Celebrating F-line enablers this Pride Month

There would be no F-line today without the concerted effort of a group of advocates and enablers in the early 1980s. Many of them were openly gay. No better time to celebrate their achievements than Pride Month.

That list simply has to start with Maurice Klebolt, a force of nature. Klebolt, who came to San Francisco from Chicago, ran a one-man travel agency, served as a part-time Muni operator, and cultivated elected officials on a single issue: operating historic streetcars on Market Street after regular streetcar service on the J, K, L, M, and N lines went underground with the opening of the Muni Metro Subway in the early 1980s. Others talked about it and began to plan for it, but Klebolt believed in actually DOING something instead. And did he ever. This story from the San Francisco Chronicle captures his activism perfectly.

Maurice Klebolt (left) with the Hamburg streetcar he brought to San Francisco, flanked by then-Muni General Manager Harold Geissenheimer in about 1984. MSR Archive

Klebolt and then-downtown business executive Rick Laubscher, who mobilized that community through the Chamber of Commerce, teamed up in something of a “Mr. Outside, Mr. Inside” pairing to win acceptance of a proof of concept in the form of a summer “Historic Trolley Festival” in 1983, which was renewed for a total of five seasons and built public support for the permanent F-line in 1995 and its extension to Fisherman’s Wharf in 2000.

Klebolt brought numerous international vintage streetcars to San Francisco for Muni’s fleet, and led the charge to grow the new, seven-member nonprofit known as Market Street Railway into a vibrant membership organization by personally shaking down – er, soliciting – everyone he know (and many he didn’t) for what were then $10 memberships. that remains in Muni’s fleet (and remains in need of restoration). Maury’s untimely death in 1988 at just 58 left a real void, but the success of the Trolley Festivals had put a permanent F-line squarely on City Hall’s agenda. Read our tribute to him here, with more hard-to-believe (but true) tales, including his personal version of Cold War-era glasnost.

“Streetcar Named Desire for Peace”, Moscow/Orel Car 106, brought to San Francisco by Maurice Klebolt, participated in a 1992 parade honoring San Francisco’s centennial of streetcars. MSR Archive

While Klebolt may have been the most visible openly gay man associated with the creation of the F-line, several others played very significant roles. The solid and enduring support of then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein was essential to the Trolley Festivals and permanent F-line, but the implementation of her wishes was carried out by her top transportation staff member, Alan Lubliner. Alan’s attention to detail and follow-through kept the project progressing, even when some inside Muni and other city agencies didn’t see the urgency of action. Alan went on to a very successful career in New York with the transportation consulting firm Parsons-Brinkerhoff (now WSP).

The city’s nonprofit partner in facilitating the first two Trolley Festivals was the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce (Market Street Railway took on that role starting in the third year). Lee Knight led the internal Chamber team that made dozens of arrangements on a faster schedule than the City’s procedures would allow. Lee later joined Muni’s then-parent, the city’s Public Utilities Commission as planning manager, before his life was tragically cut short by AIDS.

Once in operation, the spirit of the Trolley Festival was definitively captured by the senior motorman operating the vintage streetcars, Jack Smith, the son of one of San Francisco’s first African-American streetcar operators. Jack literally learned the craft of piloting streetcars at his father’s knee. His encyclopedic knowledge of San Francisco transit history and his unquestioned expertise in streetcar operation was looked up to by the other operators and by management as well. After his retirement from Muni, he served on Market Street Railway’s board of directors with distinction for several years, and was a long-time volunteer on restoration activities of our organization, focused on original San Francisco streetcars. Here’s how we remembered him after his unexpected passing in 2004, at age 72.

Motorman extraordinaire Jack Smith (left), who could operate any streetcar (or cable car), including the complicated Russian Tram 106, at first sight, receives a mock “tribute” from Maurice Klebolt, who brought the tram from Russia, at 17th and Castro in 1987. MSR Archive

There were many other members of the LGBTQ community that played positive roles in the Trolley Festival, particularly residents and merchants the Castro’s District, whose embrace of the vintage streetcars were a significant boost to their success. The Festival streetcars had to go where tracks already were, making Castro Street the logical terminal. Several gay business groups came together to issue a guide to introduce streetcar riders to neighborhood businesses. A booster committee was formed, led by a gay man named Robert Hunter, who asked the Chamber if they could create their own poster. Of course, came the reply. We have recently been offered a mint-condition copy of this artifact and offer this rough photograph we’ve been sent here.

And speaking of posters, we celebrate John Wullbrandt, then a young San Francisco artist who had done whimsical posters of a PCC and a cable car when we approached him to create posters for the first two Trolley Festivals. John raised the money from two other gay men, Bob Campbell and Joe Caplett, and we gained wonderful promotional tools. John is now a renowned fine artist based near Santa Barbara. We offer John’s 1984 poster of famous San Franciscans riding the Boat Tram (shown below) in our online store and at our museum store. The Chamber of Commerce focused on patronizing LGBTQ businesses for the promotional services needed for the Trolley Festivals, including purchasing signage from a small business on Brady Street, Budget Signs, owned by a young gay man named Mark Leno, who went on to a very successful political career in San Francisco and Sacramento.

Beyond the openly LGBTQ people who helped enable the F-line to become reality, there were other prominent people involved who chose not to reveal their sexual orientation during their lifetimes, and we honor that choice. But their contributions are certainly remembered and appreciated. (Anytime one attempts recognizing people who contributed to a team effort, there is always the risk of missing someone. We apologize if so.)

