Happy 108th Birthday, Muni!

December 28, 1912. Fifty thousand San Franciscans gathered at Market and Geary Streets. Was it a presidential visit? No, it was the transit equivalent of a late visit from Santa. It was a new streetcar line.

Happy 108th Birthday, Muni!
Mayor James Rolph, Jr. personally pilots Car No. 1 past Jones Street on Geary, December 28, 1912. San Francisco Public LIbrary photo.

But symbolically it was a lot more than that. For the ten locally-built gray and maroon streetcars that began running up and down the A-Geary line that day had letterboards on the side emblazoned in gold leaf “MUNICIPAL RAILWAY.” They were the first publicly owned streetcars in any major American city. San Franciscans turned out because they were proud of what their government had done.

In those days, private companies owned transit lines, which made a profit, even with a five-cent fare. They were awarded franchises from cities for the right to use the streets, lay down their tracks, and string their overhead wires. In San Francisco, this arrangement had led to significant corruption and the public was sick of it. So they approved a bond issue to purchase the obsolete Geary Street Cable Railroad and convert it to streetcars.

When Mayor “Sunny Jim” Rolph boarded Car No. 1, paid his fare (using one of the first 40 nickels produced by the San Francisco Mint less than three blocks away on Fifth Street), and personally took the controls for the ride out Geary, the crowd roared.

Now, 108 years later, Muni faces perhaps the most critical moment in its existence. Travel patterns that date back to the 19th century, focusing on connecting downtown employment and shopping with outlying neighborhoods, have been shattered by the pandemic, with no clear picture of how widespread and permanent the change to working and shopping from home will be.

We do believe that when the pandemic ebbs, tourism will return and help rejuvenate businesses from the Wharf to the Castro District, and we are advocating hard for the F-line to be reinstated to serve those businesses as well as the growing number of residents in new developments along Market Street. We would very much appreciate your support for our advocacy with a year-end tax-deductible donation or membership.

Happy 108th Birthday, Muni!

In whatever form Muni emerges from this cataclysmic event, its history as America’s first publicly owned big city transit system will endure — as will that very streetcar Mayor Rolph operated, Car No. 1 (above), which our advocacy helped get fully restored as Muni’s 100th birthday gift to itself in 1912. We can’t wait to see it carrying passengers on the street again — to celebrate the future reopening of the F-line!


Comments: 20

  1. Well, lessee…All the San Francisco cars should be operable and presentable for parade or service. At least representatives of the historic bus fleet should also be present and preferably in operation. 5 cent fares.
    And the diversity of the F-line should be specifically celebrated!

  2. I’ve already marked 28 Dec 2012 as a “be there or be square” event. It would certainly be a bummer if Muni 1 was on “static display” or represented by a poster, but I’m sure we’ll see a magnificent parade of streetcars in four years. I remember the opening of the “F” line with all the colorful PCCs, the vintage cars, and the ancient ex-MSRy line car. Then there was the Cable Car Centennial in 1973, when my daughters and I got up at O-dark-30 to join the fun, and the “last day” (or so we thought) of PCCs in 1982. To quote an old Motown song, “So many memories”, especially for southern Californians who endured the “long dry spell” from 1963 to 1981 with only the Muni oasis within a day’s drive or train trip.
    Regarding buses–I think a White “shortie” from the 39-Coit line still exists. Any of the Macks still around?

  3. OH how-a-bout a ground breaking ceremony for the NEW A or B-Geary Light-Rail line!,…. I know, I know that’s CRAZY talk. One can still dream.

  4. Muni will then have eventually purchased 30 more WL Holman-class cars.
    It would be nice to see historic streetcars run on the metro lines for just one day, of course, there would have to be enough streetcars. Maybe if Muni parked the historic fleet in front of City Hall or Geary and Kearny, where the A-Geary started in 1912.
    Bob, there are two Macks lying around, 060 and 062. 060 is in Marin, and is owned by a Muni driver, I’m not sure about 062 though. They wouldn’t be able to run on the 39 because of the ADA, but I heard neighbors of North Beach wanting a “public/private” sponsorship of the 39, labeled as a “third tourist route”.
    I agree with CD, they should consider breaking ground for the B-Geary light rail to at least Ocean Beach.
    Robert, it be most likely Muni would be free that day 😉

