THE MARKET STREET CABLE RAILWAY –
This line grew out of the Market Street Railway Co.,
an early horsecar system organized in 1867. In August
1883, the new firm, called the Market Street Cable
Railway Co., opened its first cable line for service,
eventually becoming the biggest cable traction company
in San Francisco. The Market Street Railway served
the Mission District, Golden Gate Park, and the Western
Addition, from a main line on Market Street, the primary
artery in the City, branching off into five other
The heart of the Market Street Cable Railway Co. system
was its main power house complex located on a large
wedge shaped lot at the junction of Market and Valencia
Streets. In 1883 a distinctive wooden two-story engine
house was constructed at this location. The growing
demands of the system caused this building to be replaced
by an imposing brick building circa 1890.
Simultaneously with the construction of the power
house complex, a large carbarn and general repair
shop was built in a sparsely populated area adjacent
to the turntable at the end of the Valencia Street
cable line at junction with Mission Street. Also in
August 1883 when the main line opened, another route
began service through the Mission District to 29th
Street, the Valencia line, running on that street.
The McAllister Street line opened west to Golden Gate
Park from Market, from a separate power house taking
up most of a block bounded by Fulton and McAllister
Streets, and Masonic and Central Avenues. The Market
and Valencia powerhouse powered the Haight Street
line, the cars operating from a car barn on Haight
Street near Golden Gate Park.
A fourth line running from Market Street west to Golden
Gate Park, Hayes Street, opened for service on May
26, 1886, also operating from its own powerhouse and
carbarn, which was a smaller facility with capacity
of 33 cars. It was located on Hayes Street very near
the McAllister facility.
The final branch of the Market Street Cable Railway
Co. originated as a steam motor line called the Market
Street Extension. Beginning at the Market and Valencia
powerhouse it ran out Market to Castro Street. In
response to public displeasure with this rather primitive
arrangement, management decided in 1887 to convert
the operation to cable and extend the line south on
Castro Street to 26th Street. Accommodating the additional
cars required that a small car barn be built on the
corner of Castro and Jersey Streets.
The Market Street Cable Railway Co. painted its cars
according to the line on which they were normally
assigned. This made identifying the car one wished
to board very simple, particularly on Market Street.
Castro Street cars were ivory with dark red trim,
called bright carmine. Haight Street cars were red;
Hayes Street cars green; McAllister Street cars a
bright yellow; and Valencia Street cars were blue.
At times it became necessary to temporarily assign
cars painted for one line to another, in which case
a canvas panel painted and lettered for that line
would be mounted on the front dash panel secured by
leather straps and carriage bolts. For example, an
ivory colored Castro Street car would be fitted with
a red canvas panel letter “Via Haight St.”
and “To Cliff House Park and Ferries”
when temporarily assigned to the Haight Street line.
Of the actual franchises granted the company in the
early 1880s only one saw actual construction. This
was to be a cross town line originating in the Mission
District to Harbor View, a resort near the site of
the present Palace of Fine Arts in the Marina. This
consisted of about a mile of cable track on Church
Street between a5th and 24th Streets, track that was
In 1881 the Market Street Railway Co. consisted of
nearly thirty miles of track, upon which operated
a fleet of mainly large combination cars which were
similar to, but considerably larger than those in
service today on Powell Street. The Market Street
Railway Co. was considered to be one of the most successful
cable traction properties in the entire country.
The Market Street Cable Railway co. continued to operate
until 1893 when it became the foundation for the formation
of the 2nd Market Street Railway Co. in the great
merger of 1893.