Martin, a powerful and persuasive head of Muni’s operators’ union.

For this year’s Black History Month, we’ll reach back further in time, to highlight three women and one man who broke barriers in transit.

Charlotte Brown and Mary Ellen Pleasant: In April 1863, Charlotte Brown boarded a horse-drawn streetcar run by the Omnibus Railroad Company. The operator told her she wasn’t allowed to ride because she was Black. She told him she had always ridden the streetcars and was very late to her appointment. When a white woman on board complained about her presence, the operator physically removed Charlotte from the car.

Omnibus Railroad horsecar on Montgomery Street

She brought Omnibus Railroad Co. to court – twice – and won. It was a huge victory, happening just after Black people were allowed to testify against whites in court. Another Civil Rights pioneer, the noted African-American entrepreneur Mary Ellen Pleasant, had the same experience in 1866, before the earlier suits were finally adjudicated. Pleasant successfully challenged streetcar segregation all the way to the California Supreme Court and won. These women changed California history, some 90 years before Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus and changed national history.

Audley Cole: Audley Cole was the first Black operator ever hired by Muni, in 1941. He passed the civil service examination by leaving his race off the form. After he was hired, white operators refused to give him the training necessary to start work. Fourteen operators decided to be suspended rather than train him, and the operators’ union threatened a $100 fine against any operator who trained him. The one white man who tried to train him was beaten so severely he was hospitalized.

Audley Cole

After three months, with support from the ILWU (the International Longshoreman’s and Warehouseman’s Union) and the general manager of Muni, Cole finally received training directly from the head of Muni’s training department. At Muni, he fought for fairer treatment for future Black employees. 3 years later, there were nearly 100 Black employees at Muni. “Civil service is dedicated to fair play,” said Cole. “It’s a job for which I have qualified and I want it. I’m going to get it.”

Maya Angelou: Now remembered as a famed author and poet, Maya Angelou’s first job – in 1943, when she was 16 – was as a streetcar conductor in San Francisco. She wanted the job initially, she said, because she “liked the uniforms.” When she tried to apply, no one at the Market Street Railway office would give her the job application.

Maya Angelou

She didn’t give up – she went back to the office every single day and sat in the waiting room. Eventually, a manager approached her and allowed her to apply. (She said she was 18, the minimum age). She became the first Black female streetcar operator in San Francisco. During that summer, she operated the 7-Haight line, which at that time ran from East Bay Terminal (at First and Mission) out Market, Haight, and then along Lincoln Way to reach the beach, crossing the park to terminate at Playland. Market Street Railway is proposing that Streetcar 798, of the type she worked on, be dedicated to her memory when it is restored.

As you can see, many of the first civil rights breakthroughs in public transit happened here in San Francisco. Yet few people know about them. We’re trying to change that through stories like this and other actions to ensure these barrier-breakers are properly remembered. We salute all those who have stood up to racism, sexism, and discrimination in San Francisco’s transit industry…for more than 150 years!

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The 15-Third is back

White Brand Motor Coach 0359 at Ocean Division Bus Yard, Geneva and San Jose Avenues, May 2, 1962. SFMTA Archive. Note the wonderful message below the windshield, visible whenever the front advertising holder was empty.

Though not this exact bus. In a time when many of its well-established lines, including the F-Market historic streetcars (which carried more than 20,000 riders a day) are still suspended because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Muni is adding an entirely new route. No, wait. What they’re doing is reviving the well-known bus line known as the 15-Third, and setting it up kind of like a T-Express, to provide faster service downtown from the Hunters Point neighborhood and points along Third Street from the Bayview District through Dogpatch, Mission Bay, and the South of Market areas to Market Street.

Here’s the SFMTA announcement of the route, along g with its rationale for starting it up. They summarize it this way: “This community-designed route connects the hilly communities east of Third Street to Downtown and was chosen by residents who voted in a fall 2020 survey. The process and the route demonstrates our commitment to working with communities to provide equitable Muni service.”

15-line’s route starting January 23. The loop through Hunter’s Point wasn’t part of the original 15 bus.

