SANDAG Funding — Make Sure Your Voice Is Heard!

Keep San Diego Moving with meaningful transit funding— and a streetcar!

SANDAG, the metropolitan planning organization for our region, has announced that they will be seeking a one-half cent sales tax initiative as a local funding source to help implement and augment the 2050 Regional Plan. This local sales tax would be used to support specific projects and programs. As such, SANDAG is reaching out to the community to identify the priorities for this round of funding.

We encourage you to take the time to get involved and let your voice be heard. There a variety of ways you can get give feedback, the easiest being the online survey SANDAG has posted. Please include “Transit” and “City Projects” in your priority selections and exclude “Highways”— the 2050 RTP has enough highway funding as it is now and needs to advance further transit projects to be effective. The survey also provides a section where the responder can write in their own idea for a specific project or program. Please be sure to mention the historic Class 1 streetcars by name in this section. You are limited to 500 characters, so you’ll have to be brief. We’ve prepared a comment that you are welcome to copy & paste to show support for streetcars:

San Diego is in desperate need of more transportation options. As both an engine of economic development and a practical transit circulator that will reconnect our urban neighborhoods, the restoration of the historic Class 1 streetcars is the project that can provide the most overall benefit for the city of San Diego.

If you’re able to get involved in other ways, SANDAG has a number of public meetings and telephone town hall meetings that we recommend you attend. More information on those are available at their website.

Thanks in advance for showing your support for streetcars in San Diego. With your help, we can make this project a reality and enact meaningful change in the region’s transportation landscape.

Jury Honors San Diego Historic Streetcars in Centennial Gateway Competition

From left to right: Bastiaan Bouma (AIA), Derek Emery (San Diego Historic Streetcars), Matthew Geaman (AIA), Jay Turner (San Diego Historic Streetcars

From left to right: Bastiaan Bouma (AIA), Derek Emery (SDHS), Matthew Geaman (AIA), Jay Turner (SDHS). Photo by Buu Huynh.

Last week, San Diego Historic Streetcars was presented with an award for our design concept in the Balboa Park Centennial Gateway competition that was organized by the American Institute of Architects, in conjunction with the San Diego Museum of Art. Out of the 44 excellent submissions, the distinguished jury agreed that our proposal to restore the historic Class 1 streetcars to Park Blvd. was one of a handful worthy of special recognition. We’d like to give a big thanks to the jury, the AIA, the San Diego Museum of Art, our awesome board of directors, and all of our supporters.

Of course, a good portion of the work here was already done for us some 100 years ago. Originally designed by John D. Spreckels’ San Diego Electric Railway Company, these streetcars were the original gateway to the 1915 Panama-California Exposition on Park Blvd. As visitors arrived by train at the Santa Fe Depot, most would hop onto these Arts & Crafts cars and ride down Broadway and up Park Blvd. to arrive at the streetcar terminal on the east side of Balboa Park. We want to see San Diego reconnect those dots, preferably with historic streetcar service that connects uptown, downtown and the crown jewel of our city in a meaningful way.

What a great way to close out 2013! We’re looking forward to big things next year and can’t wait share our progress with you as we work to restore these historic streetcars. For now, check out our Centennial Gateway competition concept board right HERE and read our accompanying narrative below.

In preparation for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, the designers of the Balboa Park we know and love put much thought into the respective gateways of the park. Of course, the majestic Cabrillo Bridge still stands as the gateway to the West side of the park and was nominated for National Historic Designation in 1976. On the East side, most exposition attendees traveled to the park in 1915 via Class 1 streetcar— a streetcar specially designed by John D. Spreckels’ San Diego Electric Railway Company for this very purpose. Attendees would arrive at the celebrated Balboa Park streetcar terminal, which was near El Prado off Park Blvd. However, these historic gateways on the East side of Balboa Park have been lost to history. The Balboa Park streetcar terminal has long since been torn down and the Class 1 streetcars went off the rails in 1939. Amazingly, San Diego has an opportunity to re-establish these historic gateways nearly 100 years later.

As time has gone on following the Panama-California (1915) and California-Pacific Exposition (1935), Park Blvd. has become an increasingly ill-defined and under-realized asset of Balboa Park. However, by restoring the three original Class 1 streetcars and establishing a new streetcar alignment on Park Blvd., we can recapture a significant amount of the original charm and character of the 1915 Exposition. These historic Arts & Crafts-era streetcars can serve as a mobile gateway to the park, transporting guests in historic style and helping to better connect Balboa Park to Downtown and our public transit system. Each of the streetcar stations along Park Blvd. could be modeled after the original Balboa Park streetcar terminal, putting a modern spin on the architectural style of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. These stations can also serve as information kiosks outfitted with large state-of-the-art touch screens that provide patrons with information on the history of Balboa Park and the 1915 Exposition, general Balboa Park info, as well as current programming information for the Centennial Celebration and the various museums, theaters, and other park facilities.

