The Age of the Cable Car – The Story of the Cable Cars – Part 7

June 20, 2016 | By | Reply More

San_Francisco_Cable_Car_on_California_StreetWith this significant beginning of the Cable Cars on Saturday, August 2, 11873, in San Francisco, the United States entered upon the age of the Cable Car.

As the idea developed, it spread to other cities in California (Oakland, Los Angeles), and eventually, to the entire country – Kansas City, Chicago, St. Louis, Philadelphia, and New York. Other lines augmented the original operation, and London and Sydney, Australia, joined the list of the cities with cable operations.

With regard to the subsequent events connected with the saga of the cable cars in the city, it should be noted that its immediate success caused much activity in San Francisco. Such tycoons as Leland Stanford and Mark Hopkins were led to establish their own cable-car operations after obtaining the necessary franchises from city government.

By 1890, the city’s population of about 300,000 was served by eight cable car companies which ore prated six hundred cars over one hundred miles of single cable track and employed 1,500 men. Additionally, there were still some twenty five miles of horse car lines as well as two steam lines, on either side of Golden Gate Park, which carried passengers to Ocean Beach.

Between 1891 and 1894, the eight lines mentioned above were merged into the Market Street Railway Company; however, several other operations such as the California Street Railroad, the Presidio and Ferries Railroad, Sutter Street Railroad, and the Geary Street, Park, and Ocean Railroad, the proliferation of these successful enterprises served, among other things, to change the population trend to the south of Market area, for it was now possible to ascend the heights of Nob and other hills with comfort and safety,

The cable car then, may claim credit for the building of many homes in the northeast area of the city as well as in some of the valleys beyond.

This was referred to by the then Chief Justice Earl Warren when, on October 1, 1964, he was the principal speaker at a ceremony marking the inclusion of he San Francisco Cable Car System among the national historical landmarks.

In this ceremony, which took place at Victorian Plaza, hayed and Beach streets, the Chief Justice remarked:

 This occasion is of great significance to the citizens of San Francisco but it is also one which will attract the attention of people who hear about it all over the world. There is an affection for San Francisco’s cable cars in many lands. Hey are truly world-renowned.

My appreciation of these cable cars is based upon a host of memories. When I was a freshman student at the University of California I first rode the cable cars on the San Francisco hills. I associate them, as hundreds of people do, with stimulating experiences, superb views of the Bay and the sheer excitement of being in “everyone’s favorite city.”

Some of the Chief Justice’s enthusiasm and affection for cable cars in the city seem to have been captured by an editorial writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, who wrote several days after the Victorian Plaza ceremony:

The San Francisco Cable Car, invented out of the necessity arising from the city’s steppe and frequent hills, has now climbed to the peak of esteem and respectability. The perky, noisy, woefully archaic little contraption is now the revered symbol of a metropolitan city, but has attained national recognition – and protection – as a national monument. This obsolete, creating, inadequate, slow, expensive to operate, money-losing – and uniquely San Franciscan – piece of last century machinery has risen in the world like a Horatio Alger hero and is now a tourist attraction that brings thousands of visitors and millions of dollars to this community annually.

The firm hold, that the cable car system has upon many people, had been demonstrated earlier on November 10, 1967, when the “Cable Car Barn” at the corner of Mason and Jackson streets was dedicated.

Originally built in 1887, this structure, while gutted in the fire of 1906, had since been sufficiently restored to enable it to be returned to service some years later; however, with the cessation of several cable car Operations, the ”Barn” gradually became the only source of power for the Operation of the remaining three lines.

In a wise decision, it was decided to add an attractive Visitors Gallery where the operation of the system could be observed at close range and from where the interested could go on to an inspection of a cable car museum upstairs which includes the areas where the cable cars are stored between use. Annually, thousands visit this working area and see for themselves the actual operation of the entire system.

A final mention must be made here of the well-planned and equally well-executed commemoration, in 1973, of the centennial of San Francisco’s cable cars. There were several appropriate events in connection with this centennial, which climaxed on the centennial date, August 2, 1973, with a reenactment of the original run of the first cable car a century before.

Since Clay Street had long since lost its cable-car line, the run was made down it in a ”cable-car cavalcade” which featured several cable cars running on rubber tires and power motored. At Portsmouth Square, where the first run had terminated, a nostalgic ceremony, presided over by Mayor Joseph Alioto, was held with various addresses featuring the cable car ”in history,” ”in print,” in song,” ”in my day” (Speech by a senior gripman), ”in my life,” and ”in San Francisco.”

Several hundred attended this early morning ceremony, which took place at about 6 A.M. All of which caused the Chronicle to again editorialize:

Andrew Hallidie created the cable car system, August 2, 1873, to the great relief and convenience of persons having a need to go up and down Nob Hill but lacking a private equipage in which to negotiate it. From that day to this is a whole century of clang-clang-a period of uninterrupted joy and satisfaction with this mode of transportation. No American city ever found a more delightful way of getting people up and down a hill or a more appealing trademark recognizable the world over. May the San Francisco cable car ever successfully resist profane hands that would snatch it out of Its slot and replace it with “modern, and efficient” (i.e. smoke and noise polluting) buses.

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Category: Fog City - City of Fog, History

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