Van Ness H-line Poles Becoming History

H-2e car 131 painted Coast Guard on Van Ness at Eddy  1948   copy

One of the last significant remnants of Muni’s “H” streetcar line appears doomed. The concrete light standards along Van Ness Avenue, which also held up the H-line’s overhead wires (shown above, left at Eddy Street in 1948) have been cleared for replacement after a ruling by the city’s Board of Appeals validated SFMTA’s plans for the new Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project.

The concrete poles, with ornate streetlights attached, were installed with the original H-line tracks in 1914. The H-line was part of a flurry of Muni construction aimed at linking city neighborhoods to the fairgrounds of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition at Harbor View, now the Marina District.

We have an extensive exhibit about transit to the 1915 Fair currently running at our free San Francisco Railway Museum (but it will close soon, so don’t delay getting down there).

The H originally ran up Potrero Avenue from Army Street (now Cesar Chavez St.) across the eastern edge of the Mission District, then via Division and 11th Streets to reach Market, where it jogged onto Van Ness. The H turned west at Bay Street and ran through Fort Mason to reach what was the eastern edge of the 1915 Fair at Laguna Street. A passenger waiting shelter (below) still stands in Fort Mason along the old H-line route, across from what is now the headquarters of the Golden Gate National Recreation area. (Thanks to Emiliano Echeverria for sharing both photos.)

H-1d car 88 at Ft Mason  1947  RMcV small

Market Street Railway is working to return vintage streetcar service to Fort Mason, using a historic railroad tunnel under Fort Mason (also built for the 1915 Fair) to connect to the F-line tracks at Fisherman’s Wharf. (That project has cleared the environmental process, but is hung up on unrelated issues that we will discuss here soon.)

The concrete poles still run the length of Van Ness, and since 1950 have been used to hold up wires for the trolley bus lines that replaced the H.

Those who appealed the approval of the removal also objected to the removal of trees in the median of Van Ness, which was created when the streetcar tracks were taken out. The new BRT lanes will go in the middle of the street, right where the streetcar tracks once were. They’ll be trolley buses, so new poles will replace the old ones.

Preservationists urged that the poles be rehabilitated and retained for their historical value, but SFMTA successfully argued that that was not feasible for century-old concrete poles. However, four of the original poles are to be retained — two in front of City Hall, two across the street in front of the War Memorial, with a plaque to interpret their historic significance. We don’t know whether they’ll be expected to still hold up wires, or whether they’ll be allowed to rest and just be ornamental after a century of work.