The most iconic transit vehicle in American literary history is Tennessee Williams’ “Streetcar Named Desire” from New Orleans. Muni currently has two such icons.
Both cars were built in 1923, part of an order of 73. They ran on a variety of lines, including the famed “Desire” line, a route that included Bourbon Street through the French Quarter as well as its namesake Desire Street. The Desire line lost its streetcars in 1948, and by 1964, bus conversions left only the venerable St. Charles line operating with streetcars. A few surplus cars, including these two, were sold to museums or attractions; the rest were scrapped.
Car No. 952 was repurchased by New Orleans from an attraction in Chattanooga to serve a new Riverfront line in 1984, and then retired again in 1997 when replaced by replica cars. It came from New Orleans to San Francisco in 1998 by agreement between Mayors Willie Brown and Marc Morial, for the world premiere of Andre Previn’s opera of Williams’ novel. Its lease was subsequently extended and it has operated regularly on the streets of San Francisco ever since.
In 2005, Market Street Railway arranged the purchase by Muni of car No. 913, identical to No. 952, from the Orange Empire Railway Museum in Riverside County. Car No. 913 awaits restoration.
While streetcars disappeared from the Desire line in 1948, that line lives on, not only in Tennessee Williams’ play, but in cars No. 913 and 952, and their 35 surviving siblings still serving New Orleans on the National Historic Landmark St. Charles line today.
Cars No. 913 and 952 built for New Orleans Public Service, Inc. (NOPSI) by the Perley Thomas car Company. Almost half of the 73 streetcars in this class still operate in New Orleans today.
After 40 years of New Orleans service on lines including Desire, Napoleon, Canal, and St. Charles, both cars, along with dozens of others, are declared surplus by NOPSI when the Canal Street line closes. Car No. 913 goes to Orange Empire Railway Museum in Riverside County CA; No. 952 goes to a hotel complex in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Car No. 952 is reacquired by New Orleans and repainted red for the new standard gauge Riverfront line.
Car No. 952 retired again and replaced with new replica streetcars when the Riverfront line is converted to wide gauge to match the St. Charles line.
Streetcar No. 952 leased to Muni, repainted in traditional New Orleans olive green livery. This genuine “Streetcar Named Desire” is an immediate success with public on the F-line.
No. 913 is purchased by San Francisco for future restoration.
No. 952 continues to operate in San Francisco, to the delight of riders. Market Street Railway continues working with Muni to seek funding for restoration of No. 913.
Originally built for
New Orleans Public Service, Inc., New Orleans LA, 1923
Car No. 952 leased to Muni by
New Orleans Regional Transit Authority, New Orleans LA, 1998
Car No. 913 purchased by Muni from
Orange Empire Railway Museum, Perris CA, 2005
Perley Thomas Co., High Point, North Carolina
General Electric K-36