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THEN: This picture was taken on 11 August 1917, the opening day of the J-Church streetcar line. James “Sunny Jim” Rolph, the Mayor of San Francisco, is piloting the streetcar.
NOW: The location is in the western section of Mission Dolores Park and is contiguous with Church Street. This streetcar is traveling outbound, and the view is looking north. This photograph was taken on 13 August 2017.
11 August 2017 was the 100th anniversary of the public opening of San Francisco’s J-Church streetcar line. The J-Church Muni Metro light rail line still runs along the same route down Market and Church streets, through Mission Dolores Park and then to Noe Valley. The J-Church light rail streetcar line follows a unique path along its roughly seven-mile route.
Most of the original J-Church tracks were installed by mid-1916, but the line remained incomplete due to disagreements between the private United Railroads Company, the City of San Francisco, and residents who lived near the new streetcar line.
For several years, a group of San Franciscans who lived on the steep portion of Church Street in the Dolores Heights neighborhood, wanted the streetcar line to be served by cable cars instead of electric streetcars. Most people saw cable cars as an outdated and slow form of transit, and the electrified J-Church streetcar prevailed as the type of streetcar used on the J-Church transit line.
The line was, however, built with a unique route to bypass the steep section of Church Street. Instead of a straight path over the hill, the J-Church line was constructed on a route through a small portion of Mission Dolores Park, and thanks to an eminent domain ruling by the California State court, a small part of the line runs through the former backyards of houses south of Delores Park. The J-Church streetcar line made its first official run on Saturday 11 August 1917, to great fanfare.
For about eight decades, the J-Church streetcar line ran from the Ferry Building to the terminus of the line at Church Street at 30th Street in Noe Valley, providing an important downtown connection for residents. By the late 1970s, the BART system was operational, the Muni Metro system was nearing completion, and Muni started planning to extend the J-Church light rail line to the Balboa Park BART Station. This extension would provide better service and a new regional transit connection for the south-central part of San Francisco.
While a continuation of the line had been studied as early as the 1920s, the line was not completed until the 1990s. The J-Church light rail line extension was constructed along San Jose Avenue through the “Bernal Cut,” a pathway built by the San Francisco & San Jose Railroad in 1863 to run trains in-between the slopes of Bernal Heights and Glen Park. Today, the J-Church Muni Metro light rail line continues to provide vital transit services.
I visited the J-Church transit route on Sunday 13 August to take some photographs of the streetcar line on its one-hundredth anniversary.