By 1937, the citizens of San Francisco were fed up with perpetual traffic jams.
If you thought overcrowding was a modern problem, the photos in the gallery above show bustling downtown San Francisco in the 1930s and 1940s. They are a treasure trove of images of the grid-locked metropolis, unseen for decades.
At the time they were taken, the city was considering a subway system and calling for an “end to the Toonerville folly.” An article in the Chronicle from Oct. 1937 described how every streetcar was like the proverbial sardine can. “If everyone on the trolley would exhale at the same time, the rivets holding the steel plates of the car body would have popped out like Mexican jumping beans,” the Chronicle reported.
The streetcars would move in fits and starts, managing to move 50 yards each time. To demonstrate just how slowly things moved, the paper listed travel times from St. Francis Circle, which is located in the St. Francis Woods neighborhood. It took 41 minutes to get to Montgomery and California Street, 31 minutes to Mission and 16th street and 44 minutes to the Bay Bridge terminal. They estimated the last trip would take 22 minutes with a new subway.
In Nov. 1937, the city would put a new subway to the vote with Proposition 1. Speaking in favor of passing the proposition, George Creel, chairman of the Citizens Rapid Transit Committee, stated that “the state paid $110 million to take people out of San Francisco. We can spend $49 million to keep them in San Francisco.”
He referred to the members of the Market Street Railway, opponents of the proposition, as “mushrooms growing in the basement of the Market Street Railway.” The proposition for the $49.5 million to build a subway system was decisively turned down by the voters. It would be three more decades before subway system construction would begin.
They photos in this gallery were located in a folder labeled Transportation>Traffic Jams>1949 and earlier. While the subject might sound mundane, the images are exquisite. The automobiles, the old streetcars, the people, the buildings and their signage, display an era gone by.