Streetcar Named Tourism Trolls Streets of San Francisco : History: Already famous for cable cars, city deploys trolleys. The oldest car is from 1895.
Just because it’s the mid-1990s and you’re in San Francisco, it doesn’t mean you can’t step into Philadelphia in the 1940s. Or Cincinnati in the 1930s.
All you need do is climb aboard a streetcar.
Once, these vintage trolleys--known as Presidents Conference Committee cars--dominated public transportation in major cities across the country. Now, they ramble up and down Market Street, another tourist attraction for a city already renowned for its cable cars.
“This is an additional enticement for people to come to San Francisco,” said Phil Adams, general manager of the city’s Municipal Railway, known as the Muni. It’s “simply another jewel in the city’s crown.”
The cars were designed in the 1930s at the request of presidents of electric car companies in the United States and Canada who wanted standardized, improved, streamlined streetcars. That’s what they got--cars that were among the sturdiest and most reliable transit vehicles ever made.
Most cities gradually dropped the trolley cars, though they still operate in Boston, Newark and Toronto.
The San Francisco fleet’s 17 cars each can haul 93 riders. They are painted the livery of cities where PCCs once operated--the green and cream of Philadelphia, the bright yellow and green of Cincinnati, the yellow and silver of Los Angeles. There’s also the distinctive orange and silver of Pacific Electric, a Southern California line whose demise inspired the movie, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”
San Francisco has a long history with the PCCs. The last of about 5,000 cars built for use in North America was the city’s car No. 1040, constructed by the St. Louis Car Co. It went into service in 1952.
The cars, which run above a modern subway, form the F-Market run, a 3.5-mile route that is San Francisco’s first new line since 1928.
The F line goes from the Transbay Terminal and up Market Street to the Castro District. Along the way, it passes near several tourist sites, including the new Museum of Modern Art, U.N. Plaza, Moscone Center and the turnaround at Powell and Market where tourists stand in line to board the cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf.
In addition to the famous cable cars and the new contingent, San Francisco has the largest operating fleet of historic streetcars in the nation. The 29 vintage trams include a 1928 streetcar from Milan, Italy, one a year older from Japan and a 1922 contribution from Russia. To top that, San Francisco came up with one built in 1895. The crowd-pleaser, however, is a 1934 open “boat car” from Blackpool, England.
The Muni knew it was onto something when it held festivals for the old streetcars in the 1980s and people elbowed each other to get aboard. The old cars are frequently taken out and added to the F-line fleet.
“We get standing loads, even at midday,” said Chip Palmer, who operates one of the PCCs. “At first, we were kind of overwhelmed.”
“The ride takes longer than the subway, but I don’t mind,” said passenger Penny Starns.
“They should bring back all the old cars,” said Honora Jackson, 28, a San Francisco native showing off the city to her brother, Andrew, 17, from a car painted in the colors of Philadelphia circa 1947.
So far, the city has invested $50 million and seven years in putting down the tracks, locating the conference cars and overhauling them.
Plans call for eventually linking the line to Fisherman’s Wharf. But the line has brought so many tourists to the Castro District that some residents of that area feel its essence is under attack.
“The F line is turning another area of the city into a tourist attraction, forcing rents sky-high,” said one resident, Phil Hogan.
Hogan has banded together with others who share similar concerns. They fear that the plans to extend the line to Fisherman’s Wharf could result in the Castro District being inundated with straight tourists who normally wouldn’t have found their way to America’s most renowned gay neighborhood.
“That’s pure bilge water,” said Sam Ganczaruk, an F-line rider. “If you get more people up here seeing how the gay community lives, you’ll have more tolerance.”
It's a date
Get our L.A. Goes Out newsletter, with the week's best events, to help you explore and experience our city.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.