Magic Carpet Ride


San Francisco’s first streamlined streetcars arrived in 1939. The outsides looked like the modern “PCC” streetcars popping up in many North American cities at the time, but San Francisco’s were different inside, because the City Charter of the day forbade the payment of patent royalties for some reason, and many components of the PCC were patented.

So Muni ordered five cars that looked like this, numbered 1001-1005, with a mix of trucks, motors, and other components. All, though, had a General Electric Cineston hand controller instead of the PCC’s foot pedals. Their ride was so smooth and quiet compared to their boxy cousins that they were dubbed “Magic Carpets”.

World War II and constrained city finances were two reasons Muni didn’t buy more of these modern streetcars in the years that followed, but in 1948, with the patent problems resolved, Muni did buy 10 double-end “real” PCCs, numbered 1006-1015, seven of which have been restored for operation on the E-Embarcadero line.

Here, in 1942, we see Magic Carpet 1002 at the inbound station at Castro and Market Streets, having just emerged from a run through the Twin Peaks Tunnel (no doubt an amazing experience to first-time riders). The 1002 shows the route sign X-11th St. Only, which was used for pull-ins to the car barn just off the H-Potrero line at Hampshire and Mariposa Streets. In this era, the Carpets usually served the L-Taraval, so it’s a good bet that’s where it had been running during its shift.

This great image was taken by Ralph Demoro, father of legendary railfan and journalist Harre Demoro, and is now part of the Market Street Railway Archive, donated as part of the John Harder Collection. Click on it and look at some of the details. The road sign to the right points to Upper Market Street, the automobile route over Twin Peaks, and offers the destinations Junipero Serra Boulevard, San Mateo, and Skyline Boulevard. The building to the left, still there, offers “Danish Confections”. The patented (and unique to San Francisco) Wiley “birdcage” sits by the entry to the tunnel, right, where two riders wait for an outbound K or L car (during this period, the M-line was only a shuttle from West Portal to Ocean View. There was no Stonestown or Parkmerced then). A hard-to-read warning sign between the Examiner newsrack and the street sign on the pole next to the streetcar reads “KEEP TO RIGHT OF TUNNEL.”

By the late 1970s, this stop disappeared when the Twin Peaks Tunnel was connected under Castro and Market to the new Muni Metro Subway.

Only one of the five Magic Carpets survived after they were retired in 1959. Car 1003 is at the Western Railway Museum in Solano County. In today’s historic streetcar fleet, one of the 1948 PCCs, 1010, pays tribute to the Magic Carpets by wearing the Carpets’ original blue and yellow livery.

By the way, Muni’s competitor of that era, our namesake, Market Street Railway, dreamed about buying similar streamlined double-end streetcars but could never afford them. They’re honored in today’s historic fleet as well, with PCC 1011.

UPDATE, August 6 — one of our members, John Bromley, has checked in to enlighten us (we are so glad for the collective knowledge of our members and friends). John notes that this was a fan trip on June 7, 1942, and sent additional photos along. We should have noticed the “XX” on the run number sign, a sure tip-off. We’re posting a couple of these additional photos John supplied, both taken by Ralph Demoro.

The photo above shows the 1002 at what was then the end of the K-Ingleside line, on Brighton Avenue at Grafton Avenue, three blocks south of Ocean Avenue. (The K shared tracks on Ocean with competitor Market Street Railway’s 12-line and needed its own terminal. The Brighton trackage was removed by the mid-1950s.) The photo below is taken at the end of the original F-line at its Marina District terminal on Chestnut Street near Scott Street. The original F-line became the 30-Stockton bus, extended a few blocks in the Marina, in 1951. As far as we know, the Carpets never operated in revenue service on the F-line, as the narrowness of Stockton Street led Muni to stick to their oldest cars, the 1912-1913 A-types (including preserved Car 1).

Thanks to John for the extra information and great photos.

