In 1906, it didn’t get more high tech than this iconic 12-minute movie, filmed from the front of a cable car headed down Market Street. If you’re a San Francisco history buff (or transit buff), you’ve probably seen it before, but not like this. A new digital transfer by the noted film archivist Rick Prelinger breathes more life into it, sharper and wider-screen. (Back then, the image was captured to the edges of the film, even between the sprocket holes; this version includes that.)
Surprisingly to us, the film had never appeared in a narrated version, explaining exactly where you are and providing the social and economic context of what you’re seeing. Market Street President Rick Laubscher, a San Francisco historian and former journalist, did that several years ago, and has now updated that narration with new information that has come to light. Additionally, we have added sound effects by Mike Upchurch to provide some atmosphere.
Thanks to film historian David Kiehn, we now know that this iconic film, by the Miles Brothers, was shot on or about April 14, 1906, just four days before the great Earthquake and Fire. (It was previously believed to have been filmed in August 1905.)
To commemorate the 113th anniversary of the April 18 catastrophe, which ended an era in San Francisco, we have posted this new version of the film on YouTube. We will be providing it through our online store and in our San Francisco Railway Museum in coming weeks.
The librarian for the San Francisco Chronicle, Bill Van Niekerken, comes up with some dandy articles by digging through the newspaper’s voluminous archives. Somehow, we missed this great story and photos, showing three double-deck London Transport buses coming to, and driving through, San Francisco on a cross-country British tourism promotion in 1952. The photo above shows one of the RTL-type buses (predecessor to London Transport’s famed Routemasters) on Market Street at Eighth, sharing the street with three “Iron Monster” Muni streetcars. The Whitcomb Hotel is on the left behind the bus, with the Fox Theater farther up the street on the right.
The London buses have New York bus license plates, as well as their own UK registration. And their roll signs read “GREETINGS FROM BRITAIN” in the square sign box, with “TO SAN FRANCISCO” in the rectangular box below. Presumably, that lower box could be changed to show whatever city they were currently visiting.
Because California’s overhead road clearances didn’t always anticipate vehicles this tall, they brought along telescoping poles that they could use to test the clearance before driving through. The photo below shows a tight squeeze going under the Southern Pacific Railroad trestle on El Camino Real in Colma. This is a particularly interesting photo. The old tracks for the 40-line interurban streetcar to San Mateo are still in place, and well south of the San Francisco city limits, we see a Muni White Company motor coach trailing the double-decker. That’s something of a mystery. During this period, Muni operated the developer-funded 76-Broadmoor line, connecting a new subdivision in Daly City to Muni lines in the city, but it never went this far south. (Maybe it was an escort vehicle, causing three steps behind the royalty of the double-decker.) There’s still a rail crossing at this point: BART, which took over the old SP right-of-way.
Muni did try out a double-decker bus at one point much later on, a demonstrator that didn’t catch on. For higher capacity, they chose articulated buses instead, or what the British, with their gift for great phrases, call “bendy-buses”.
And of course, double-deck buses are commonplace sights in San Francisco today, most of them open top tour buses. Tourists: don’t forget to come to the San Francisco Railway Museum to buy that sweatshirt that you DID forget at home! 🙂
The US Department of Transportation has granted San Francisco $15 million to help pay for the first phase of the city’s vision to remake Market Street. Here’s the news story, and here’s the city’s official website for the project.
Included in that first phase is a critical improvement to the F-line historic streetcar service, shown above: a bi-directional loop track at Civic Center, using the short first block of McAllister Street and the northerly extension of Seventh Street (called Charles Brenham Place) to allow F-line streetcars to reverse in either direction. The streetcar tracks are a little hard to see in the drawing above, but you can click the drawing to enlarge it. (The green markings show bicycle paths/crossings.)
The loop turns right off outbound Market Street, just where the old 5-McAllister streetcar did, then turns left onto Charles Brenham’s southbound curb lane, where there is a ADA ramp and layover space. The tracks diverge there to allow either a left turn to return toward the Ferry Building, or a right turn toward Castro. Another switch allows inbound streetcars on Market to turn onto McAllister and then return outbound.
