When Muni’s T-Third light rail line opened in 2007, we asked Market Street Railway’s historian, Phil Hoffman, to share his personal memories of the old Third Street streetcar operation, along with some history of the lines that ran there.
On the old Islais Creek bridge, Market Street Railway Co. had to share one of its tracks with freight trains. San Francisco Public Library photo.
Far from busy Third Street and its two streetcar lines, my childhood was spent in a quiet section of Cow Hollow which was dinky territory–with center-door Municipal Railway E-line cars and the Market Street Railway Co. single truck Fillmore Hill counterbalance. Occasionally I would ride larger streetcars in the Marina, Pacific Heights, or Downtown.
My father, a doctor who made house calls, enlarged my world of transit considerably when he began taking me along on afternoon visits to his Greek and Italian patients in the Bayview District. They were kind, friendly people. “Bring the kid in,” they would say and I would eagerly gobble up the food they offered me, while listening proudly to my father speak to them in their native tongues.
A 15-line streetcar turns onto Broadway from Kearny around 1940. Note the venerable North Beach restaurants Fior D’Italia (still in business, but on Mason Street now) and Vanessi’s. San Francisco Public Library photo.
His gift for languages and gentle manner made him beloved by Third Street merchants as well as his patients. They would come and say hello to me while I was waiting for my father in our 1938 Buick Special, and often lingered to greet him when he came back to the car.
I remember Mr. Delanges, a large man with a small goatee, on Quesada Avenue–Esposto, the butcher on Third Street–the foreman of the San Francisco Tallow Works on Evans Avenue–and a number of others who treated us like royalty.
When waiting alone, I always had a Wonder Book on my lap, but the book remained unopened when a high-speed 16-line 941-class car came roaring by. On the drive home, I was also fascinated to see the ex-Williamsport 30-line one-man cars turning at Third & Army. Thanks to my father’s house calls and my growing interest, I became aware of the Third Street lines’ unique features…having their own ‘Third Street El’ over railroad crossings…sharing drawbridges with three railroads…crossing Muni’s E-line three times in the North Beach area…sharing Third Street with cattle on their ‘last roundup’ to the packing houses.