A Trip to the Boneyard!


8274901387_bc4a3275a6_z.jpg

1954 Hamburg, Germany tram No. 3557 (right) and two ex-Muni PCC streetcars are among the historic vehicles awaiting restoration at Muni’s "boneyard," as the streetcar storage facility is informally known. Todd Lappin photo.

Recently, a group of Market Street Railway board members joined a tour of Muni’s storage facility for streetcars awaiting restoration. This facility, near Islais Creek, exists in part because of our active advocacy, begun three decades ago, to preserve retired streetcars to meet possible future service needs. Already, several have been plucked from this purgatory and restored to service. We are working to see that more follow, as demand grows for additional service on the F-line and future E-line.
The photo above comes from Market Street Railway board member Todd Lappin, who tells all about the trip here, with many more photos. You can find more information on the tram on the right, from Hamburg, Germany, here.
The visit has also been chronicled by Market Street Railway board member Jeremy Whiteman, who co-chairs our calendar committee, and Jon Wollenhaupt. (Enjoy viewing these photos, but please respect the artists’ copyright rules as posted on their sites.)
As Todd points out, not all the streetcars in the “boneyard” will ultimately be restored. Some, with badly rusted or accident-damaged bodies, have already given up many parts needed to keep the current fleet running. We’re currently working with Muni to help determine the most viable candidates for restoration, to set priorities as the need comes up. You can see which streetcars are in storage and get a general idea of their condition by reviewing our complete streetcar roster.
As year-end approaches, it’s a good time to note that we depend entirely on memberships and donations to do what we do, along with thousands of hours of volunteer time and proceeds from gift sales at our San Francisco Railway Museum. Since you’re reading this post, you probably have some interest in our efforts, so please consider helping us. Thanks very much.

No Comments on A Trip to the Boneyard!
Share

Reunifying the Wharf, Extending the F-line to Fort Mason

reunifyingthewharf-1.jpg

While National Park lands are a major destination of the planned streetcar extension to Fort Mason, connecting western Fisherman’s Wharf to regional transit and the rest of the waterfront is a big benefit as well. Market Street Railway illustration, Robert Campbell photo.

Did the F-line split Fisherman’s Wharf in two? Anecdotal evidence suggests it might have, albeit accidentally, to the detriment of the western part of the Wharf area. But a solution is at hand: an extension of vintage streetcar service westward to Aquatic Park and Fort Mason, a project now in environmental review. This project, currently led by the National Park Service with strong Muni support, promises very positive impacts for the western Wharf area as well.

Changing Historic Patterns

Fisherman’s Wharf is San Francisco’s biggest visitor attraction. As such, it’s a critical part of the city’s economy, in good times and bad. Until the late 1960s, what people referred as ‘the Wharf’ was almost literally that: the boat harbor next to Pier 45 that was home to the city’s fishing fleet, crewed mostly by Italian immigrants and their descendents. The string of restaurants surrounding the harbor was included and not much else.

But in 1957, Muni realigned its cable car service, piecing together parts of two lines to make a new ‘Powell-Hyde’ line that, for the first time, directly linked the heart of the city’s retail and hotel district to Aquatic Park. Tourists just wanting a cable car ride happily climbed on board the Hyde cars only to find an empty dirt lot at the other end, along with a bunch of industrial buildings.

But this new, visitor-friendly historic transit line soon helped inspire visionary developers, including William Matson Roth and Leonard Martin, to convert some of those old industrial complexes into shining new retail attractions such as Ghirardelli Square and The Cannery. Gradually, the definition of ‘Fisherman’s Wharf’ expanded, in the minds of both visitors and merchants, to stretch from Ghirardelli in the west all the way to Pier 39, developed in the late 1970s, in the east.

The two cable car lines distributed public transit visitors evenly across the western and central parts of the Wharf. (The Powell-Mason line’s terminal at Bay & Taylor has served the area since 1888.) The eastern edge of the Wharf area, anchored by Pier 39, counted mostly on automobiles to bring its visitors, as clearly evidenced by the enormous garage adjacent to the facility.

When the F-line opened to the Wharf in 2000, visitor travel patterns changed again. Now, in addition to the two north-south cable car lines reaching the Wharf, there was attractive east-west vintage rail service directly linking downtown via The Embarcadero, where it replaced an infrequent Muni bus that no one rode.