  5. On your site, I read that during the cable car rebuild/shutdown, Muni ran streetcars out in the avenues as part of the trolley festivals. That would be a great treat if all of a sudden there was a PCC on the L instead of a train, but it would never fit everyone… maybe special weekend charters to the zoo?
    Since it sounds like the E-line is still a few years away… and South Beach really doesn’t seem like it’s built up enough to really need it… and Muni’s already been talking about service cuts elsewhere… just hold it for a couple more years and do a big launch of the E for the centennial.
    I really like the posters that explain each car and even better was the Harvey Milk car, which I just got to ride last week. That, by the way, is especially awesome and fitting (sadly) since I lost my civil rights in November. I think it would be even better if you put those kind of history posters on every car, not dedicating every streetcar to someone, but you can do other history like where streetcars used to go and don’t anymore.
    I’d like to know more about the cities each PCC is painted for, your signs right now spend as much time explaining what a PCC is as they do about the city. I get you need to do that for tourists who don’t know what a PCC is and will probably never ride another, but I ride them every day and would like know more.
    What about a Key System streetcar? Are there any left? I’m sure the two-car bridge trains would be too big for the F-Line, but they also had regular streetcars didn’t they? It’s not Muni, but it’s kind of sad that the East Bay is left out of the F-Line.

  6. Chris, there are, but they’re owned by Western Railway Museum.
    Weekend charters would be a good idea, but if a PCC car were to stop at Forest Hill station, it would have to be figured out since it’s almost exclusively high floor, and there are switching problems at Castro Station

  7. You’ve assumed it has to go underground. You could have the charter run from the store by the ferry building, do that little squiggle around the Castro and take the J-Line through the park to Balboa Park where you switch onto the K-Line to West Portal before taking the L-Line to the Zoo. It would be a long trip, but you could charge a pretty penny for it.

  8. We’re starting to get off topic and into the weeds. Obviously there’s support for more restoration and expansion and we all have our pet favorites. Mine would be car 1 and Fort Mason, largely because I like the idea of taking the F though a tunnel.
    I’d like to see some of those cars that never run get pulled out, and not necessarily to run. You had, hands down, the best booth at the Castro Street Fair and I’d bet good money that a lot of people were happy to see something they haven’t seen before.

  9. @ Lava Rat — they ran just that route out the F, J, K, and L years ago as an excursion several weekends: they called it the Z-Zoo line. The PCCs have it on their roll signs. Could happen again, although that’s a very long ride for “civilians” (i.e. non-railfans) and, on the frequently foggy summer says in the Sunset, not a lot of fun on the outer end of the line if you’re on the boat or a Muni boxcar. But on a warm day — heaven!

  10. Is the trolley wire in Twin Peaks tunnel still trolley pole compatible? I’m reasonably sure the only PCC that could go past the “ghost station” at Eureka would be 1008, which has a “pan” and was used for testing the downtown tunnel overhead. Any other old cars would have to use the subway-surface connecting tracks at Eureka; as I recall, these tracks require very slow operation, and I don’t know if the switches are hand-throw or remote control.
    Regarding the Key System, not only are the Bridge units too big, they have railroad-profile wheels, which would not do well on streetcar rails. Many years ago the BAERA brought a Sacramento Northern Birney to The City and found that its wheels were not compatible. I’m not sure about the Key System streetcars; it probably wouldn’t hurt to ask BAERA/Western Ry Museum, although the transportation cost might be prohibitive. Back in 1982, BAERA’s Muni 178 returned to its home rails for a few years.
    Regarding the preserved buses: 060 and 062 are Whites; I remember an excursion with 062 about 25 years ago; I had my Ford pickup and drove it to a nearby gas station with some fuel cans to keep the White’s gas engine running. Even if one of these is still running, buying gasoline to bring it back to MuniLand in four years might be rather expensive.

  11. There should be a weeklong celebration, or lead up to New Year’s. Maybe place streetcars in certain popular tourist spots and put on display. A trolley parade sounds good, maybe trolley buses and streetcar run side by side (despite that occurs today…)

  12. Say, who owns that last Boeing car that’s standing by the Mint? That would be an interesting historic car to run, and it could even run in the tunnel (does it have ATCS?). A Z-Zoo line would be an interesting trip on weekends, if a bit long. They’d have to run the PCCs on that, they’re definitely the fastest cars in the heritage fleet.

  13. MSRy owns the Boeing parked at Duboce yard. They have another one at Green Division, parked at the last row. Unfortunately they’re not going to advocate for the return because Muni doesn’t want to touch them. And if ATC is implemented it’s going to mess up the system like the 1999 Meltdown.

  14. The Boeing parked on Duboce is NOT owned by Market Street Railway, but by Muni.

  15. The remaining Boeing at Duboce is in rather poor shape and has been vandalized quite extensively. The one at Green had been considered one of the best of the remaining ones and had been rebuilt and repainted for charter use when Muni was still doing that. There is a picture of it in one of our older calendars. It can be used above ground without the ATC , according to a Muni mechanic familiar with them. I also agree that Muni wants little to do with them,, but for the centennial it might be interesting to try and use this remaining one in very limited usage.

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