Hayes Street: transit since 1860

Muni’s 21-Hayes bus line returned to service on July 9, 2022 after a 27-month pandemic suspension. Early in the pandemic, Muni management hoped that the crisis might give them an opportunity to rationalize the network by permanently shutting down some of the parallel routes that dated back to the 19th century. The 21 was one of several lines, including the 2-Clement and 6-Parnassus, on that list.

But following strong political pressure from Supervisor Dean Preston, who says he has used the 21 to commute between his home and City Hall, bolstered by support from the San Francisco Transit Riders and past users of the 21, it’s now back in service, albeit with a shorter route terminating at Market Street, rather than continuing on to the Ferry Terminal.

The 21 returns, at least for now, as a motor coach, but until the pandemic shutdown, transit on Hayes Street had been a fixed guideway route (horse car, cable car, streetcar, and trolley bus) for 160 years. Only Market Street can match that duration. In all modes of vehicle operation, transit has made Hayes a vital San Francisco street.

Hayes Street: transit since 1860
EARLY HAYES CABLE DAYS – Cable Car 7 at the Stanyan Street turntable, around 1886, with an unimproved Golden Gate Park in the background. New York Public Library

Transit service on Hayes Street started with a horsecar line built by Thomas Hayes in 1860 to increase the attractiveness and value of his real estate developments in what became Hayes Valley. In 1883, the Market Street Cable Railway Company inaugurated what became a five-line cable car network running up the spine of Market Street. It was San Francisco’s biggest transit capital investment until the Market Street Subway was built 90 years later. Cable lines branched off Market going west in this order: McAllister, Hayes, Haight, Valencia, and Castro. The Market Street lines used the largest cable cars in history, capable of carrying 130 passengers. (Only one of these giant cable cars survives, much modified, but once again operational: “Big 19”.)

Hayes Street: transit since 1860
CABLE TIME RUNNING OUT – The new Ferry Building’s clock reads 1:56 pm on an 1899 day as Hayes Cable Car 211, flanked by horsecars, heads up Market on another trip to Golden Gate Park. SFMTA Archive

The 1906 Earthquake and Fire destroyed the Market Street cable system. Owner United Railroads quickly strung wires over the standard-gauge cable tracks of the Market Street lines and brought in electric streetcars to take over. Service was restored to Hayes Street less than two months after the ‘quake, an exceptional achievement.

Hayes Street: transit since 1860
ADDING A NUMBER TO A NAME – An Ellis-Hayes streetcar, newly given the route number 21, on Ellis at Mason around 1911. The Humboldt Bank (still there) is in the background on Market, the illuminated “1915” at the top calling attention to the forthcoming Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Emiliano Echeverria collection, MSR Archive

However, the grade on western Hayes Street between Pierce and Scott was too steep for electric streetcars. To get around this, United Railroads created two lines to serve Hayes. One, the Hayes and Ellis line, ran from Ellis and Market Streets out Ellis to Divisadero, then south on Divisadero to Hayes, west to the end of Hayes on Stanyan, then north on Stanyan to a terminal at Fulton Street. In 1911, when streetcar lines were numbered, this became the 21. The other Hayes line, the Hayes-Masonic, ran up Market from the Ferry, out Hayes to Fillmore, and then along existing streetcar tracks on Fillmore, Oak/Page, and south on Masonic, jogging over hills to reach what’s now UCSF on Parnassus Avenue. This line was numbered 6.

Hayes Street: transit since 1860
CUT COMPLETED – Hayes Street and Pierce Street Looking West, April 27, 1916, two months after the 21-line started running the full length of Hayes with electric streetcars, duplicating the old cable car route. Though the reason for it – the streetcars – disappeared in 1948, the cut is still there. John Henry Mentz photo, SFMTA Archive

When that too-steep block on Hayes was regraded in 1916, routes were shuffled. The 6-line moved over to Haight Street, and the 21 moved from Ellis to run the length of Hayes Street, extended to the Ferry on Market. The 1916 changes restored the original Hayes cable route with streetcars, extended from the end of Hayes two blocks north on Stanyan to Fulton Street. By the 1930s, it had been further extended west on Fulton, running with the 5-line to 8th Avenue, then south on 8th Avenue to Clement Street.

Hayes Street: transit since 1860
THIS WAY TO THE PARK – Streetcar 1525, signed for the 21-Hayes, at McAllister Street Car House, March 26, 1920. The 21 was housed and serviced at this location (Fulton and Masonic) just about its entire streetcar life, though it used several models of streetcars at various times. John Henry Mentz photo, SFMTA Archive

In those same 1916 changes, the route of the old 6-Hayes & Masonic was taken over by the 32-Hayes & Oak, but the 32-line had very low ridership, ended up using only three cars, lost money, and was discontinued by 1932.

Hayes Street: transit since 1860
PAST MEETS FUTURE – It’s the early 1940s at Market and Mason. 21-Hayes Car 121, already 30 years old, passes almost new Muni “Magic Carpet” streamliner 1004, headed toward the Ferry. MSR Archive

The 21-Hayes electric streetcar, however, was profitable and busy, running 25 streetcars at peak hours in 1929 (by comparison, today’s F-line, a bit longer, ran 22 peak-hour cars before the pandemic. By 1943, though, the number of peak cars on the 21-Hayes had dropped to 17, even as wartime loads increased overall. In 1948, the 21 became part of Muni’s mass conversion of streetcars to buses, motor coaches temporarily while the overhead wires were converted, then trolley coaches starting in mid-1949.

Hayes Street: transit since 1860
FIRST 21 BUS – For exactly one year, starting July 3, 1948, motor coaches took over many old streetcars lines for Muni. On most of these converted routes, including the 6-Masonic and 21-Hayes, shown here at the Ferry Building on September 27, 1948, ‘permanent’ trolley bus service took over in 1949. Marshall Moxom photo, SFMTA Archive
Hayes Street: transit since 1860
TWIN TERRITORY – For much of its first quarter-century as a trolley bus line, the 21 was served by the streamline-looking Twin Coaches. Above, a Twin climbs up Hayes past Alamo Square in 1962. The apartment building and famous “Painted Ladies” row of Victorian homes are still there, but the skyline beyond is almost unrecognizable today. The Federal Building on Golden Gate Avenue, being framed here (center) is dwarfed by taller buildings today. Below, twin Twins at Market at McAllister, also in 1962. The first Twin, on the 5-line, has just turned onto McAllister, with a 21 right on its tail, three blocks away from its turnoff. Marshall Moxom photos, SFMTA Archive
Hayes Street: transit since 1860

After the overhead was rebuilt from single-wire (for streetcars) to dual-wire, trolley buses took over the route in 1949 and served it until 2020, when the pandemic shut almost all of Muni down. As budgets got tighter and ridership patterns changed, Muni cut the 21-line back to Stanyan and Fulton, and now, they’ve removed the Market Street segment as well, with that main street having ample service, at least until downtown office buildings fill up again.

Hayes Street: transit since 1860
WHEN THIS LOOKED NORMAL – New Flyer Trolley Coach 5713 on the 21-line heads east on Market at Powell, passing F-line PCC 1053, honoring Brooklyn, 2018. The 2022 version of the 21 doesn’t go down Market, and may never again. Jeremy Menzies photo for SFMTA

By Rick Laubscher

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Comments: 2

  1. My history of the 21 line only extends to the Twin coach, Faegols…I loved their ride, it seemed every bounce was throwing people in multiple directions….wondering why it seemed the ‘Twins’ only ran on the 21 and 30 Stockton lines…

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