Looping through much of the Wharf on Jefferson Street heading west and Beach Street heading east, the F-line was an immediate hit with riders and today carries far more people than the Powell-Mason and Powell-Hyde cable car lines combined. Some of the F-line ridership has come at the expense of the cable cars (the $5 cable car fare and long turntable lines in summer no doubt play a role in this), but most F-line riders appear to be people who otherwise would have either taken a private automobile or a taxi. Bottom line, though, the F-line has made it easier and more attractive for people to reach the Wharf. At least part of it.

When people ride into the Wharf area on F-line streetcars, they pass sights they’ve seen or heard of before. Pier 39. Restaurant Row. And, just before the Jones Street terminal, the fishing fleet’s harbor. So, the strong temptation when getting off the streetcar is to walk back to explore these attractions, rather than walking westward. Watch where people go when they get off the F-line cars at the terminal and this pattern becomes visible. Similarly, visitors who start their Wharf visit at Pier 39 and walk westward often stop when they see the F-line terminal at Jones and take the streetcar back downtown, figuring (wrongly) that the end of the line is the end of the attractions. Given this, perhaps it is not so surprising that some attractions in the western part of the Wharf have seen static or declining visitation since the F-line opened.

Back to ‘Plan A’

There’s a little irony in this, because Muni’s original plan for historic streetcar service, dating back to 1979, called for the line to go all the way through the Wharf — past it, in fact, to use the 1914 railroad tunnel to reach Fort Mason Center.

But by the time planning for the F-line extension began in earnest, the originally proposed Fort Mason terminal had been pulled back to the central Wharf area for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was opposition to the whole streetcar concept by some wharf merchants concerned about losing a handful of automobile parking spaces.

reunifyingthewharf-2.jpg

Muni’s H-line ran through Fort Mason from 1914 until 1948, but never connected it directly to Fisherman’s Wharf. The streetcar shelter (left) is still there, as are the buildings, now National Park Service Headquarters for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Bob McVay photo, Walter Rice collection.

Now, wharf merchants unanimously support the F-line and are calling for additional service to handle the demand, which at 23,000 daily riders is way beyond Muni predictions.

Seven years ago, the then-executive director of the Fisherman’s Wharf Merchants Association, Al Baccari (now a member of Market Street Railway’s advisory board) began lobbying to implement Muni’s original plan of streetcar service all the way to Fort Mason. His reasons? The Fort Mason Center area had grown steadily in popularity through its mix of performing arts venues, galleries, and exhibition space, to attract more than 1.5 million visitors annually, despite no direct Muni connection to the Wharf or Downtown. Many of those Fort Mason visitors, Baccari reasoned, would take an attractive streetcar to get there, stopping to eat or shop at the Wharf on the way. The Wharf would also gain a quick attractive connection to Fort Mason’s ample affordable meeting space, helping its hotels attract more conference business.

That spark of interest from Wharf merchants was enough to rekindle the proposal. The National Park Service, as part of a park master plan, had been reserving the abandoned — but intact — 1914 railroad tunnel between the foot of Van Ness Avenue and Fort Mason Center for rail transit. The Park Service also saw how attractive streetcar service would provide a pollution-free alternative for visitors to reach its San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, enabling children and families from all over the Bay Area to reach the park easily on public transit. It would also give them the ability to expand visitor capacity without having to expand parking. This too, helps merchants in the western Fisherman’s Wharf area.

Rebalancing Wharf Transit

The extension has the important benefit of reunifying the pieces of Fisherman’s Wharf by rebalancing transit access between its eastern and western portions. After studying several possible east-west alignments of the extension, Beach Street was selected as the route for environmental and historic preservation reasons. Among other advantages, this allows the placement of streetcar stops in both directions directly opposite the Hyde Street cable car turntable, providing a mini-transit hub to visitors wishing explore the Wharf area. The streetcar tracks alone provide a clue to visitors getting off the cable cars that there’s something to see where the tracks lead.

reunifyingthewharf-3.jpg

The extension would run in both directions from this point on Beach Street at Leavenworth, westward into the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, enlivening the streetscape in the western Wharf while circulating more visitors among its attractions.

