1873+ Cable Cars Spur San Francisco Growth Over Nob and Russian Hills to Western Addition

 Early San Francisco boomed in growth after Sam Brannan's Mormon battalion immigration in 1846 until nearly 250,000 were residents or had passed through to goldfields by gold Rush end in 1853. A population mushroom, it spread mostly south and west of Yerba Buena Cove. Bay to northern and east and Nob and Russian hills to west of downtown, hindered settlement in those directions. San Francisco's first very affluent neighborhood developed on Rincon Hill to the south where the footings of Bay Bridge are today, with only South Park as small remnant of then still in existence Albert Shumate summarizes this era with exquisite photos in 1988 Rincon Hill and South Park: San Francisco's Fashionable Neighborhood.

With the Second St. 1869 cut directly through Rincon Hill the neighborhood's decline was accelerated, although the wealthy were already looking for another near downtown location that could be additional space for a wealthy enclave. That same year, a Scots immigrant Andrew Hallidie, who had immigrated with his father, from UK to California in 1852 for Gold Rush, witnessed a horrible accident where horses were dragged to their deaths while pulling heavy loaded streetcar up wet cobblestone stretch of Jackson from Kearny to Stockton.

1873:............. Clay St. Cable Car,............. Andrew Hallidie,......Clay St. Original #8 Car,......................Clay St. RR - Kearny to Van Ness


1873+ Clay Street Railroad from Kearny to Van Ness Facilitates Devenopment of Nob Hill and Beyond West of Downtown

 Andrew's father was one of English inventors of wire rope, which had also been developed in 1840's by German's. John Roebling in Pennsylvania relied on German work to open wire plant in Pennsylvania and build bridges their and in Ohio, culminating in the 1880's on his son building the great Brooklyn Bridge.

Meanwhile in San Francisco, Andrew and his father had opened a wire rope plant and used it to build both bridges and mine equipment in California. The father returned to UK in 1853, but Andrew remained in California, opening a wire rope manufacturing plant at Mason and Chestnut in 1857 with machinery from American Bar mine work, but also able to provide durability needed for cable car system.

Whether Andrew was skilled entrepreneur who could raise funds for cable car venture when he took over promoter Benjamin Brooks who couldn't or whether he was instigator is unclear. Even though William Eppelsheimer was engineer, it was probably Andrew with wire rope experience who probably not only controlled needed technology but understood how to incorporate it in engineered line that resulted in the September 3, 1873 Clay St. Cable Car success. A summary of the eight original Cable companies by 1890 is at http://www.cablecarmuseum.org/archive/8c/8c.htm#.


1873 Casebolt Balloon Car Turntable,.Sutter RR President,.......................Sutter St. RR near Grove before Temple Emmanuel

Henry Casebolt pioneered San Francisco mass public transit by operating horse car lines in the City throughout the 1860s. In1876 Casebolt turned to cable cars to replace unprofitable horse car lines. Much of the Sutter Street Railroad was similar to the Clay Street system, with little innovation in the way of materials used or design. The one significant difference was Casebolt’s main contribution, a grip that grabbed the cable from the side, instead of below, while grip men employed a lever to set the car in motion, rather than the hollow screw device patented by Hallidie on Clay Street Railroad.

Litigation between Clay Sutter should have resulted in decision for Sutter based on advanced grip system, but instead went in Sutter's favor based on ruling that Clay system was experimental. Before Casebolt sold out in 1883, he applied Baldwin steam dummy as reliable power system for cable cars. He also used his innovative balloon cars which cut cost of horse cars by reducing costs with turntable on car rather than built into street as trailers on Sutter cable line.

The Sutter Street Railroad, unlike the Clay Street line, ran over fairly level ground, and its steepest point had only a 4% grade. Converting the old horse car line to cable was completed in 1876 and from start of cable cars ran on Sutter from Market Street west to Larkin Street. The cable line proved a tremendous success over horse car system, increasing its ridership by 962,000 in the first year of operation. In late 1878, the company opened a new crosstown line, which ran from the powerhouse, situated at Larkin and Bush Streets, south on Larkin to Hayes Street.


1899Sanborn Polk NW Sutter RR Powerhouse,........................1905 Sutter RR,.................................1883 Polk NW Sutter RR Powerhouse

 The firm also extended the main line on Sutter Street further westward to Presidio Ave., which at that time was sparsely populated. Casebolt sold out his company to a local real estate broker, Robert F. Morrow, in 1883. Morrow promptly began another extension of the line, on Larkin south across Market and down 9th Street to Mission. Morrow also abandoned the 1879 powerhouse at Sutter and Presidio Streets, in favor of consolidating all lines into a single powerhouse at Sutter and Polk.

In 1887, the Larkin route was south to Brannan and the following year the crosstown line pushed further from Polk Street to Pacific Avenue and west on Pacific to Fillmore opened. An overhaul of its whole system in 1890-91 saw an extension of the Pacific Avenue line west from Fillmore to Divisadero, a total of six miles of track, plus a mile of horse car track that connected the Sutter Street line at Market with the Ferry Building.