Market Street Railway is delighted that Muni staff embraced our recommendation for its exact location. There is no other place on Market Street where a turning movement like this can be carried out in such a short length of new track. And the location is convenient, dropping passengers off within a short walk of City Hall, the Main Library, and the Asian Arts Museum, and right next to newly restored landmarks such as the hot Proper Hotel (which the loop literally loops around) and the venerable Hibernia Bank Building at Jones and Market (the location, coincidentally, of the terminal of the old Jones Street cable car shuttle, which closed in 1954).
This loop will add immense flexibility to the F-line. First and foremost, it is the most efficient and effective way to increase F-line service along the highest ridership stretch of the route, from Fisherman’s Wharf to the Union Square/Powell Street area downtown. Today’s F-line service levels are constrained by terminal capacity at both ends. There’s not enough room for additional streetcars laying over at the ends of the line without blocking street space. This has been a sore subject at the Castro end of the line in particular, where 17th Street is narrow and residential almost right up to the terminal. Layovers are kept shorter there than at Fisherman’s Wharf to minimize the problem, but adding more service to Castro (that usually isn’t needed west of Powell) would inevitably clog the terminal there.
There is a turnaround spot at 11th Street and Market, near Van Ness; not a loop but a “wye”, where streetcars have to turn onto a stub track on 11th, and then back out onto Market, a much more difficult move than in past decades because of changed traffic patterns and the routing of the 9-line articulated buses onto 11th. The wye is actually the last remnant of Muni’s original H-Potrero streetcar line, and was never optimally designed for reversing streetcars.
Muni’s initial plan when the loop is completed is to add extra F-line service from the Wharf area to the loop to alleviate some of the current crowding. This would likely happen from late morning through late afternoon. Of course, the loop is important for other reasons as well: it will give Muni the ability to balance service and reduce bunching on a regular basis to fill gaps; allow the majority of the F-line to keep operating when part of Market Street is temporarily blocked, and provide a place to load a chartered streetcar or divert a streetcar with an operational problem from the main line.
The Better Market Street program is a comprehensive revamping of San Francisco’s Main Street, to give more priority to transit, provide bicyclists with separated bike paths, and improve pedestrian safety, while preserving the street’s historic elements, including the landmark “Path of Gold” streetlights (which also hold up the Muni wires).
The project, which stretches from Steuart Street at the foot of Market up to Octavia Street, is currently under environmental review, scheduled for completion in 2019, with the first phase of work, between Fifth and Eighth Streets, and including the streetcar loop, to start construction in 2020. Market Street Railway was a strong advocate for making the stretch with the loop into the first phase of work. We’re delighted to hear this news.
Our friend Rick Prelinger, creator of the Internet Archive, has been making special programs of vintage films of San Francisco for over a decade now. Rick has collected a wonderful mix of home movies, commercial film outtakes, travelogues, and other celluloid representations of our city, and invites the audience to shout out their reactions. It’s the ultimate interactive show!
This year’s event is extra special, because Rick has made the best restoration yet of the famed “Trip Down Market Street” film made by the Miles Brothers just before the 1906 Earthquake and Fire changed San Francisco forever. This is the film featured in a Morley Safer “60 Minutes” story a few years back, including interviews with Rick Prelinger, film historian David Kiehn of the Essenay Film Museum in Niles, and MSR President Rick Laubscher, who created a narrated version of the film, available to view or purchase at our San Francisco Railway Museum.
Rick Prelinger will debut the original (silent) version of this beautifully restored film at the Lost Landscapes events on December 4 and 5 at the Castro Theater, along with many other great clips of San Francisco’s history. This is always a wonderful event and at this writing, tickets are still available here.
Proceeds benefit the Internet Archive, a great project. You’ll thank yourself for seeing this.
