Here Comes Muni Heritage Weekend

This year’s Muni Heritage Weekend got off to a great start with a special reception, sponsored by Market Street Railway, honoring San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board Chair Tom Nolan, who just received a prestigious industry award. The universally-respected Nolan, a steady hand in leading SFMTA for many years, was just named board member of the year by the American Public Transportation Association.

Following the invitation-only reception at our San Francisco Railway Museum, everyone hopped on 1934 Blackpool, England boat tram 233 for a sail along The Embarcadero to Pier 39 and back, spotting a bigger boat at the Pier 27 Cruise Ship Terminal.  (Click the center of the screen below to see!) The new-but-traditional colored lights on this boat were made possible by contributions at the museum to our “Float the Boats” fund, enhancing these two wonderful ambassadors from Blackpool. Boat tram 233 itself was brought to San Francisco by Market Street Railway in 2013 and given to Muni thanks to a generous donation by the Thoresen Foundation, with shipping underwritten in part by FedEx Trade Networks.

Saturday and Sunday, September 24-25, starting at 10 a.m. and wrapping up between 4 and 5 p.m., there’ll be lots of vintage transit action. Two vintage trolley coaches (776 from 1950 and 5300 from 1975) will leave every 45 minutes between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. giving free rides along Muni’s first trolley coach route, the R-Howard-South Van Ness, which opened 75 years ago. There’ll be rarely-operating historic streetcars, including a boat tram and 1896 “dinky” 578, offering free rides between the museum and Pier 39. Two streetcars from Muni’s original fleet, Car 1 (1912) and Car 130 (1914) are slated to run as part of E-Embarcadero line service, along with 1948 PCC cars No. 1006, 1008, and 1011. These rides will be at regular Muni fares, as will the special cable car, O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde Street Car 42, built in 1907, which will operate in regular service on the California Street Line just a block from the museum.

At this writing, motor coach arrangements are pending after an unexpected maintenance issue cropped up in 1969 GMC Coach 3287. We will update this post as we know more.

At the museum, we’ll be offering a great line of gifts and some one-of-a-kind memorabilia, including books and photos of historic rail operations outside San Francisco. Get there early for the best selection.

And on Saturday night, we still have a few seats left on our special charter of trolley coach 776 to see the streetcar movies at the Balboa Theater.

Here’s a shot of last night’s honoree, SFMTA Board Chair Tom Nolan (right), with Market Street Railway Board Chair Bruce Agid, at the reception at our museum.

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It’s going to be a great Muni Heritage Weekend. Don’t miss it!

 

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“White Front” Cable Car Returns

Powell 12 new

Powell Street cable car 12 returns to service today after an extensive rebuilding process that lasted more than two years. Its return marks the completion of a project that Market Street Railway has supported Muni on for more than 20 years. Powell 12 now proudly wears the famous “White Front” livery of our namesake, Market Street Railway Company, that all Powell cars wore from the mid-1930s until 1944, when Muni took over its private competitor, acquiring the Powell cable lines as part of the deal. The livery is very simple: all white on the ends, all green on the sides. That was deliberate. Market Street Railway Company was in increasing financial trouble and wanted to keep labor costs down wherever possible. An earlier Market Street Railway Company livery, displayed on Powell Car 9, featured red window sashes. (The company painted all its streetcars and cable cars in the simpler scheme shown above.)

Since the Powell-Mason streetcar line opened in 1888, the “halfway to the stars” cars have worn numerous liveries (paint schemes) adopted by the five companies that have owned the Powell lines over the past 128 years. From bright yellow to red to green to blue to maroon, the history of Powell liveries is a kaleidoscope of color. Generally, though, the Powell cars were only one color at a time.  (There were interesting exceptions, which we’ll address in the next issue of our newsletter for members onlyInside Track, due out in July.)

In 1973, for the centennial of the first cable car line, one car was reconstructed and painted in the original 1888 livery of the Powell Street Railway Company (a subsidiary of Ferries & Cliff House Railway), thanks to Charles Smallwood, who was then cable car superintendent. The handsome livery on Powell Car 1 was just restored to its 1973 appearance with Market Street Railway’s help.

The maroon and sky blue livery was so well liked that the rest of the fleet was painted in a simplified version of it during the cable car system rebuilding of the 1980s. However, one car, Powell 3, was left in the previous Muni green and cream livery. This gave us, and some folks at Muni, an idea. Why not share other vintage Powell liveries with today’s riders? So over the past 30 years, as Powell cars went into the carpentry and paint shops for major rebuilding, various vintage liveries were applied to them.  Here’s a look at all of them. (Scroll down to the thumbnails of the various cable cars and click on any of them for the story of that car and its livery.)

The wonderful restoration work is a tribute to Muni’s dedicated cable car crafts workers. Market Street Railway helped by researching the liveries, preparing drawings and specifications and creating and purchasing decals for the cars that replicate the original owners’ logos (which were hand-lettered in the early decades of the cable cars.

Car 12’s debut marks the last of nine different liveries worn by Powell cars. Most of them are on the street most days of the week. We are working with Ed Cobean, Muni’s current cable car boss, to have all of them out, if possible on Muni Heritage Weekend this year, September 24-25.

Welcome back to this important piece of San Francisco history, bringing the famous “White Front” livery back to Powell Street for the first time in 72 years!

 

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Say Hey! Say Willie!