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First Rebuilt PCC, Honoring Harvey Milk, to be Welcomed Back March 15

 

The first of 16 PCC streetcars to go back into service following a complete rebuilding at Brookville Equipment Corporation in Pennsylvania will be celebrated at 10:15 a.m. on Wednesday, March 15 at the F-line terminal on 17th Street at Castro and Market.

Streetcar 1051 will be rededicated to Harvey Milk, to whom it was originally dedicated in 2009. The streetcar contains informational displays, prepared by Market Street Railway, celebrating Harvey Milk not only as a pioneering openly gay elected official and champion on LGBTQ rights, but also as a vocal advocate for public transportation.

Milk was the first member of the Board of Supervisors to regularly use a Muni Fast Pass. He rode PCC streetcars painted exactly like the 1051 between his City Hall office and his home and camera store in the Castro. District Supervisor Jeff Sheehy will speak, as will SFMTA officials and a representative of the Castro Merchants, a strong supporter of the F-line.

“We are proud to welcome this streetcar back into Muni service fully restored, rebuilt and ready for action,” said Ed Reiskin, SFMTA Director of Transportation, in a SFMTA news release. “The Harvey Milk streetcar honors the memory of Supervisor Milk. His legacy is well-known and this permanent exhibit honors his life and draws additional attention to his efforts to improve Muni and make San Francisco a better place to live.”

The historic streetcar displays the simplified green and cream livery of the 1970s and is the same Presidents’ Conference Committee (PCC) model that was in service at that time. It was featured in the film “Milk,” starring Sean Penn, which debuted in 2008.

The current $31.5 million rehabilitation of the original 16 PCCs in the F-line fleet, which were built between 1946 and 1948 and were last overhauled 25 years ago, includes re-engineering of the electrical and propulsion systems, inspection of current ancillary electrical systems and rewiring all lighting systems. The cars are being “skinned” down to their frames, which are inspected and repaired where needed. New sheet metal is applied over the whole body.

The streetcar will be open for public inspection before and after the brief 10:15 ceremony and is then cleared to enter regular passenger service. Come by for the event, and then look for the shiny new car on the street.

 

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“Service Improvement” on the F-line? You decide.

If you’re riding the F-line this sunny Saturday morning, you’ll find fewer streetcars out there, and longer wait times. But not to worry, it’s a “service improvement.”  Who says so? Muni.

Muni’s parent, SFMTA, sent out a blog post entitled “More Muni Forward Service Improvements Roll Out”. The F-line is mentioned. But when you click through to the story, it’s, well, a different story.

After listing other “improvements” (including cutting back a major crosstown bus line to eliminate transfers to the 14-Mission), they take on the F-line.  “As we fine-tune service to better match demand, a few routes with extra capacity will also see reductions in service, [including the] F Market & Wharves line in the morning and afternoon.” Well, we see the F-line every single day, with every car passing by our San Francisco Railway Museum. Tell the folks stuffed on board the cars about the “extra capacity” they don’t need.

Oh, but wait, Muni then goes on to explain: “Note on the F Line: In recent months we’ve seen issues with streetcars and buses crowding at the line’s terminal at 17th and Market streets. This slight reduction in service frequency is expected to help make the line more reliable.” Huh? If the streetcars are crowding the terminal, it’s because of poor line management. And who is responsible for that? The riders?

Beyond the facts of the rollout, there’s the way it was done — with zero public outreach. After this story was posted, we got an angry call from the Fisherman’s Wharf Community Benefit District leadership, asking what we knew about it. The answer: nothing, because we learned about it from the public notice along with everyone else. Turns out the Castro Merchants weren’t informed either. So there was no chance for suggestions of other ways to solve whatever issues might have arisen.

After we learned of this, we did call Muni service planner Julie Kirschbaum, who told us something different than what the official release said. She said the issue was a shortage of both streetcars and trained operators for the F-line. But the fact is that there is not a shortage of streetcars for current operations, and Muni has gotten around the training issue, which has now dragged on for over a year, by assigning buses to regular F-line runs. Has that changed? We weren’t told.