Going east from Hyde, the tracks pass The Cannery and the foot of Columbus Avenue, gateway to North Beach, and then continue on Beach to connect to the existing F-line track at Jones. (Coming west on Jefferson from the current Jones Street terminal, the extension would go west to Leavenworth, then swing one block south to meet the eastbound line at Beach.)

Going west from Hyde, the extension’s track reaches Ghirardelli Square and the Maritime Museum, now undergoing a multi-million dollar renovation by the National Park Service. Indeed, a key reason for such strong support of the extension by the Park Service is the exposure streetcar riders will get to the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park (including the Maritime Museum, Aquatic Park, the Hyde Street Pier’s historic ships, and Municipal Pier).

Along with the tracks, the streetcar extension will bring the existing F-line’s upgraded streetscape to the western Wharf on the streets it follows, including ornamental streetlights/trolley wire supports and passenger boarding areas. This further reunites the Wharf area visually.

Moving Forward

Market Street Railway has been closely involved with the extension planning process since it began, serving as an advocate and facilitator through a role on the technical advisory committee created by the National Park Service, which is leading this phase of the project.

An Environmental Impact Statement is underway and once a draft is published, public comment will open to take feedback. Though it has been slow, the project continues to progress.

Earlier expected to be operated as an extension of the forthcoming E-Embarcadero line running along The Embarcadero from Mission Bay to Fisherman’s Wharf, Muni now considers it possible that rider demand would cause the extension to be operated as part of the more frequent F-line instead, with the E-line terminating at Jones Street. (Either way, both the E and F lines would operate between Jones Street and the Ferry Building.) Further study, public comment, and operating experience will inform the ultimate operating decisions.

Whatever the operating details, a vintage streetcar extension would clearly help reunite Fisherman’s Wharf in addition to its many benefits to the National Park Service, which has funded the studies and would fund much of the project construction as well. The core construction costs are estimated at around $30 million, not counting contingency, plus $10 million for a seismic retrofit of the tunnel, which is planned to be funded separately. Five million dollars of the extension project has already been funded; additional funding is being sought from sources that do not conflict with such Muni priority projects as the Central Subway. Depending on funding availability, the extension could be carrying passengers by 2014.

As of 2010 planning work continues slowly, but steadily, despite SFMTA budget troubles. Market Street Railway will continue advocating for this and other historic transit projects with the support of our members.

39 Comments on Reunifying the Wharf, Extending the F-line to Fort Mason
Share

Muni Streetcar No. 1051 Dedicated to Supervisor Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk Dedication onboard Streetcar 1051

We at Market Street Railway is very proud of our work with the SFMTA to honor Harvey Milk with the dedication of PCC streetcar no. 1051. I especially want to thank Dan Nicoletta for his advice, support and use of his photography for the interior informational panels. Dedication ceremony photos by Georg Lester »

The SFMTA press release:

PCC No. 1051 will honor the memory of Milk with permanent exhibit

San Francisco—The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), which oversees the Municipal Railway (Muni), joined with its non-profit partner Market Street Railway (MSR) this morning at 17th and Market streets to dedicate historic streetcar No. 1051 to the memory of human rights pioneer and transit advocate Supervisor Harvey Milk. Supervisor Milk was the first San Francisco Supervisor to regularly use a Fast Pass.

Milk served as a strong advocate for the quality of life issues still essential to San Francisco today. His exceptional and enduring contribution to the betterment of public transit in San Francisco will live on as this streetcar travels from Market and Castro to Civic Center, just as he did each day he was in office.

“This rolling classroom will inform Muni customers on the F Market line about Supervisor Milk’s passion for improving Muni and city government in general for all San Franciscans,” said SFMTA Executive Director/CEO Nathaniel P. Ford, Sr. “This is a meaningful way to help visitors and residents appreciate this pivotal civic leader.”

“Harvey Milk’s legacy in the human rights movement is well known, and we wanted to draw additional attention to his efforts to improve Muni and make San Francisco a better place to live,” said MSR Board of Directors President Rick Laubscher. “We call the streetcars moving museums and this car will serve as a dynamic presentation of San Francisco history.”