Left to right, Willie Mays, Mayor Ed Lee, Giants President and CEO Larry Baer, and SFMTA Board Member Malcolm Heinecke chat in front of Willie's cable car No. 24 before the dedication ceremony.

Left to right, Willie Mays, Mayor Ed Lee, Giants President and CEO Larry Baer, and SFMTA Board Member Malcolm Heinecke chat in front of Willie’s cable car No. 24 before the dedication ceremony.

 

A great event at the Cable Car Barn May 6 to celebrate the 85th birthday of the incomparable Willie Mays. How incomparable? President Obama sent a video tribute calling him “the greatest living ballplayer,” great enough for the president to award Mays the Presidential Medal of Freedom last year.

Why the Cable Car Barn? To “bring together two moving national landmarks”, as President Obama said. He noted that San Francisco’s cable cars were named the first national historic landmark that moved, “except for Willie running the bases.” The president’s fandom was plain to see, as was that of the invitation-only in-person audience that came to see cable car 24 (naturally) dedicated to No. 24, Willie Mays.

President Obama speaks via video at the dedication of cable car 24 to Willie Mays.

President Obama speaks via video at the dedication of cable car 24 to Willie Mays.

SFMTA Board Member Malcolm Heinecke, who is also Mays’ personal attorney, thought of the tribute. Market Street Railway helped SFMTA implement it by providing the car’s history, which turns out to be wonderfully appropriate.

Originally built in 1887 for the Ferries & Cliff House Railway, the original owner of the Powell cable lines, Car 24 received its last major renovation by Muni crafts workers in 1958, the year the Giants — and Willie Mays — moved to San Francisco from New York. It’s also the only cable car to go on a “road trip” will still in active service with Muni — representing San Francisco at the big Chicago Railroad Fair in 1949 (where it actually operated on a short stretch of specially-built cable track) and to the Shriner’s Convention in Los Angeles in 1950.

Following a speech by Mayor Ed Lee, officials unveiled a photo blow up of a new plaque mounted on the car honoring Mays. Then everyone piled onto Car 24 for a ceremonial ride that included a very rare, probably unprecedented moment: reversing the car on the  barn’s motorized turntable with a full load to point it to the exit gate on Washington Street. Click the black video box below to see it.

Then Car 24 and guests were off for a brief trip “around the horn”, as cable car folk describe the non-revenue turn left on Powell from Washington used to put cable cars into and out of service. Willa Johnson, one of Muni’s two female gripmen, took the controls for the run. The Chronicle’s Steve Rubenstein wrote a great story on the whole event. Again, click the black box below to watch Car 24 leave the barn for the first time as “the Willie Mays cable car.”

It was great to see Willie Mays ringing the conductor’s bell on his cable car, and even more to see the outpouring of genuine affection for someone who has been a positive symbol of San Francisco to millions of people — just as the cable cars have.

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Hyde at 125

DG0044, Muni O'Farrell, Jones & Hyde line cable car 50, Hyde bet. Francisco & Chesnut Sts, May 11,1954(Phillip Scherer) 700px wide

In 1891, the California Street Cable Car Rail Road Co. opened San Francisco’s last all-new cable car line, on O’Farrell, Jones, Pine, and Hyde Streets, linking the Tenderloin with Nob Hill, Russian Hill, and the waterfront at what’s now called Aquatic Park (then a warehouse and industrial area).

Market Street Railway will be suggesting specific celebration ideas to Muni, which has operated cable cars on Hyde Street since 1952. (Photo above is from 1954, just before Muni shut down the line and connected it to the Powell tracks to create  the Powell-Hyde line in 1957).

Our next issue of our quarterly members-only newsletter, Inside Track, will feature an original article and rare photos chronicling the 125-year history of the cable car lines that run of the most scenic transit routes in the world along Hyde Street.

If you’re a lover of San Francisco transit history, and you haven’t yet joined Market Street Railway, this is a great time. We have loyal members who have been supporting us for 30 years, and they’ve made a huge difference in our ability to acquire and help restore more than a dozen historic streetcars, and even a cable car from that O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde line, which you’ll be able to ride September 24-25 on the next Muni Heritage Weekend. As the photo below shows, it’s a beauty, right down to the hand lettering just as it was in 1906.

42 Hyde California 110312 TM copy

We really need your support. Please click here to join us and get our exclusive newsletter. As a special bonus, we’ll send along the last four issues of Inside Track with our compliments!  Thanks.

 

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Better Cable Car Safety

With the strong support of Market Street Railway, Muni’s parent SFMTA is proposing an 18-month test that would remove everything but cable cars (and pedestrians) from lower Powell Street, specifically the two blocks between Ellis and Geary. Here’s a good Hoodline story with details. SFMTA recommends starting the test in November, but the Union Square Business Improvement District, led by Karin Flood, is concerned that the busiest shopping season is a bad time to implement changes, especially when seasonal shoppers will… — Read More

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Walgreen’s Invents New Transit Vehicle

Underneath the very intersection of historic transit in San Francisco, in the basement of the old Emporium (now a food court named — wait for it — the Food Emporium), is a shiny new Walgreen’s. Kind of a mini-Walgreen’s, actually. There are a couple of bigger ones within a block or two (are drug stores multiplying like Starbucks?) Anyway, just so you don’t think you’re dealing with some kind of national chain or anything, they’ve got a sign saying they’ve… — Read More

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