So, you think you know San Francisco, do you? You’ve been living here all or most of your life, or like me, spending most of your life visiting the city. There isn’t a tourist attraction you couldn’t be a guide for if you wanted to. Take the cable cars; you’ve ridden on every stretch of track on the three existing lines from one end to the other, right? Wrong! Let’s look at the three remaining cable car routes. The Powell and Bay Street line starts at Market Street, heads north to Jackson Street and turns left. After one block it turns right on Mason Street and follows Mason to Columbus Ave. Turning left on Columbus and right on Taylor Street it ends at Bay Street. The Powell and Hyde Street line follows the same course up Nob Hill from Market as Powell and Bay does, but after turning left on Jackson it heads up to Hyde Street, turns right and drops down to Aquatic Park. Heading back it passes Jackson Street, turns left on Washington, right on Powell, and continues back to Market Street.. Been there, done that, right? The California Street Line is simpler. It starts at California and Drumm Street, goes up Nob Hill and down to Van Ness Ave. and comes back to Drumm Street. However, like me, you may not have paid much attention to those cable car tracks you pass at Hyde Street when you ride the California Street Line. Both Powell Street Lines run past the Cable Car Powerhouse, but these tracks are how the California Street cable cars get back to the barn for maintenance or when it’s time to tuck them in for the night, and they are not open to the public.
Two California Street cable cars pass and approach Hyde Street in 1954 in a picture from OpenSFHistory.org: The California Street cable car system was down for repairs this week so there were no passing cable cars at this location when I took my pictures. However, I’m going to mention more about this a little later in my post.
Now you’re looking east at the intersection of California and Hyde in 1949 and this week. These tracks turning off California were laid down in the 1950’s when the cable cars were consolidated into one system and do not appear on older pictures of the area. Two tracks turn onto Hyde Street to accommodate both east and west bound cable cars. (OpenSFHistory.org)
We’ll head north along the tracks starting from across California Street. The route heads uphill to Sacramento Street.
We continue uphill to Clay Street and then the tracks drop down to Washington in the bottom picture.
At the intersection of Hyde and Washington, in the top photo, the northbound California cars cross on to the tracks of the southbound Hyde Street cable cars that climb Russian Hill from Aquatic Park. They’ve now linked back up with a passenger section of the cable car system that we all love to ride. From here, the California Line cars back up to make the turn on to Washington Street. They don’t really back up because California cable cars can go either way, like Doctor Dolittle’s pushmi-pullyu. They now head down Washington Street toward the Cable Car Barn.
I spoke with a gentleman named Fred who works at the Cable Car Museum, and asked him what the route was from here that the California Line cars use to return to the barn. He traced the route for me on a map; the cars continue east past Mason, seen here during World War Two, to Powell Street. They share the same track here as the Powell and Market Street cable cars seen in both pictures do. (OpenSFHistory.org)
Near Powell Street a different set of tracks on the left branch off and California cable cars turn onto Powell Street from Washington and cross onto those tracks heading north. Passengers don’t make this turn either. The tracks and the turn on the right that the Powell-Hyde Street returning cars make like today and in 1973 is the one for the public. (OpenSFHistory.org)
After heading one block north, the cars turn left and head up Jackson to the cable car barn where they back into it on the right in the bottom picture. The views from both the Washington and Jackson Street side of the cable car powerhouse are stunning!
Now, we had the California Street cable cars in the powerhouse, but I had another question for Fred.
“Yeah, but how do the cars get back to California Street? I mean, they can’t just hop on a cable car.”
I waited for his rollicking laughter, but, well, maybe he didn’t hear that last part. Fred was really helpful and this post is for him. He explained how the cable cars leave the warehouse at Jackson and head uphill where once again they link up with the Hyde Street cable car line. The top photo shows where the Jackson Street line turns north onto Hyde and the bottom picture shows where the California Street cars cross onto the Hyde street tracks at another double track section. The cable cars stop here and reverse back to California Street.
I had a piece of luck here. Just as I was leaving, a California Street cable car turned onto Hyde from Jackson, crossed over the tracks for the return trip to California Street, and headed toward me. As I mentioned, the California Street cable line was closed for repairs during this week, so this must have been a test run.
A few minutes after California car number 57 passed by me a Powell and Market number 15 car came by heading for Washington Street. It’s probably not a big deal, but I’ve never had a Powell and California Street cable car rattle past me on the same track and I was pretty excited about it.
Number 57 headed back to California Street. The brakeman seemed to be looking at me and thinking, “What’s the matter, buddy? Haven’t you ever seen a cable car before?” and I thought back to him, “I’ve been riding them long before you were born, buddy, but never on this stretch!” The lower picture is where the cable car tracks that you and I will never ride on head back to California Street from Washington.
Where the California Street and the Powell Street cable cars, get ready to roll out of bed and hit the streets to “Stack ‘em, pack ‘em , and rack ‘em.” (artist drawing by Yo Pedro)
I never gave much thought to the old television show ‘Ironside’ with Raymond Burr until I started watching episodes on DVD lately. For the most part, they’re actually well made murder mysteries with occasional location filming at interesting San Francisco sites. In one 1968 episode “Ironside” (Burr) and crew are chasing a murder suspect near the cable car barn. Here, they’re heading north on Mason Street in Ironside’s armored truck past the powerhouse.
They follow the suspect into the warehouse where one of Ironside’s team, Eve Whitfield, played by Barbara Anderson, isn’t about to let the murderess get away.
The culpritess (Is that a word?) runs past a California Street cable car and pulls a gun.
Eve blindsides her and roughs her up pretty good! I mean, it wasn’t like women’s mud wrestling, but it was still fun to watch.
“Okay, I give up! Just get this —– off of me!”
Even Ironside looks a little concerned about Eve’s enthusiasm!
“No, Eve, you can’t shoot her! Due process, remember? Due Process!”
The cable car behind them here was probably a green Powell Street car. It looks like it says Mason St. on top.