The historic streetcar displays the 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,” which will premiere tonight at the Castro Theatre.

» About Muni Streetcar No. 1051
» PCC Streetcar Makes a Cameo in Harvey Milk Movie

» Harvey Milk Remembered

Comments Off on Muni Streetcar No. 1051 Dedicated to Supervisor Harvey Milk
Share

Ding Dong Daddy: The real story

The scene

January, 1945—newsboys at the Ferry Loop screaming headlines about the Battle of the Bulge and MacArthur closing in on Manila, their voices competing with screeching streetcar wheels and boat whistles. Open the paper—San Franciscans on casualty lists every day. Turn to the ads—the hot movie is Meet Me in St. Louis, with Judy Garland singing “Clang clang clang went the trolley.” An instant hit. But many newspaper readers were engulfed in a different part of the paper—the local news, which was dominated by the kind of titillating story that’s now standard fodder for cable television.

The story had many elements familiar today—sex, allegations of crime, local celebrities: San Francisco District Attorney Edmund G. ‘Pat’ Brown (later governor), noted criminal defense attorney Jake Erlich, financier Louis Lurie, hotelier Ben Swig, and others. And at the center of it all, a Muni streetcar conductor.

dingdongdaddy-2.jpgVan Wie Meditates—In a contemplative mood, Francis Van Wie sits behind bars after his arrest on bigamy charges in 1945. San Francisco Public Library photo. Click to enlarge photos in story.

Francis Van Wie liked women. He met lots of them on the job: holding down the rear platform of aging streetcars heaving themselves around the city under the crush of wartime loads. With so many men overseas in the service, there wasn’t a lot of competition. So he courted them and married them. Quite a few of them. At the same time.

An unlikely lothario, Examiner reporter Norma Barzman described Van Wie as “on the wrong side of 50, round as a beer barrel, pale and meek looking with a shiny bald head and eyeglasses.” At 5′ 2″ and 180 pounds, beer barrel was a pretty good description…and he became so famous locally, he complained, that whenever he walked into a San Francisco tavern, the bartender would buy his drink and someone would put a nickel into the jukebox and play the Trolley Song. Actually, for a time his fame spread nationwide—thanks to a story first scooped by Examiner reporter Ernest Lenn, but immortalized by Chronicle reporter Stanton Delaplane. It was the story of the Ding Dong Daddy of the D-car Line. Sort of.

The setting

dingdongdaddy-1.jpg22-Fillmore Car, still in MSRy ‘zip stripe’ livery shortly after the 1944 merger with Muni, rattles around the turn from Duboce to Fillmore. Some of Francis Van Wie’s wives lived very close to the 22-line, his ‘home turf’. Today, MSR’s Pharr Division restoration yard sits less than two blocks from this scene, on the old N-Judah Duboce right-of-way, abandoned when the Market Street subway opened in the late 1970s. Phil Hoffman collection.

When the US entered World War II in December 1941, Muni still competed with the privately owned Market Street Railway Co. (MSRy), our namesake. Both companies faced severe personnel shortages as regular employees left for military service. Out of necessity, long-time employment prejudices fell, and many African-Americans and women stepped through the ‘gate of opportunity’ to relatively well-paying jobs by climbing the two high steps onto a streetcar platform. (After the war, returning male veterans squeezed out almost all the women, the majority of whom had been hired on a ‘limited tenure’ basis. That’s a story we’ll bring you in a future issue of our member newsletter, Inside Track.)

The moniker

A common practice of newspaper editors in those competitive days was to find a catch phrase to stoke public interest in the story. (A classic example of this was the unsolved dismemberment murder of a young Los Angeles woman that grew in public attention after a newspaper dubbed her the Black Dahlia). In the early going of the Van Wie story, one paper nicknamed Van Wie the Car Barn Casanova; another called him the Trolley Toreador. However, all other sobriquets soon gave way to the inspired invention of Chronicle reporter (later long-time columnist) Stanton Delapane: Ding-Dong Daddy of the D-car Line.

dingdongdaddy-3.jpgFrancis Van Wie (bald, in overcoat) stands at his 1945 San Francisco trial. To his immediate right is famed defense attorney Jake Erlich, and next to Erlich is District Attorney (and later California Governor) Edmund G. ‘Pat’ Brown. San Francisco Public Library photo.

