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 lines.

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 never used.

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.

Cable Car