Gratitude: Big Picture and Closeup

Haight Street, West from Central Avenue

On this Thanksgiving weekend, we’re grateful for many things.

We’re grateful for the ongoing support of our members, donors, volunteers, and neighborhood, business, and labor groups in providing strong advocacy for San Francisco’s historic streetcars and cable cars.

We’re grateful for the hard work of so many employees of our preservation partners at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) in keeping Muni’s vintage transit vehicles on the street, looking good, and running safely.

We’re grateful for the leadership of SFMTA’s Ed Reiskin and John Haley and their senior teams, and of course their Board of Directors, led by Chair Tom Nolan and Vice Chair Cheryl Brinkman. And for the support we’ve received from so many Mayors and Supervisors over the decades.

These are “big-picture” thanks. But there’s a world of “closeup” thanks to share too. Including the photo above — or more specifically what it represents. It’s Haight Street between Central and Masonic avenues, just before Thanksgiving 1906; specifically, a bakery selling mince and squash pies for a quarter. It’s a detail in a wider shot that’s the subject of the Thanksgiving post of the great new blog recently launched by SFMTA.

The blog, Moving SF, which carries all kinds of news about the city’s transportation operations, also includes recurring posts featuring photos from the SFMTA Archives. This is possible because of a strengthened commitment by the agency to preserve its photographic past. Some of the work came from staff photographers documenting the original Municipal Railway, founded as a city agency in 1912. But other images, including hundreds of rare glass plates, came from old rival United Railroads, which became the Market Street Railway Company in 1921 and was merged into Muni in 1944.

For decades, these glass plates languished, largely forgotten, at times neglected, even sometimes stolen. Many ended up in the hands of individual preservationists; in recent years volunteers including Emiliano Echeverria have reunited many of these lost glass plates with the SFMTA Archive. Large glass plate negatives provide incredible detail not usually available from smaller film negatives. The SFMTA blog makes it possible to share these marvelous snapshots of history with thoughtful curation, in this case by Jeremy Menzies. Here’s the wider shot, with the detail indicated by the dotted lines on the upper right of the image.

One geek-out observation: here on Haight, United Railroads went to the expense of replacing the tracks of the old standard gauge cable car line, badly damaged in the Earthquake and Fire, with brand new standard gauge streetcar tracks. But just six blocks to the north, on Fulton Street, the company left identical cable car tracks in place and ran streetcars over them for the next 41 years!

Haight Street, West from Central Avenue
We’re grateful for SFMTA’s commitment to their Archives, which fall under the purview of SFMTA Marketing Director Candace Sue. And we’re grateful for the dozens of photographers whose images of San Francisco’s transit history have been donated to our Market Street Railway Archives. Led by our Education Committee chair, Alison Cant, these images are being curated by volunteers led by Mike Sheridan and Bob Strachan, to whom we are also grateful.

Our members are now seeing Market Street Railway Archives images in every issue of our quarterly member newsletter, Inside Track.  Join here to get Inside Track delivered to you four times a year, along with the other benefits of Market Street Railway Membership. Your membership helps us continue the advocacy and support of San Francisco historic transit, including our own archival activities — and of course, this website.

We incurred significant one-time expenses these past few months rebuilding this site from scratch on a proven, robust platform that gives us better capabilities, including the ability to post our own archival images more frequently, as you’ll see in the coming weeks. We’ve mailed a year-end donation letter to our members, outlining our needs and asking for your help. Members and non-members alike can help us by donating securely here. Any amount is welcome.

Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving to all!