A direct line to the previous: The streetcars of San Francisco

A streetcar painted in tribute to Philadelphia runs alongside the San Francisco waterfront in July. MUST CREDIT: Photograph for The Washington Put up by Justin Franz

When Rick Laubscher was 6 years outdated, he rode a streetcar to the circus. The San Francisco native is fairly positive he noticed the lions and tigers and all that comes with it, however he wasn’t left with a lot of an impression.

“I do not bear in mind the circus,” he says six a long time later. “However I keep in mind that streetcar journey.”

So began a lifelong fascination with San Francisco’s streetcars that finally led to Laubscher enjoying a key position within the creation of a classic trolley line by way of the center of town, permitting guests and commuters alike to journey the rails simply as they did a century in the past. Whereas maybe not as recognizable as town’s famed cable automobiles, the F-Line of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Company (often known as Muni) presents a novel manner to soak up the sights. Day by day, as much as two dozen classic streetcars, many constructed earlier than World Conflict II, carry folks from the Castro District to Fisherman’s Wharf.

“San Francisco’s previous is not simply frozen in an outdated image or sitting in a museum,” says Ed Reiskin, the transportation company’s director of transportation. “You may truly get on and journey these streetcars from one other period.”

Reiskin says that Muni is exclusive as a result of it has two classic varieties of transit built-in into its in any other case fashionable system. The well-known cable automobiles date from 1873 and had been designed to climb town’s steep hills by connecting to a cable that strikes beneath the road. The 1906 earthquake destroyed lots of the metropolis’s cable automotive traces and most had been changed with extra fashionable streetcars, which obtain their energy from an overhead wire.


A streetcar painted in honor of Cincinnati’s transit line passes San Francisco’s Ferry Constructing in June 2016. Photograph for The Washington Put up by Justin Franz

Because it did in lots of cities, the streetcar spurred an enormous quantity of growth in San Francisco. By the Nineteen Thirties, 50 trolley traces related each neighborhood, together with 4 units of streetcar tracks proper up the center of Market Avenue.

“Streetcars constructed the city America that we all know right this moment,” Laubscher says. “The electrical streetcar helped stretch the boundaries of our cities.”

Streetcar ridership throughout the nation started to say no with the arrival of the auto. Within the Fifties, dozens of streetcar routes had been changed with buses in San Francisco. Within the Nineteen Seventies, town started to modernize its rail system and changed its outdated streetcars with fashionable gentle rail automobiles. It additionally put its Market Avenue route beneath the principle thoroughfare. In 1982, the final classic streetcars had been put into storage. To mark the tip of rail service on Market Avenue, Muni rolled out considered one of its oldest streetcars for a remaining journey.

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It was that journey that gave Laubscher, then chair of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce’s transportation committee, an thought to prepare a classic trolley competition that might supply rides up and down Market Avenue on weekends. The chamber took the thought to Mayor Dianne Feinstein, who supported it, however cautioned she didn’t “wish to see any junk on the market.” The primary competition was an amazing success that was repeated for 5 years, setting the stage for a everlasting classic trolley line by way of town. On Sept. 1, 1995, the F-Line opened for service.

A historic streetcar painted in honor of Dallas, Texas, passes Pier 39, a well-liked vacationer vacation spot, in June 2016. Photograph for The Washington Put up by Justin Franz

The F-Line begins on the intersection of seventeenth and Castro streets, within the coronary heart of the colourful Castro District, and heads towards downtown on Market Avenue. Heading east, the trolleys go the U.S. Mint and inside a number of blocks of landmarks reminiscent of Metropolis Corridor (which options the fifth largest dome on the earth) and Union Sq.. Close to the intersection of Market and New Montgomery streets, the F-Line passes in entrance of the Palace Lodge, the place President Warren Harding died in 1923.

After skirting the Monetary District, the F-Line rounds a curve towards the small San Francisco Railway Museum run by Market Avenue Railway, a nonprofit group that advocates for and helps historic transit within the metropolis. Subsequent cease is the Ferry Constructing, which accomplished on town’s waterfront in 1898 and is understood for its clock tower that reaches 245 toes into the air. From right here, the F-Line follows the waterfront all the way in which to Fisherman’s Wharf, a well-liked vacationer vacation spot. Alongside the way in which, passengers can absorb views of the bay and Coit Tower, a concrete edifice devoted to firefighters who perished in a number of the metropolis’s worst blazes.