In any event, we are going to be looking very closely at this, working toward further adjustments at the next sign-up period in a couple of months, and advocating for F-line service improvements that are actually improvements. We’ll keep you posted.

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“Super Bust 50”

For three weeks, F-line streetcar riders from the Wharf had to transfer onto buses near the Ferry Building to reach destinations along Market Street, including the Castro. Many skipped the trip altogether.

For three weeks, F-line streetcar riders from the Wharf had to transfer onto buses near the Ferry Building to reach destinations along Market Street, including the Castro. Many skipped the trip altogether.

“Super Bust 50” is the headline of the new Castro Merchants monthly President’s Letter by Daniel Bergerac. You can read his entire letter here, but here’s the gist.

As the Super Let Down after Super Bowl 50 starts to fade, let’s remember who is going to end up paying the biggest price for Santa Clara hosting this huge sporting event – – we are: local merchants, especially in The Castro.  But, we are not alone, we hear, as local merchant associations all over San Francisco report down, soft revenues during SB50.  From all over The Castro and Upper Market neighborhood, I’ve heard from fellow merchants.  The nine days of official SB50 events in the City ballooned, for us, into over three weeks of SB50-related interruptions.  Customer traffic (locals and visitors alike) and revenues were some of their slowest on record during what had been promised as a “busy time.”   Nightmare predictions of over-crowded streets and traffic jams kept Bay Area local folks out of San Francisco.  Running “Bustitues” instead of the F Line historic streetcars between The Castro and Ferry Building for over three weeks further hurt our area’s local and visitor traffic and revenues.

It’s really important to point out that SFMTA leadership was not consulted before the City made the decision to shut down those easternmost three blocks of Market Street for three weeks, crippling the F-line and Muni bus service in the area.  Once they were handed a fait accompli, Muni staff worked hard to make transit work as well as possible.  They were responsive to the concerns the Castro Merchants — and we at Market Street Railway — expressed about the prolonged replacement of historic streetcars with buses on Market Street.  They agreed with our recommendation that the transfer between the substitute Market Street buses and the streetcars (which remained in service between Fisherman’s Wharf and the Ferry Building) be as easy and intuitive as possible. They put out lots of staff to help people make the transfer, next to our museum on Don Chee Way, the right-of-way linking Steuart Street to The Embarcadero). They put signage in Metro stations and on vehicles promoting the Castro as a destination for Super Bowl visitors. (We gladly did the same at our museum.)

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Shops and restaurants still suffered because only a small percentage of Super Bowl City visitors bought anything outside the event barricades, and because many regular workers and visitors stayed away after the repeated warnings of congestion. Our own San Francisco Railway Museum, right next to Super Bowl City, saw our sales of souvenirs drop 56% — more than half — over the same week in 2015, during  the week they were taking Super Bowl City down, but the F-line was still being “bustituted” on Market. Even the week Super Bowl City was open to the public, our sales ran 12% below the previous year, despite our efforts to play up football connections to transit at the museum and reintroduction of a Kezar Stadium dash sign tee-shirt aimed at fans.

The city has not finished adding up the net economic impact of the Super Bowl events in San Francisco, and it may be that additional hotel taxes and the like will more than compensate for the reduced take of sales taxes the city will get from the small businesses in the Castro and elsewhere who saw their sales fall off.

One clear lesson from this event: buses are no substitute for the F-line streetcars on a long-term basis. It has been shown over and over, in city after city: visitors do not trust, or feel comfortable on buses (with the possible exception of iconic vehicles like London’s red double-deckers). In San Francisco, the cable cars and historic streetcars, yes. Every time buses are substituted en masse for the cable cars and streetcars, ridership plummets. For so many people, the journey on these wonderful “time machines” is as important as the destination. And so, when buses replace historic rail, businesses along the lines, and especially near the terminals, suffer.

We hope the powers-that-be in San Francisco includes the community more thoroughly in planning for future events. Looking at the layout and extent of Super Bowl City, they clearly could have set it up in a way that could have kept the F-line streetcars running up Market Street to the Castro. That could have been a win-win.

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