How did a Birmingham-themed streetcar end up in San Francisco?

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Streetcar
Muni F-Line Streetcar 1077, a Birmingham-themed streetcar at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. Photo via Mobilus In Mobili on Flickr

Did you know that a historic streetcar in San Francisco bears the design scheme of the old Birmingham Electric Streetcar line in The Magic City? We took a look at the history of streetcars in Birmingham to learn more.

A History of Streetcars in The Magic City

Streetcar
A Birmingham Electric Company streetcar outside of Legion Field. Photo via BhamWiki

During the late 19th century, dozens of streetcar lines popped up in cities across the country as an early form of public transport. In fact, America’s first citywide streetcar route, the Lightning Route, was established in Montgomery in 1886. In cities like Birmingham, streetcars allowed residents to expand outside of the city, in what were referred to as “streetcar suburbs“. Birmingham had several streetcar suburbs, including:

  • Avondale
  • East Lake
  • Edgewood
  • Forest Park
  • Norwood
  • And more!
Streetcar
This old photo of the Loveman, Joseph & Loeb Department Store (now McWane Science Center) in 1936 shows the intricate streetcar lines in downtown Birmingham. Photo via Birmingham Public Library Department of Archives and Manuscripts

Since streetcars ran on electricity, most streetcar fleets were owned by the local power & utility companies. In Birmingham, that was the Birmingham Railway & Electric Company. For decades, streetcars ferried Birminghamians back and forth from their homes to work and life in the city.

StreetCar Rail
An old streetcar rail in downtown Birmingham on 21st Street North. Photo via Nathan Watson for Bham Now

Eventually, streetcar lines declined in popularity while personal automobiles and public buses became more commonplace. By 1953, the last remnants of Birmingham’s streetcar fleet were sold to the Toronto Transit Commission in Canada and replaced by buses. Over the next few decades, most streetcar rails in Birmingham were paved over.

In the mid 2000s, Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford proposed a “Heritage Streetcar Line”, aiming to bring back streetcars to The Magic City—however, the idea was never realized.

What is a Birmingham Electric Streetcar doing in San Francisco?

San Francisco’s iconic cablecar fleets make up one of the world’s last cable car systems. In addition to the city’s main cablecar fleet, San Francisco operates several “heritage streetcar” lines. These fleets are made up of historic streetcars—some from San Francisco and others from around the country.

One heritage streetcar line, F Market & Wharves, pays homage to Birmingham’s streetcar history with Muni F-Line Streetcar 1077. Although the 74-year-old Presidents’ Conference Committee (PCC) streetcar is not originally from Birmingham, F Market & Wharves have designed it to resemble the classic Birmingham design.

Currently, the F Market & Wharves line is closed due to COVID-19—but be sure to keep an eye out for Muni F-Line Streetcar 1077 if you ever visit San Francisco!

Have you spotted the Birmingham-themed streetcar in San Francisco? Tag us @BhamNow with your photos!

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Nathan Watson
Tennessee native who fell in love with Birmingham during college. Graduated from Birmingham-Southern College in 2019. Passionate about Birmingham and its continued growth.
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