The Sutter Street Railway operated until 1902, when it merged with United Railways, uniting the Hallidie and Casebolt cable car legacies briefly, as Hallidie's Pacific and Ferries relied on United cars. Industrialists from the East Coast controlled this new conglomeration of transport in San Francisco until 1906, when most of its cars, cables, and powerhouse were destroyed.

After the earthquake and fire, all cable car lines were reestablished as trolley or streetcar lines, expect the California to Van Ness line and two branches north from Market and Powell, all of which were saved in the 1950's and rebuilt since. The Pacific line continued west from Polk, powered by small powerhouse on corner of Polk and Pacific through 1929.

1890's Cable Car Lines,...........................2014 SF MUNI Cable and Bus Lines NE,...........1906+ Cable Car Lines

 The cable car systems were prime facilitator of population shift from south of downtown to west over hills after the gaping 1869 Rincon Cut finished off Rincon Hill. This transport to and from the nearly vacant lands west of downtown helped populate the Western Addition, as well as the north south Polk and Van Ness corridors.

Even though Hallidie established the first successful cable car system up Clay to Nob Hill and Van Ness, it was Casebolt's Sutter line that moved many more between downtown and Western Addition, supplemented by it cable lines north along Polk to Pacific and west to Divisive, as well as use of steam dummy at end of omnibus line to Harbor View, where Palace of Fine Arts stands, from old Broadway and Polk horse car barn and stable.

1888 Pacific Cable Car,.........................1891 Toonerville Trolley,......................1892 Pacific End of Line

 These lines were the major reasons for the growth and development of both our Lombard and Pacific Heights Ridge neighborhoods. Hallidie's major contribution had little to do with his original Clay line, even though it connected with horse car running north along Larkin in 1870's for a few years.

Hallidie's much greater contribution to Russian Hill and Cow Hollow growth was as President of Presidio and Ferries when it ran a line on Union Street, covering roughly two miles from October, 1880. A horse car from the Ferry Building met the start of the cable line at Columbus Avenue and Montgomery Street, which ran along Columbus to Union, then turned west to Steiner Street. There a steam line continued on to the Presidio. The line was unique in that it combined three of the early modes of urban transport known to San Franciscans. The powerhouse and car barn was located at the highest point on the line, near Leavenworth and Union Street, the summit of Russian Hill. Thus, it was both Casebolt and Hallidie that were mostly responsible for transport that foster Lombard and Pacific Heights Rides' growth as well as Van Ness Polk urban corridor in between.


1900 Market Ferry Building Trunaround,.............................Casebolt House 2727 Pierce,..........1881 Union Line end at Baker

 It is ironic that Casebolt's mansion, which still exists at 2727 Pierce and in which he died in 1892 was better served by Hallidie's Union line, than his own much larger Sutter network.

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A couple decades later internal combustion diesel buses overwhelmed and replaced the electric trolleys that mostly displaced cable systems after 1906. Flexibility of automobiles, fueled by cheap and seemingly inexhaustible low cost oil supply until 1970's, nearly doomed mass transit. However, it was traffic congestion, parking and urban costs that lured people from pre auto cities to vastness of open space suburbs created around them.


It is only now, since petroleum costs, supplies and nationalizations of 1970's that there may be a glimmer of hope that electricity may dominate once again, not only in urban mass transit, but the much more important motor vehicle mass markets, not only on Lombard and Pacific Heights ridges, but just as alluringly, through all urban areas and beyond. Only urban transport option gaining traction, that has some of the same allure as the fitness and exercise advantage of walking, is bicycling. It's a technology that goes back nearly to Hallidie and Casebolt introduced their exquisitely innovative cable car systems in San Francisco, even though it cycling never has effectively overcome its limits in hauling, whether of cargo or other folks.

Even though I have relied on bus route equivalents in many other cities to explore or learn history, I don't know that I have been on SF MUNI buses or cable cars since PJ and I were first together and we began walking to and from work from our Lombard ridge home. PJ still does, although my commute is mostly up or down a few flights of steps. Further afield I rely lots more on pedaling or shoe leather express, when not needing to haul. But I am glad MUNI buses and cable cars are still here and as I regularly trace them up or down Van Ness and Polk or along Union Sutter California or Hyde, I think of how the cable cars long ago on original Sutter, Polk, Hyde and even California once helped build the neighborhoods of our Lombard and Pacific Heights Ridge homes.

Powell Hyde Line N Hyde Lombard to Bay,......2014 Cable Car Map,......................... California Line E Powell to SP

 It's nice to see cable cars are still carrying folks to and from downtown, just as Polk 19, Union 41, 45 and Sutter 2-4 still carry lots more on all those pre 1906 cable routes by bus. All the recent tech boom may have added to the natural beauty, pleasing climate and painstaking gentrification that has resulted from the same new tolerant immigrants that first flooded sleepy Yerba Buena Cove as the world rushed in to tune of nearly 250,000 in gold rush era.