Nothing evokes vanished San Francisco more than the old California Street Cable Railroad Company, more familiarly known as “Cal Cable.” This private company, founded by Leland Stanford, operated cable cars from 1878 to 1951, when it went bankrupt and was taken over by Muni. After that, politicians effectively dismembered it, and we’re still talking about whether its remnants can be improved.
Cal Cable’s three lines, California Street from Market to Presidio Avenue, O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde Streets from the downtown shopping district to Aquatic Park, and the five block shuttle on lower Jones Street, traversed both snooty and modest neighborhoods. More than that, it was a self-contained small business serving the public successfully for decades, only to be overtaken by a dramatically changing world. This has all been captured with a wonderful array of rarely seen pictures and detailed narrative by two transit historians, Emiliano Echeverria and the late Walter Rice, in a book from the Arcadia history series, San Francisco’s California Street Cable Cars. For a window into a bygone San Francisco, this book is worth a read. It’s available at our San Francisco Railway Museum, at a number of bookshops around the city, or online.