Third & Market, 70 years ago

July 1 marks the 150th anniversary of rail transit on Market Street. No, that’s not a typo. Rail transit started on Market before the Civil War with a steam engine. We’re putting together an exhibit on this anniversary for our San Francisco Railway Museum, to open this summer, and have come across some interesting shots we’ll be sharing here from time to time.
Third and Market c. 1940.jpg
This one appears to have been taken around 1940. Click on the picture and you’ll get a GIANT view of this shot that shows some incredible street detail. Of course, there’s Market Street Railway streetcar No. 778 on the 15-line, crossing from Kearny onto Third, headed for the SP Depot at Third and Townsend, which then offered trains to LA, not just San Jose!. There’s an outbound K-Ingleside Muni “battleship” of the same class as preserved Nos. 130 or 162. We can’t read the number, so it actually could be one of those two.
San Francisco’s unique Wiley “birdcage” traffic signals, identical to the one preserved in our museum, guard the intersection. There’s the classic deYoung Building, long-time home of the Chronicle (though by then it had moved to Fifth and Mission) looming over the intersection; the deYoung Building is back at the same old stand today after being disguised behind aluminum panels for decades until recently (but now it’s a Ritz Carlton timeshare).
Most fascinating to me, though, are the businesses along the streetfront: a restaurant featuring oyster loaf; a billiards parlor, a chiropractor, Gene Compton’s, part of a popular restaurant chain back then, and my personal favorite discovery: Carl Wilke’s cafeteria in the deYoung building, whose sign peeks out from behind the 15-line streetcar.
As a teenager working in my family deli, in the Grant Market the next block up (Grant & Market, natch), I would walk a few doors down to the Central Tower (former Call Building) kitty corner from the deYoung Building. Carl Wilke was still in business in the mid-1960s, but across the street. I’ll never forget the man. He must have been in his 80s by then, but he still worked there every day. Slender as a reed (probably why he lived into his 80s!) with slicked back white hair (all of it!) and a pencil-thin mustache. He always wore a white shirt and tie, and a starched waiter’s jacket. He was the picture of formality and dignity — running a cafeteria.
THIS picture definitely predates me, but it’s a kick to see a living link in Mr. Wilkie (as I always called him) between these days and times I actually remember.
(Great open-faced turkey sand, by the way. With veg and mashed probably was about a buck and a quarter.)

Comments: 4

  1. Great posting. Are there any special trolley events planned for the 150th anniversary, such as charters, special trips, parades, etc.?

  2. At each end of the photo, on the light standards or trolley wire poles, there is some sort of advertisement–a thin oblong mounted with what appears to be a porthole, and with flanges off to the sides into which small flags are mounted. If it’s 1940 they wouldn’t be advertising war bonds, so I wonder what exactly they are commemorating?
    Almost all of those buildings, with a couple of notable exceptions, are still standing, but with their ground floors stripped of detail and the neon signs that made the street looks so urbane compared to the more mall-like atmosphere of today.

  3. Since the anniversary commemorates day-to-day rail transit on Market Street, we are not planning any special trips; rather, we’re working to encourage people who have never tried the streetcar to do so. A parade might be nice, but in the current city budget environment (and the economy generally) it doesn’t seem to us prudent to press for a publicly funded event.

  4. Nice catch, Paul. Enlarging the image reveals those to be banners for the 1939 Treasure Island World’s Fair. (The fair also ran in 1940, but the banners are specifically dated 1939). So now we’ve got a better date. Thanks. Also agree with the comment about the loss of the neon signs. You put your finger on a really big difference in the ambiance of Market then vs. now.

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