Streetcars, ultimately run by our namesake Market Street Railway, provided service the length of Third Street until 1941 when buses replaced them. (Read the wonderful recollections of our late historian Phil Hoffman of the Third Street streetcar era, with great photos.)

BUSY BRIDGE— Third Street Car 961 is bound for Visitacion Valley, crossing the old Islais Creek Drawbridge, which it shared with both Southern Pacific and Santa Fe switch locomotives. Streetcars had only a few months left on Third Street in this mid- 1941 shot, but Muni’s huge Metro East light rail facility now sits just three blocks from this location, at center right. Tom Gray photo, MSR Archive.

When Muni took over in 1944, the 15-Third bus line became the workhorse of the east side of town, ultimately running from Fisherman’s Wharf all the way to the county line, then west to Geneva and Mission and later on to City College. But when a new sales tax for transit projects passed in 1988, residents in the Bayview lobbied hard for a light rail line to replace the 15-bus, saying other parts of town had rail service and they deserved it too. Muni agreed, and half a billion dollars later, the T-line opened in 2007 to replace the 15. (Another nearly two billion is being spent to extend the T-line under Fourth and Stockton Streets to Union Square and Chinatown, but that project, the Central Subway, won’t open until at least the end of next year, four years late.)

A 15-Third bus leads a pack of Macks up Third Street at Market, October 21, 1959. Marshall Moxom photo, SFMTA Archive

The 15-line, now officially called the 15-Bayview Hunters Point Express, starts service January 23, the same day the T-line goes back to streetcars from the buses that have substituted for almost a year during the pandemic. On the SFMTA website story, there was one comment echoing long-running complaints that the T-line operates much slower than promised and that the old 15-bus was better. Guess we’ll find out starting January 23. And yes, they’ll be using new buses.

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What might have been: Geary

Editors Note: An early version of this article appeared in a past issue of Inside Track, our member magazine with exclusive stories and inside information about Muni’s historic streetcars and cable cars. Click here to become a member and receive it. Geary was Muni’s first “backbone”. It is still easily its busiest corridor, operated now with buses longer than it was with streetcars. By any transit measure, its ridership justifies rail service on Geary, including a subway through at least… — Read More

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Giving Tuesday: can you help?

Today is Giving Tuesday, a day promoted around the world to focus people’s attention on the needs of many kinds addressed by nonprofits. We at Market Street Railway know full well, especially right now, that there are urgent needs everywhere. We hope you’ll be able to spare a little something for charities in San Francisco, or wherever you’re reading this, that are helping with the Covid-19 pandemic or other human needs. We do want to let you know that Covid-19… — Read More

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Cool backdrops let you Zoom into history

The Zoom app, an obscure business conferencing tool just a few months ago, is suddenly the star and salvation of the shut-down world, with millions of people jumping on to videochat with friends and family. Zoom offers the option of putting an electronic backdrop behind you, and offers some stock scenics. But you can also upload your own, which gave the archives and communications staffs at SFMTA a great idea. We love it! There are samples above and below. Here’s… — Read More

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A familiar (if brief) clang

Wes Valaris says it warmed his heart. Wes is the cable car superintendent, and in our eyes he’s been doing a fantastic job burnishing the historic aspects of this most historic transit operation. But the test ride he took last Friday (April 17) was unlike anything in his career. With the cables silent and the cars in the barn for more than a month now, the great maintenance crew has been catching up on a long backlog of restoration and… — Read More

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

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… — 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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Trip to Europe on the Waterfront

With Blackpool, England Boat Tram 228 pulling an temporary “Brexit” from this summer’s special waterfront streetcar service on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Muni Chief Julie Kirschbaum is sending in fun substitutes to fill in. The coming two Tuesdays and Wednesdays (July 23-24 and July 30-31), 1952 Euro PCC 737 (which operated in Brussels but is painted to honor San Francisco’s Sister City, Zurich, Switzerland) will be cruising the waterfront. As a bonus, it will also operate on Swiss National Day, Thursday,… — 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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