The historic streetcars have always been wildly popular in the Castro District, from the first article we remember being written about them in a local gay publication (with the headline “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart” from Judy Garland’s ‘Trolley Song’) to loud complaints from merchants and residents when F-line service was threatened with extended interruptions. On several occasions, vintage streetcars have taken pride of place in the annual Pride Parade, something we hope will happen again in the future.

During the Trolley Festival’s first year, 1983, both the Blackpool Boat Tram and Muni’s very first streetcar, Car 1, participated in the Pride Parade. MSR Archive

On a national and international level, many gay men took leadership roles in rescuing streetcars from the scrap heap starting after World War II, and in creating museums to operate them. They did this in an era when coming out was to risk severe professional and personal consequences, so they often did not reveal their preferences. But you can see their legacy in museums all over the world. Our nonprofit has likewise benefited by the work of openly gay folks who have served on our board, among them Maury, Jack, Steve Ferrario, and our longtime board member and secretary, Art Curtis, who worked his way up from PCC operator to Chief Inspector at Muni.

Today of course, Muni’s parent, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) is headed by a gay man, Jeff Tumlin, a San Franciscan for 30 years and frequent F-line rider. Its board of directors currently includes out small business leader Manny Yekutiel and has had other prominent LGBTQ leaders in the recent past, including former State Senator and State Democratic Party Chair Art Torres, and long-time board Chair Tom Nolan, who was previously a San Mateo County Supervisor. Indeed, at all levels, from front line workers to leadership to governance, the LGBTQ community is extensively represented at SFMTA.

Happy Pride Month!

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A Streetcar Named Undesirable

Editor’s Note: This article, by Marshall Kilduff, appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on March 15, 1979. Maurice Klebolt went on to become a board member of Market Street Railway and one of the forces behind the Historic Trolley Festivals from 1983-87 that led to the permanent F-Market and Wharves vintage streetcar line.

A German streetcar was trundled on the back of a flatbed truck to the front steps of City Hall yesterday where city officials fashioned a reluctant welcome for the unbidden gift.

Maurice Klebolt (left) with his pride and joy, Hamburg tram No. 3557, about 1984, some five years  <a style=

The occasion was pronounced “a triumph” by Maurice Klebolt, the portly Municipal Railway gadfly who brought the 35-year old tram from Hamburg but neglected to tell the Muni.

City officials, whose annoyance showed through their ceremonial manners, announced the unsolicited gift will be stored away on a siding at the Geneva carbarn, probably for good.

Klebolt and his band of Muni nostalgia buffs and critics—known as the Citizens Advisory Panel for Transit Improvement—had sweet-talked Hamburg officials into turning over the car, made obsolete there by a new subway system.

Klebolt, happy as a clam, raised the money—including $1500 of his own—to ship the tram from Germany. The Hapag-Lloyd shipping line carried the car at a discount rate. Klebolt was in fine fettle yesterday. Mayor Dianne Feinstein was winding up a ceremony on the City Hall steps with Canadian tourism officials from Ontario when Klebolt sidled up and presented her with a spray of red roses.

The mayor turned to her perplexed guests and explained the newcomer as though he were an eccentric uncle who had been told to stay upstairs during a parlor wedding.

“Mr. Klebolt has paid for this streetcar. But we don’t quite know what to do with it, you see,” she smiled icily.

undesirable-2.jpg
No. 3557 participates in the parade marking the centennial of San Francisco’s first streetcar line, 1992. Market Street Railway photo. Click to enlarge.

Feinstein, who had already been presented with a gold chrome bottle of Canadian whiskey and a toy cannon, looked around for somewhere to stow the flowers. She spied a couple of French newlyweds, Jacky and Susan Baudot, who had chosen that moment in their lives to leave City Hall after being married by Judge Gerald J. O’Gara.

“Congratulations. I’m sure you’ll be very happy,” she said, handing off the roses to the startled couple.

Everyone posed for pictures while Klebolt moved off to the red tram, sitting on rusty rails on a flatbed truck.

Despite its advance billing as a “beauty,” the tram was missing its turn signals, rearview mirrors and inside light fixtures. Klebolt rubbed a dent on the tram’s flank.

Its interior was fitted in mahogany, true enough, but the slatted floor installed for the wet north German weather resembled the working area of a luncheonette.

“It’s one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen,” said Muni general manager Richard Sklar bravely.

“Every transit system should have one sitting in its yard for five years,” he added.

undesirable-3.jpgMarket Street Railway photo.

Sklar and Klebolt had a gentlemanly exchange about who was to pay the final trucking costs to the Muni’s Geneva yard. Klebolt assured him his group was good for all expenses.

Klebolt’s masterplan is to round up even more old discarded cars from “international centers of transit” such as Calcutta, Milan, Kyoto, and Melbourne.

The cars would be run along a proposed Embarcadero line, estimated by Muni officials to be five years off.

“Looks like we’ll need about 12,” Klebolt said.

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Editor’s Note: Maurice Klebolt passed away in 1988. He is memorialized in Remembering a Trolley Titan article, from our member newsletter Inside TrackRegular streetcar service on The Embarcadero was not five years off, as “estimated by Muni officials” in the article, but 21. The F-line extension along the northern Embarcadero opened in 2000.

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