Incredible Film: Cable Cars on Pacific Ave., 1929

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you haven’t. A couple of months ago, we got a call asking whether we recognized the location of a film. We did — Pacific Avenue. We had never seen motion pictures of that line, which closed in 1929. Now, the video has been posted on YouTube, with additional information on the provenance of the film.

It was professionally shot, with sound, by a Movietone Newsreel crew, which spent several days filming the line between Larkin and Divisadero, including the closing parade in November 1929. This was the last line still operating grip and trailer cars, and the crew was particularly intrigued by how they reversed direction at the end of the line. We were too.  Amazing to watch the ballet between the gripman and conductor as they swap the dummy and trailer to reverse direction. No layover, either!

The Pacific Avenue cable line was a real artifact. The Sutter Street Railroad ran several lines. This one, built in 1890-91 in an unusual wide (5-foot) gauge, ran up Ninth Street and Larkin to Pacific Avenue, then westward to Divisadero Street. After the 1906 earthquake, most of the line was converted to electric streetcar operation. But the Pacific Avenue portion was still cable operated, in part because of the grades, and in part because of the affluent neighborhood’s objections to “unsightly” overhead wires. United Railroads took over the line in 1902, then it passed to our namesake, Market Street Railway Company, in 1921. It was a big money loser for them, since it ran mostly along residential blocks and didn’t serve any real shopping or employment destinations. Besides, for much of its length, the 3-Jackson streetcar, which went straight downtown, ran parallel and just a block south. Market Street Railway finally won the right to abandon it and the farewell party is captured here.

The No. 46 grip car and No. 54 trailer car from this line are on display at the San Francisco Cable Car Museum. Joe Thompson’s Cable Car Guy website has the full history of this line, written by the incomparable Emiliano Echeverria and the late Walter Rice.

Some great scenes here. Love the two Pacific Heights matrons playing railfan, changing their seats to stay up front when the grip car reversed. The parade is priceless.

As always, we at Market Street Railway welcome your support in helping us preserve historic transit in San Francisco.