Weather forecast says rain’s on the way for the Bay Area. As good a time as any to share this photo of Market Street, looking east from Fifth Street, taken during World War II (likely 1943 or early 1944). Rich detail in this photo. The blue and gold N-Judah on the outside track is trying to squeeze past the automobile so it can catch up to the competing 5-McAllister streetcar (with the flashy “zip stripe” on the side) of… — Read More
The popular San Francisco neighborhood news website, Hoodline, reports on Market Street Railway’s priorities for improving historic streetcar service. We appreciate the coverage and hope it helps move these items closer to reality. The tremendous popularity of the F-line has made a major impact on service quality, as anyone who tries to ride knows. We do feel strongly that the line can operate more efficiently than it does and become even more popular with locals, including people moving into the many new residential… — Read More
Social media and their news media followers seem to be celebrating yesterday’s announcement by the Super Bowl 50 Host Committee that they will not seek to take down Muni’s overhead wires on the first two blocks of Market Street after all in the week before the Super Bowl, when that area and the adjacent Justin Herman Plaza will be turned into a big party for the NFL and its corporate sponsors. But it seems they misunderstand exactly what happened. Yes,… — Read More
Seven months ago, in April, we ran the photo above and this story. We based it in part on a Chronicle story that mildly said the F-line streetcars would have to be “rerouted.” We knew of course that they meant “bustituted,” since you can’t reroute streetcars without moving the tracks and overhead wires. We looked at the artist’s conception of the “Super Bowl village” on lower Market Street and noticed that there’s no tangle of overhead wires showing — the ones… — Read More
Market Street is fundamentally different today: private automobiles, including ride sharing services such as Uber and Lyft, are banned from turning onto the city’s main drag between Third and Eighth Streets. SFMTA, Muni’s parent, implemented the changes in support of the Safer Market Street initiative, designed to reduce the number of bicyclists and pedestrians hurt on Market. The Chronicle has a good story on this. We thank them for the use of the photo above, by Liz Hafalia. The new… — Read More
The City of San Francisco is proposing a new fee on new market rate condo and apartment construction that will raise an extra $14 million per year for transit. The Chronicle used an F-line streetcar passing a new upper Market development to illustrate the article about the fee. More than fitting, since every single new proposed residential development along Market for the past few years has used F-line streetcars in the illustrations of their proposed project. Clearly, the developers think the historic streetcars… — Read More
We get that driving an automobile in San Francisco is not easy, but c’mon! From our friends at SFist comes this photo taken last Thursday by Kendall Willets. Willets reports that the driver of the SUV tried an illegal left turn from the right lane from westbound Market onto southbound Tenth Street. No injuries, no damage to the streetcar, which has been back on the road. As San Franciscans know, left turns off Market throughout downtown (except onto Drumm Street) have been banned… — Read More
One of those fancy private buses that are now very common in San Francisco rear-ended PCC No. 1009 on Market Street Thursday evening (September 5), putting the streetcar into the body shop for repairs. The website SFist ran an article that wrongly stated that the historic streetcars are accident prone (offering only a link to articles mostly about bus and LRV accidents). But it does contain several good photos, so if you want to look at different angles, click here.… — Read More
Even in the 1930s, transit stop spacing was an issue in San Francisco. Click to enlarge. This pair of notices from our namesake (Muni’s privately owned competitor from 1921 to 1944) recently came to our attention. They would have been posted inside Market Street Railway streetcars, probably in the 1930s, as part of a campaign to win rider acceptance of wider spacing of streetcar stops. No question that the main reason the company president, Samuel Kahn, initiated the change was… — Read More
PCC No. 1060 enlivens the scene at Seventh and Market Streets. (c) Melissa Wuschnig. In his Chronicle column today, former Mayor Willie Brown said of the mid-Market area, “After decades of nothing but talk, that area is really taking off.” Decades is right. I grew up on Market Street. My family had delicatessens between Fifth and Sixth and between Fourth and Third in the 1950s (and one at Fifth and Jessie as well). As a kid, I watched the stretch… — Read More
John King, the Chronicle’s urban design writer, has a good piece today about some aspects of the proposed Market Street redesign. They’re about six weeks behind us though, when it comes to discussing the number of streetcar stops that should be retained as part of the revamp of our main street. A key goal of the Better Market Street project is to make the street better for transit and bikes.Autos? Eh, not so much. John called us to get our… — Read More