April 10th - Happy 135th Year California Street Cable Cars!
Thanks to Union Bank for their thoughtful donation and support.
THE CALIFORNIA STREET CABLE RAILROAD
Leland Stanford, along with “Big Four”
member Mark Hopkins and other prominent businessmen,
created the California Street Cable Railroad Company,
to open a line up Calfornia Street where he and other
Bonanza Kings were building their palatial mansions.
Stanford obtained a franchise in 1876 and turned construction
over to one of his engineers from the Central Pacific,
Henry Root. In spite of his attempts to circumvent
Hallidie’s patents, Stanford was forced to pay
$30,000 dollars to Hallidie for patent licensing fees,
to his great chagrin.
Construction of the line began on July 5, 1877 and
finished five months later, covering 1.7 miles on
both sides of California Street, downtown from Kearny,
up over Nob Hill past Nabob palaces, to Fillmore Street
in the Western Addition. Opening of the line was delayed
by other problems until April 10, 1878, on which day
the line served over 11,000 riders.
In Spring of 1879, the line was extended west from
Fillmore to Presidio Avenue, opening for business
in May 1879. The extension, which had been cheaply
built at Stanford’s order, had to be refurbished
in 1884, the same year Stanford sold his interest
to a local banker, Antoine Borel. Borel and James
Stetson, the company president, improved and extended
the line, installing new machinery in the powerhouse
that reduced travel time on the line to a total of
18 minutes, down from 21.5.
In 1880 the California Street R. R. Co. in collaboration
with John L. Hammond & co., a well-known local
car builder, developed the California—Type Car.
This car in use today on California Street combined
the dummy and trailer into one unit capable of being
operated from either end. Then, in 1889, Borel and
Stetson proposed extending the California Street route
east all the way to Market Street, and construct a
new crosstown line on O’Farrell, Jones, and
Hyde Streets. The California Street extension opened
in 1890, and the O’Farrell, Jones, and Hyde
line was ready for service in February 1891. A smaller
car, the Jones Street Shuttle, ran on a short line
from the junction of Market, Jones and McAllister
up Turk, Eddy and Ellis Streets to meet the main line
at O’Farrell Street. The company powerhouse
was relocated to the corner of California and Hyde,
to accommodate the new lines. This would be the last
cable car line built in San Francisco.
The California Cable Railroad proved financially successful,
even after electric trolleys replaced other lines,
since the steep grades on California Street made conversion
to electricity impractical. California Cable remained
an independent company and its profitability continued
well on into the 20th century [becoming part of the
Municipal Railway of San Francisco in 1952], long
after most of the other lines were only a faint memory.