Delaplane later admitted he filched the name from a popular song of the previous decade—Ding Dong Daddy of Dumas, recorded by Louis Amstrong—given the fact that San Francisco streetcar conductors rang bells to signal the motorman, or ‘motorette’, and…bingo! Higher newsstand sales. There was one unfortunate fact in the way…Van Wie almost certainly never worked the D-line. Presumably, Delaplane and his editors followed the newspaper adage of the time: “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.”

Muni and MSRy employment records of the period were destroyed, but recollections of contemporaries make it clear that during his spree, Van Wie was assigned to Turk and Fillmore, a MSRy division, while the D-line, always a Muni line, ran from Geary Division about twenty blocks away. (Muni officially acquired its private competitor, lock, stock, and employees—apparently including Van Wie—on September 29, 1944.)

dingdongdaddy-4.jpgThe Ding Dong Daddy of the D-car Line enters San Quentin State Prison. San Francisco Public Library photo.

Ruth Losaga, a retired MSRy ‘motorette’ and conductor, recalled in an interview with this author that during her tenure at the Turk and Fillmore Division, she had Van Wie as her conductor on Fillmore Street. She said, he was “The last person in that carhouse I would have expected to have been a bigamist,” and said that he did not cause her any concerns. Market Street Railway Historian Philip Hoffman recalls riding on Van Wie’s car on the 22-line and says that, after the trials, one of the papers staged a photo op with him on the rear platform of Muni D-line car No. 172.

dingdongdaddy-5.jpgO’Farrell, Jone & Hyde Cable Car No. 62 passes by the Padre Hotel at 241 Jones Street (at Turk) where Van Wie was put up by financier Louis Lurie after his arrest, to await his trial. Jack Tillmany collection.

In that period, Turk and Fillmore housed only two main streetcar lines, the 22-Fillmore and the 31-Balboa. Additional circumstantial evidence all points to the 22-line as Van Wie’s line. Consider that Wife Number Eight reportedly lived at 8 Sanchez Street (one block west of the 22-line’s turn from Duboce onto Fillmore—photo, p.3). Another wife lived at 426 Oak Street, two and one-half blocks from the Fillmore line.

Additionally, in January 26, 1945, the press reported that a younger woman, describing Van Wie as ‘that silly old fool’, disclosed that he leered at her through his bifocals daily that summer of 1944 when she climbed aboard his trolley and that he even asked for a date. This 28 year-old potential victim listed her address as at 650 Oak Street (again, between Fillmore and Webster, just steps from the 22-line).

The clincher

Stanton Delaplane himself reported in the January 25, 1945 Chronicle that the Ding Dong Daddy “cashed in at the Fillmore car barn.” But while Delaplane and his editors had to know Van Wie’s actual assignment, Ding Dong Daddy of the 22-car Line wasn’t alliterative and didn’t scan either. So what the heck, make it the D-line. (To throw in a complete red herring, a 1952 Examiner item claimed that the Ding Dong Daddy of the D-car Line in reality plied the F-Stockton line, but this seems plain wrong, as the original F-line ran out of Geary, along with the D-line and several other Muni lines.)

The crime

Van Wie was too old to be drafted, but not too old to flirt—and them some! As the newspapers and D.A. Brown unraveled his story in early 1945, the number of women he married kept increasing from four to fourteen—all without a single divorce! Brown indicted him for bigamy, for which Van Wie faced a maximum of ten years in state prison if convicted.

dingdongdaddy-6.jpgIn this staged press photo, ex-conductor Van Wie (in sedan) shakes the hand of one of his motormen, tellingly aboard a 22-Fillmore car. San Francisco Public Library photo.

While the papers treated it generally as a lighter counterpoint to the grim wartime news, all was not the jovial merriment the papers tended to emphasize. Most wives reported that within weeks, Van Wie became abusive—stayed out late or was gone for weeks at a time. Wife Number Three summed up what it was like for her. “Frank’s a card in the parlor, a gentleman on the street, and a beast in the home.” Another said that after two months he became insanely jealous, accusing her of stepping out with other men, and then beat her. She promptly ended the relationship.