Whereas the more-modern gentle rail automobiles in Muni’s fleet could supply a smoother and quieter journey, the expertise of using one of many classic automobiles is far more memorable. As a substitute of chilly plastic seats, the classic automobiles have wood benches and the one air-con is an open window. Whereas Muni has upgraded the automobiles with facilities reminiscent of GPS and backup cameras – all customary on more-modern streetcars – you’d be hard-pressed to seek out the rest from the twenty first century while you board.

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Emma González has been at Muni for 20 years and has been engaged on the classic streetcars since 2008. She says it is exhausting to not fall in love with the outdated automobiles, which are available in quite a lot of shapes, sizes and colours.

“I really feel like a film star” working the outdated streetcars, she says. “Folks come from all around the world to journey them.”

Her favourite streetcar is No. 578, affectionately known as the “Dinky.” The automotive was in-built 1896 and appears almost similar to the hill-climbing cable automobiles. In complete, Muni has greater than 50 historic streetcars, many from throughout america, however others hail from England, Italy and Australia. The majority of the fleet is made up of Presidents’ Convention Committee streetcars, or PCCs, streamlined automobiles that date from the Nineteen Thirties. Greater than 4,500 PCCs had been constructed and utilized in 33 cities. Whereas a number of the PCCs are painted in Muni’s classic inexperienced and cream livery, most are painted in tribute to completely different cities that used PCCs, together with Washington, Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia.

“It is a riot of shade, patterns and designs representing the entire completely different transit companies,” Laubscher says.

Sustaining century-old streetcars is not any straightforward activity, Reiskin says. Due to their age, Muni regularly has to make its personal elements to maintain them in service. Nonetheless, the company receives loads of assist from Market Avenue Railway; Laubscher is the group’s president.


A streetcar in-built 1928 to be used in Milan rounds a curve in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood in July. Photograph for The Washington Put up by Justin Franz

Over time, Market Avenue Railway has advocated for the growth of historic streetcar service, together with the creation of the E-Line in 2015 that goes from the Ferry Constructing towards AT&T Park, house of the San Francisco Giants.

There are dozens of museums throughout America devoted to streetcars. Some cities have adopted San Francisco’s lead and re-created their very own classic traces. Nonetheless, Laubscher says none of them is sort of just like the F-Line in San Francisco, notably as a result of the streetcars are nonetheless a essential a part of town’s transit system, one which along with carrying guests takes commuters to work and faculty.

“It is not sufficient to only protect machines like these as static shows; you must let folks expertise them,” he says. “San Francisco relishes its transit historical past, however we additionally put our historical past to work.”

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For those who go

The place to remain

Palace Lodge

2 New Montgomery St.



Situated simply toes from the F-Line, this was town’s first luxurious resort when it was established in 1875. It was rebuilt in 1909 after the unique was destroyed within the 1906 earthquake. Rooms begin at $200.

Lodge Vitale

8 Mission St.



Proper on the Embarcadero, this resort presents its visitors beautiful views of the bay from its rooms and its rooftop deck. Rooms begin at $200.

Parker Visitor Home

520 Church St.



This bed-and-breakfast is close to the Castro and Mission neighborhoods, steps away from a few of San Francisco’s finest bars and eating places. A complimentary wine social is included in your keep. Rooms begin at $200.

The place to eat

Kitchen Story

3499 sixteenth St.



Situated only a block from the F-Line within the Castro District, the restaurant encompasses a menu with California and Asian influences. It’s open for brunch and dinner, and is understood for its bottomless mimosas. Entrees begin at $12.

Fog Metropolis

1300 Battery St.



This contemporary bar and eatery is situated alongside the Embarcadero and presents outside seating with nice views of town and the close by streetcars. The menu options regionally impressed American delicacies and entrees begin at $15.

The Buena Vista

2765 Hyde St.



This cafe with a wide-ranging menu is situated close to Fisherman’s Wharf and is understood for its Irish espresso. Entrees begin at $10.

What to do

The F-Line



The historic F-Line streetcars run between the Castro District and Fisherman’s Wharf from 6 a.m. till 1 a.m. The automobiles run each six to 10 minutes and there are a number of stops alongside the route. Traces to board the streetcars might be notably lengthy on the finish factors and alongside the Embarcadero however significantly shorter the farther away you get from the waterfront. Fare is $2.75 for adults and $1.25 for youngsters and seniors. Single or multiday passes additionally accessible.

San Francisco Railway Museum

77 Steuart St.



Run by the nonprofit Market Avenue Railway, this museum and present store options displays on the historical past of transit in San Francisco, together with a full-size copy of a motorman’s platform from 1911. Open Tuesday by way of Sunday from 10 a.m. to five p.m. Free.