Streetcar tracks hiding under City streets

A little bit of history was uncovered last week at California between 15th and 16th Avenues. As crews were ripping the street apart for sewer work they unearthed old streetcar tracks.

Richmond District historian John Freeman shed some light to RichmondSF on the history of the old tracks that used to run along California Street. When it opened September 30, 1888, it was the first rail line that went all the way through Richmond.

The streetcar would cruise along from what is now Presidio Avenue all the way to the ocean at Sutro Baths.

Although the rail line dates back over 100 years, Freeman thinks the rails dug up this week were installed around 1905 and carried the #1 Sutter and C Geary-California streetcar.

According to The Western Neighborhoods Project, a nonprofit organization that works to preserve and share the history and culture of the neighborhoods in western San Francisco, the C Geary-California was the Municipal Railway’s seventh route and started running in 1915 out to Park Presidio / 13th Avenue. A few months later, the line was then extended to 33rd Avenue and California.

As buses became more efficient and easier to navigate about the city, rail service slowly declined on the California Street trolley. The route was partially replaced by buses in 1949, and in 1956 rail service was discontinued.

According to Freeman, it was normal for road workers to just build over the streetcar rails instead of going through the extra effort to remove them completely. Just a few years ago, he noticed the same thing happening on Balboa when they were doing roadwork. Freeman explained:

“You would think the rails had salvage value, but in a post-WWII world, scrap steel was not very valuable and it was cheaper to cover the rails than to remove them for their scrap value.”

We can only imagine what other treasures could be hiding underneath The City’s roads.