About Contact Volunteer Join Donate Follow us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter

Powell Street Railway Company, 1888-1893

Built 1973 by Muni shops

This cable car is considered the flagship of the Powell Street fleet, proudly wearing the original paint design Powell cable cars wore when the line first opened in 1888.

The Powell Street cable car lines were originally built by the Ferries & Cliff House Railway Company, which started construction in 1887 after winning several franchises for cable car operation as well as for a steam train that ran all the way to the Pacific shore at the Cliff House. This company elected to mark its Powell Street cable cars with the name “Powell Street Railway Co.” instead of the parent company’s name, though they did put “Ferries & Cliff House Railway” on the Washington and Mason powerhouse and carbarn (which is still signed that way).

In 1973, for the centennial of the world’s first cable car line (on San Francisco’s Clay Street), Muni constructed a “new” Powell cable car using the roof and seats from the first No. 506. This “Centennial Car” received the number 1. (At the same time, the other Powell cable cars were renumbered, dropping the first digit (5) to restore the original 1888 numbering system).

No. 1 was painted in an approximation of the original maroon and light blue livery of the Powell Street Railway Co. It also received conical caps on the roof, a detail that had long ago vanished from cable cars but had originally served as vents for interior kerosene lamps.

This ornate livery only lasted on Powell Street cable cars until around 1893, when a new owner repainted them. However, this Centennial cable car caused such positive comments that when Muni rebuilt the cable car system in 1982-84, it repainted all but one of the other Powell Street cable cars from the green and cream livery they had worn since the late 1940s into a simplified version of this maroon and light blue design.

Befitting its flagship status, this is the only Powell car on which exterior advertising is not permitted. Market Street Railway is working with the Muni cable car shops to restore the ornate scroll work and detailed signage removed since the car made its debut in 1973, readying it to play a prominent role in the Muni centennial in 2012.

This car received a significant amount of rebuilding work in 1997. It carries a plaque honoring Friedel Klussmann, “the cable car lady,” whose civic activism saved the Powell Street cable cars from oblivion in 1947.

1946-early 1960s

Full cable car roster »