The M.O.

Wives seemed to be rather unabashed in explaining how they fell for this lothario…most were middle-aged women. Several sat together at his trial and were photographed engaging in good-natured conversation with him—together! Indeed, many met him on the streetcar. Interestingly, the Ding Dong Daddy sought work on the rear platform, rather than the front, where he would have stood beneath a prominent ‘Do Not Talk to Motorman’ sign.

dingdongdaddy-7.jpgVan Wie reported for duty to the Turk-Fillmore Division. Once onboard his run, he ‘went to work’. This site was razed, replaced by a market in the 1950s, which in turn was converted to a police station. Across the street, though, the old brick Market Street Railway Co. powerhouse remains, still owned by the city, but derelict, and badly in need of seismic work before it can take on a new life of some sort. Market Street Railway photo.

Wife Number Eight, Myrtle, explained how she met him in a January 22, 1945 Examiner story. “I was standing on the rear platform and he was the conductor…When the car lurched…I fell right into his arms and I ‘fell’ for him, too. It was love at first sight.”

Later that week, Van Wie matter-of-factly explained his wiles to Examiner reporter Norma Barzman: “You’re a woman. I could get you to marry me in a month…[Women] want to be told they’re loved more than anything else—and they want their own way.

“It’s simple. If I wanted to get you to marry me, I’d help you cook dinner some night and I’d make you feel how cozy and secure love can be…

“Older women are the ones who like to feel secure. They want to feel they’re building a home and just starting out like a sixteen year-old bride…I know how to make a woman feel as if she’s the only woman in the world—and I’m the only man.”

His proposal line? “Let’s build a life together.”

Van Wie relished his role as streetcar conductor. “If any of my occupations made women like me it was being a streetcar conductor. It was a position of authority and seemed to represent standing in the community…It was a very respectable job—and they thought they could be sure of getting my weekly pay check.”

The committee

This is where Lurie, Erlich, Swig and others (including Oakland Oaks baseball club owner Joseph Blumenfeld and Atherton Mayor James B. Howell) enter the story. Between Van Wie’s arrest and his trial, they formed a support committee that persuaded five bail bond brokers to chip in $200 each toward his bond. During the trial, Lurie even put him up in one of his holdings, in Room 707 of the Padre Hotel at 241 Jones Street (see photo at left), where, conveniently, the Daddy could hear the bells of both the Jones Street cable on the street below as well as those of the MSRy’s Balboa High Speeds on neighboring Turk and Eddy Streets.)

The employer

As embarrassing as the notoriety of this employee must have been to Muni, Utilities Manager E.G. Cahill’s comments reflect wartime employment tolerances and the challenges facing the railway in just providing service. “I can’t find anything in the City Charter against him having more than one wife. I believe the public cares more about getting streetcar service than whether a man has one or five wives.”

The defense

Van Wie’s attorney, James Toner, downplayed the Ding Dong Daddy as being a ‘sheep in wolf’s clothing’, claiming that he was harmless, that “He meant no harm to his wives; that he was sentimental, and that he did not harm them or run away with money.”

The prosecution

District Attorney Brown presented a different portrait, citing evidence that Van Wie had abandoned one wife with a baby—who was later adopted. (Van Wie denied this—claiming it couldn’t be his child as he was sterile.) Brown portrayed him as a youthful horse thief and later, a man who absconded with union funds (a very serious charge in pro-Labor San Francisco.) Finally, Brown dropped the bombshell that Wife Number Five, Mabel, was really his daughter by his first wife. Van Wie finally claimed that she was indeed the daughter of Wife Number One, but that he was not her biological father.

The stories

dingdongdaddy-8.jpg22-Fillmore car crosses Market before the 1944 Muni-MSRy merger. Phil Hoffman collection.

San Franciscans have always been mesmerized by a good storyteller, and Francis Van Wie was a consummate liar. One wife recounted how he would turn up wearing an army uniform after being missing for a while. As his excuses unraveled publicly, the FBI bureau chief’s ears perked up when he heard one wife say that in 1942 he told her that he was actually an FBI agent, dropping the first names of the local bureau chief and referring to the agency’s director as ‘J. Edgar.’ He explained his long absences to her by the excuse that he was involved in secret undercover work examining the attack on Pearl Harbor. Van Wie saw no bounds to his cover, claiming to one wife that his investigator role required him to pose as a married man to other women.

