San Francisco, 1906

by Joe Thompson

Call/Chronicle/Examiner, 1906
Headline of the 19-April-1906 Call=Chronicle=Examiner, printed on the presses of the Oakland Tribune by a combination of three of San Francisco's major newspapers. April, 1906 Picture of the Month.

Union Street, 1906 Presidio & Ferries tracks along Union Street, severely twisted by the 1906 Earthquake (Source: [group 50:15410], Zelda Mackay Collection of Stereographic Views, BANC PIC 1905.14906-.16118 -- STER, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley).

On 18-Apr-1906 at 5:13 AM, a terrible earthquake struck San Francisco. The earthquake damaged several buildings and killed many people, but even worse destruction followed when the many blazes that made up the Seventh Great Fire broke out and burned for four days. 490 square blocks and two thirds of the houses in the city went up in flames. At least 3000 people died from the effects of the earthquake or the fire. The exact number will never be known because of official coverups.

Cable railway systems throughout the country had been converted to electric traction over the previous ten years, but all of San Francisco's cable lines still operated on 17-Apr-1906 except the former lines of the Omnibus Railroad & Cable Company, which had converted to electricity before 1900. A few cars had entered service on the morning of the 18th, before the shaking started.

Cable car powerhouses and barns were mostly clustered in the burned area.

The Geary Street Park & Ocean Railway was the least affected cable line in the city. Its powerhouse at Geary and Buchannan and car barn at Geary and Arguello were out of the fire zone. The powerhouse still functioned after the earthquake. The company was able to resume service on 21-June-1906.

Here are two San Francisco Chronicle articles about the return of the cable cars:

Cable service on the Geary Street Park & Ocean continued until 12-May-1912. The line was replaced by the first electric line of the San Francisco Municipal Railway.

1906 Ruins Geary Street cars run amid the ruins near Union Square in December, 1906. (Source: [group 5:40], Roy D. Graves Pictorial Collection, ca. 1850-ca. 1968, BANC PIC 1905.17500--ALB, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley). June, 1906 Picture of the Month.

Cal Cable cars burnt The remains of a string of Cal Cable cars on Hyde Street. (Source: San Francisco Public Library, San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection, AAC-3217).

The California Street Cable Railroad's powerhouse and car barn at California and Hyde burned, along with every single piece of rolling stock except for single truck grip car 24. The grades of its two primary lines were too steep for electric traction. Cable service on California street resumed on 17-August-1906 using car 24. The O’Farrell, Jones and Hyde line and the Jones Street Shuttle resumed service on 28-December-1906. Car 24, converted to use a bottom grip, ran on the Jones Street Shuttle until 1908. The Jones Street Shuttle last until 06-February-1954. The O’Farrell, Jones and Hyde stopped running on 16-May-1954, on the same day the California Street main line was cut back from Presidio Avenue to Van Ness. Part of the O’Farrell, Jones and Hyde now operates as the Powell/Hyde line. The truncated California Street main line is still in operation.

Here are San Francisco Chronicle article about the repairs and reopening:

United Railroads of San Francisco's former Ferries & Cliff House Railway lines, Powell/Mason, Powell/Jackson, Ferries/Jackson and Sacramento/Clay, were hit severely by the destruction of the powerhouse and car barn at Washington and Mason Streets. The lines lost all of their rolling stock except for 27 cars. Twenty-seven cars at other locations were saved. Twenty-four combination cars assigned to either Sacramento-Clay, Ferries (Sacramento)-Jackson or stored out-of-service were saved by being in the Sacramento Street car barn located on the south side of Sacramento Street between Central Avenue and Walnut that was outside of the fire zone. Three open cars, which later would be rebuilt into combination cars, were also spared, being located in a small barn around the corner on the west side of Central Avenue just north of Sacramento. These 27 survivors were used to operate the two Powell Street lines when service was restored.

Each line had sections that were far too steep for electric traction, so each was restored after the disaster with the exception of the Ferries/Jackson that was abandoned without replacement. Only the Powell/Mason line returned intact. Both the Powell/Jackson (now called Washington/Jackson) and Sacramento/Clay were cut back to Steiner and Fillmore Streets respectively, and their outer sections were replaced by electric streetcar lines. Service on Powell Street to Jackson resumed on 30-January-1907. The full Powell/Mason and the reduced Washington/Jackson lines returned to service on 01-March-1907.

The rearranged Sacramento/Clay line returned on 08-June-1908. Here is an article from the 09-June-1908 San Francisco Call:

Cable service on Sacramento/Clay survived until 15-February-1942. The Washington/Jackson line ran until 02-September-1956. Part of it now operates as the Powell/Hyde line. The Powell/Mason line survives intact today; in fact it is the world’s oldest route using the same routing and mode of transport.

United Railroads of San Francisco's former Market Street Cable Railway lines, Valencia Street, McAllister Street, Haight Street, Hayes Street, and Castro Street, were still operating on April 15, 1906, but the company was trying to get permission to convert them to electric operation. Many citizens of San Francisco did not want trolley wires on Market Street, so there was an effort to force the company to use expensive conduit electrification. The company tried to get around this problem by distributing generous bribes to the mayor and the Supervisors. When the disaster occurred, the company seized the opportunity to erect "temporary" wires (which are still there) and inaugurate electric streetcar service on Market Street on 06-May-1906. The outer portion of the Castro Street line, which had severe grades, returned to cable service on 29-August-1907. It survived until 05-April-1941.

Here are two San Francisco Chronicle articles about conversions of URR cable lines to electric traction:

The powerhouse and car barn of the former Sutter Street Railway at Post and Sutter burned, but several of its broad gauge cars were towed by horses to the top of the hill on Sutter and coasted down to Fillmore, out of the fire zone. These cars were used after the fire on the United Railroad's restored Pacific Avenue segment of the former Larkin Street line, which opened in December, 1909, and as horse cars on a franchise-protecting line on Market Street from the ferry to Sutter. The rest of the former Sutter Street system was converted to standard gauge electric traction. The Pacific Avenue segment operated until 17-November-1929.

The Presidio & Ferries Railway lost its Union and Leavenworth powerhouse. The horse, cable, and steam powered system was replaced by a unified electric trolley line, which operated as an independant company until 1913, when it was taken over by the San Francisco Municipal Railway.

By the end of 1906, electric streetcars were running on United Railroad's Sutter, Polk/Larkin (except for the outer portion on Pacific Avenue), Valencia, McAllister, Haight, and Hayes (except between Fillmore and Divisadero) lines, and most of the former Castro Street line. Streetcars were also running on the Presidio and Ferries unified system. Cable cars were running on Geary Street, California Street, the O'Farrell/Jones/Hyde line, and the Jones Street shuttle.

Much of the infrastructure put in place during the rebuilding of the California and Powell lines remained in place until the Great Reconstruction of 1982.

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Last updated 01-June-2008