The California Street cable car line has terminated at Market Street since 1891. For the past 50 years, its neighbor has been the Hyatt Regency, the innovative hotel designed by John Portman, now iconic in its own right. When the hotel’s current management generously supported the celebration of 150 Years of Cable Cars, they asked us if we had some old photos of the location.
Why, yes. Yes, we do.
California Cable Car 50 (built in 1910) on April 14, 2023 at its terminal in Robert Frost Plaza at California and Market Streets. The plaza, built in conjunction with BART and the redesign of Market Street, was dedicated in 1974 to the four-time Pulitzer Prize winning poet. The monument, seen center foreground, notes that Frost was born in San Francisco in 1874 (one year after Andrew Hallidie invented the cable car here) and spent his childhood in this part of the City. Frost later remembered, “Such was life in the Golden Gate/ Gold Dusted All We Drank and ate/ And I was one of the children told/ We all must eat our peck of gold.” Two blocks to the east, the Ferry Building tower is surrounded in scaffolding for repairs, just as it was in 1906 to fix earthquake damage. Rick Laubscher photo
Here is the Hyatt Regency site in 1885, six years before the California Street cable cars were extended to reach Market. A horsecar line provided a connection from the cable terminal at Kearny to the old Ferry Building, two blocks to the right. opensfhistory photo wnp26.340
When the Cal cable line reached Market Street in 1891, the line’s owners replaced the little dummy and trailer pairs with impressive new double-ended single cars that became a standard design for both cable cars and electric streetcars all over the Western US, named “California types”, not for the state, but for the street on which they first appeared. This shot was taken at the terminal in front of the building in the photo above, between 1898 (when the new Ferry Building dimly visible at right opened) and 1904, when these cars received windshields. All of these cars were destroyed in the earthquake and fire. Almost identical cars were built to replace them, many of which still operate on California Street today.
Here’s the terminal around 1905. Except for the cable car, everything in the scene is horse-powered, including the horse-drawn streetcar headed from the ferry to the foot of Sutter Street, where it will connect with…a cable car, of course. Philip Hoffman collection, MSR Archive
This is what was left of those buildings two photos above after the earth shook and the sky burned on April 18, 1906. The Ferry Building survived, though its tower had to be repaired. We see one of the first electric streetcars on Market, running on hastily converted cable car track. United Railroads, which controlled the Market Street franchises (and kept the California cable cars from reaching the Ferry) bribed the mayor and the entire board of supervisors to make the conversion of Market from cable cars to streetcars permanent. opensfhistory.org photo wnp4.1337
Fifteen months after the earthquake and fire, July 6, 1907, we look west along California Street from the south side of Market Street. New buildings are already going up, and cable car service on California has been restored, with new cars. New streetcar tracks are being built on Market, two feet or more higher than the old Market cable car tracks at the bottom of the photo, to compensate for settlement of the ground, which was all Bay fill. John Henry Mentz photo, SFMTA Archive
By 1913, the scene at the foot of California Street was transformed with new buildings and the beautifully painted new California cable cars. This is the same angle as the top current photo. The area was still heavily maritime oriented, so the sailor walking at far right fit right in. Emiliano Echeverria collection
This wider angle shot, a colorized still frame from a late 1930s motion picture, shows how the Cal Cable terminal related to the “Roar of the Four”: the quartet of busy streetcar tracks on Market Street. We see a Foster’s Restaurant outlet, part of a well-known chain back then, at far left, with San Francisco’s unique Wiley “Birdcage” traffic signal next to the cable car.
This photo, taken around 1943, is virtually identical to the 1913 shot above, except for the men’s clothing and the building tenants. Emiliano Echeverria collection
In 1952, Muni took over the privately-owned California Street Cable Railroad Co. (“Cal Cable”), but other than painting its name at the top of the cars, made no immediate changes to the line. Nothing else had really changed, either. This shot shows the magnificent Southern Pacific Railroad headquarters building, erected in 1916 (now called One Market). Fitting in a way, since Southern Pacific interests, led by Leland Stanford, built the original Cal Cable line in 1878. opensfhistory.org photo wnp27.50476
Two big changes by 1960. The California Street cable line has been cut in half, now only going as far as Van Ness Avenue, instead of all the way to Presidio Avenue as it had before; a terrible decision that greatly reduced ridership. The other big change? The double-deck Embarcadero Freeway has cut off the Ferry Building from Market Street, a wrong finally righted after the 1989 earthquake made the freeway unsafe and voters elected to replace it with a waterfront boulevard – and the F-line historic streetcars. Marshall Moxom photo, SFMTA Archive
In 1965, we see a small pedestrian plaza at the Cal cable terminal. Change was coming, as skyscrapers started to sprout nearby after voters approved of building a rapid transit system for the region: BART. opensfhistory.org photo wnp14.4662
Almost everything changed at California and Market in the early 1970s, except the California cable line. The buildings at the terminal were demolished, along with almost everything else in the area, in the name of “urban renewal”. The Hyatt Regency Hotel was built. So was BART, beneath Market Street, which was redesigned with wider brick sidewalks. As part of that Market Street project, the short block of California Street between Drumm and Market, creating an off-street terminal for the line. The Hyatt Regency is just two years old in this 1975 shot. Marshall Moxom photo, SFMTA Archive
The California line terminal on Muni Heritage Weekend, September 2018. Drumm Street is to the right, with Embarcadero Center rising behind. Cable Car 42, built in 1907, served the O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde line until it was closed in 1954. Sold to a rancher, our nonprofit brought it home and restored it with Muni’s help. As part of the celebration of 150 Years of Cable Cars, it and the one-of-a-kind Sacramento-Clay cable car are carrying passengers regularly. Click here for the schedule of their appearances. Rick Laubscher photo
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Cable Car History, California, Double-Ended Cable Cars, History Features, History Spotlight, San Francisco Cable Car Fleet, SF Famous Cable Cars, SFMSR | Tag cable cars, California and Market Streets, California Cable Car Line, Ferry Building, Hyatt Regency Hotel, Robert Frost, San Francisco cable car | Bookmark the permalink.