The judgment

By early February, things were looking bad for the Daddy in court. He entered an unsuccessful insanity plea (which the jury deliberated on for 55 minutes before denying on the second ballot). He was convicted of Bigamy, and sentenced to ten years, entering San Quentin State Prison on April 12, 1945, the day Franklin D. Roosevelt died. He quickly disappeared from the news…for awhile.

The return

Within a year, Van Wie’s trial judge was petitioned for his release on parole. He was described as an ‘elderly man’ and his case was seen as lending a ‘great moral lesson to our youth’. Two years to the day later, Frances Van Wie was paroled, with a special condition that he was not to wed for five years without the approval of his parole officer. As he had lost his job at Muni, on release he worked first as a peach picker, then as a janitor in Oakland at Machek’s Waffle and Cocktail Lounge at 22nd and Telegraph, where he undoubtedly witnessed the last days of Oakland streetcar service.

dingdongdaddy-9.jpgVan Wie with his fiancee and Judge Kaufman. San Francisco Public Library photo.

Fantastic though it may sound, Van Wie surfaced again in late 1949 when he approached none other than his trial judge (Kaufman) with a request to be married. After the stunned judge ascertained that he was free to marry since he had cleared all his prior marriages through annulments or divorces, he insisted that Van Wie bring the fiancee into the court. There, he ‘strongly advised her against marrying him’. When she insisted, he relented and married them.

In 1952, Van Wie popped up in the press again, working at the El Rey Burlesque Theatre at 35th and San Pablo Avenues in Oakland. Here he starred in an act entitled My True Love Story wherein he and the accomplished performers all wore conductor’s hats.

The last time we found coverage of the Ding Dong Daddy in the San Francisco press was May 8, 1958, when an article noted that Francis Van Wie, then 73, married his eighteenth wife in Southern California. He soon dropped out of sight and died in the town of Lake Elsinore, Riverside County, in 1973.

The end

After World War II ended, financially strapped Muni did everything it could to free itself from the labor costs of conductors, converting lines to single-operator buses whenever possible (the 22-line changed over in 1948, the D-line in 1950), and trying to pass law changes and acquire newer streetcars that didn’t require two-person crews. In 1958, the last regular run of a two-person streetcar pulled into the car barn…until the first Trolley Festival 25 years later. Today, those vintage streetcars on the F-line that originally operated with two-person crews still do.


The legacy

Francis Van Wie’s fifteen minutes of fame had an odd afterlife. Ask almost any San Franciscan from that time about the Ding Dong Daddy and they will remember a surprising amount of detail from an event that took place 60 years ago. Google the Daddy and you’ll find some odd references, including one artist who did a Ding Dong Daddy tribute, confusing the Dumas song with the Van Wie case, and making Van Wie a cable car conductor.

Speaking of songs, perhaps the oddest legacy of all is another song by the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies from the 1990s. Ding Dong Daddy of the D-car Line makes him a train conductor. It is perhaps fitting that this contemporary song should get it wrong, since we now know the original press coverage was also wrong.

Also, while the press reported testimony from multiple wives that Van Wie was physically and mentally abusive, the coverage carried a ‘boys will be boys’ undertone, not surprising from a newsroom culture completely dominated by men. But, though it all happened a long time ago when societal mores were far different, there is an eerie resonance captured by the modern song. Tune in any of the crime and court-covering cable television stations today, and it won’t be long until you see some oddball story that in one way or another echoes Ding Dong Daddy. Except today, it just might be a mommy.

— Rick Laubscher

Comments Off on Ding Dong Daddy: The real story
Share

“My City, My Game”

“This is my city and my game…You birds’ll be in New York or Constantinople or some place else. I’m in business here.” David Dugan photo-montage. Thus spoke Sam Spade in Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, the progenitor of the hard-boiled detective novel and now, in the 75th anniversary year of its publication, widely recognized as a seminal work of American literature. When the book was written, San Francisco was Hammett’s city too, a fact made obvious from the rich detail… — Read More

Comments Off on “My City, My Game”
Share