History in Motion

The E Line: Then and Now

Share this:
Thursday, July 30, 2015

As we approach Saturday's opening of weekend service on Muni's E Embarcadero Line, it seemed like a good time for a brief history lesson on Muni's original E Line, which ran on Union Street from 1915 - 1947. While the E Union was almost completely different from today's E Embarcadero, its long and varied history is well worth exploring.

Side view of single-truck J Type Streetcar 352 From Union St. E Line on Masonic and Geary | May 4, 1942 | D4728C
J Type Streetcar 352 From Union St. E Line on Masonic and Geary | May 4, 1942 | D4728C


Muni's first E Line was based on the Presidio & Ferries Railroad Company's Union Street Line, which the city purchased in 1913 in preparation for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. As Muni ramped up to be the primary provider of transit to the fair, it needed a line that would go directly from the Ferry Building to the Expo site in what is now the Marina District.

The Presidio & Ferries operation was the perfect candidate for this. The line ran from the north end of the Ferry Building out to the Presidio via several streets including Jackson, Columbus, Union and Greenwich, climbing over Russian Hill and passing through Cow Hollow near the fairgrounds. After taking over the entire company including the Union Line, equipment, and 84 employees, the city went to work feverishly rebuilding the roughly 3.5 mile line in just one year, opening the new Muni service just 10 days prior to the fair.


Interestingly, the western portion of this line from Van Ness Avenue to the Presidio has a very long history dating to the 1860s. It's seen every form of mass transit along the way including horse-drawn rail cars, steam trains, cable cars, streetcars and today's trolley buses. From the 1890s to the end of rail service in 1947, unique single-truck "dinky" streetcars were used. The first Presidio and Ferries Co. cars were very similar to our historic Car 578 and were built in town by the Hammond Car Co.

Starting in 1922, Muni began replacing these aged cars with "J-Type" cars like the one in today's photo. These funky-looking cars with center doors were 18 feet shorter and about 26,000 pounds lighter than Muni's typical streetcar, making them better able to handle the steeper grades of Russian Hill.


Today's E Embarcadero will not harken back to days of yore to mimic the old E Union. Instead they will provide additional streetcar service to and from some of the city's most popular waterfront destinations. Running weekend-only service along the Embarcadero from 4th and King to Jefferson and Jones, the E Embarcadero will feature "double-ended" historic streetcars that can be operated from either end, including Muni's 1006, and the sharp-looking Market Street Railway Co. 1011.


So next time you're out along the Bay and need to get down to the Caltrain Depot or the ballpark, keep your eyes peeled for a brand-new "E Embarcadero" and ride in style on one of the most scenic routes in town.


Be sure to check out more photos at the SFMTA Photo Archive website, and follow us on Flickr, Twitter, Google+, and Instagram.