We should prioritize building stronger connections between Balboa Park and our urban neighborhoods. There is no excuse for our failure to provide better access to San Diego’s central, historic public space– and the Centennial Celebration is the perfect event to kick off an effort to solve the transportation problems that exist for the ‘crown jewel’ of San Diego. Not only are the Class 1 streetcars an attractive option in terms of aesthetics and tourism, but they are also the most sensible solution for our former streetcar districts. While the three restored original streetcars can open the door for National Historic Designation and provide service on holidays and weekends, the workhorses of this new alignment would be modern replica vehicles. Modeled perfectly after the original Class 1s, these replicas would capture that same historic feel and provide transportation service with reliability equal to that of any modern bus, light rail, or streetcar. The Class 1 streetcars can thus represent the best of both worlds. While these streetcars are rooted in San Diego’s history some 100 years ago, that does not preclude them from embracing modern reliability and new technologies. We envision this new streetcar alignment to run on cutting-edge lithium battery technology, removing the need for overhead cables in any of the view corridors along Park Blvd.

In 1915, The Class 1 streetcars were the first of their kind– a newly designed center-entrance streetcar that improved upon past streetcars and set a precedent for forthcoming models. They provided a warm and unique welcome to the guests that attended an Exposition celebrating both our past and the promise of human achievement. They can do so again for the Centennial Celebration of the Panama-California Exposition; what a fitting future for such a streetcar.

A Glimpse Into San Diego’s Rich Transportation History

The San Diego Union :: Special Transportation Edition :: July 1, 1924

While going through our historical archives over at San Diego Historic Streetcars a couple weeks ago, I stumbled upon this incredible gem: a full, original copy of the San Diego Union Newspaper from July 1st, 1924. This copy of the paper was the “Special Transportation Edition” and touted the benefits of streetcars and the expansion of streetcar service to a number of beach communities in San Diego: Ocean Beach, Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, and La Jolla.

This San Diego Union is full of interesting tidbits and provides a fascinating glimpse into San Diego’s transportation history. The positive tone throughout the newspaper shouldn’t be too surprising— streetcar service was very popular and successful in San Diego. Plus, the San Diego Union was a holding of  John D. Spreckels back in the good ol’ days of those sometimes-benevolent robber barons. Of course, the Spreckels family was also responsible for a lot of the development in these communities and owned the San Diego Electric Railway Company which expanded streetcar service to encompass most of San Diego at that time. Aside from those obvious questions of conflict of interest, there were actually a number of material benefits to this kind of regulated monopoly: one obvious benefit being our efficient city-wide streetcar system. Virtually anyone living in San Diego could easily travel across town on a charming electric streetcar via the extensive Speckrels-built rail network. No horse, buggy, or automobile required!

Perhaps most interesting is that the benefits of streetcars as potent engines of economic development were well recognized even back in 1924. In fact, many of these headlines of yesteryear could easily be the headlines we may see again in San Diego, if our city decides to make the commitment to restore streetcar service in the present day. For example, “Today Starts the Splendid Electric Streetcar Service That Will Add […] Many Millions of Dollars To [Pacific Beach’s] Property Values”, is something you could expect to read in the coming era of streetcar revival.  Well, maybe you won’t see the word “splendid” in any of today’s papers, but regardless of the exact wording it has been widely shown that streetcars greatly increase private development, business revenues, and property values around any new alignment. In Tampa, Florida, the Tampa Downtown Partnership has identified over $1.2 billion dollars of new investment and development in the two block radius around their historic streetcar line that opened in October 2002.

That is just one example of the powerful economic boon that investment in a historic streetcar can bring to a city. The good news for San Diego is that we are getting closer and closer to realizing our goal of restoring the Class 1 streetcars to America’s Finest City. On Nov. 5th, the Little Italy Association voted to unanimously approve the concept of restoring our historic streetcars to a new rail alignment in their district. We are looking forward to working with their association and the numerous city leaders who are supportive of this project to make that commitment a reality.

For now, please take a look at the full San Diego Union paper below— I recommend perusing the slideshow in full screen mode– and imagine the possibilities for San Diego’s future. Sometimes our history can provide an important framework for solving current problems. Let’s get to work to bring back a practical and charming form of transportation that is best suited to serve our downtown and uptown neighborhoods: the historic Class 1 streetcars.

Thank you to everyone who’s supported us along this journey. We couldn’t have made the progress we have so far without you!

Larry Himmel & the Historic Class 1 Streetcars

San Diego, California News Station – KFMB Channel 8 –

As the Mid-City Rapid Bus project continues along Park Blvd., construction crews have dug up evidence of the rich transportation history that remains in stasis just several inches underneath our city streets. San Diego Historic Streetcars, our 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, has a vision to revive that history and restore the Class 1 streetcars to the rails in San Diego. Ironically, the route along Park Blvd. is one ideal location for these historic streetcars to return. After all, the Class 1s were originally designed and built to run from the Santa Fe Depot to Balboa Park via Broadway and Park Blvd. for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. Following the Exposition, these streetcars went on to run throughout our downtown and uptown communities— from downtown on through Little Italy, Mission Hills, Hillcrest, University Heights, North Park, South Park, Golden Hill, Logan Heights, and beyond.

Christian Chaffee, the board president of San Diego Historic Streetcars, spoke with Larry Himmel last week at the Park Blvd. construction site and in front of historic Class 1 #138. Please check out the video above to learn a little about San Diego’s transportation history and potential future. We hope you’ll join us in our calls to return practical and historic transportation to San Diego!

And of course a big thanks to Larry Himmel and CBS 8 for the coverage! View the original article here.

Flashback Friday: Historic Postcards

1915 California Exposition Postcard

A depiction of a Class 1 streetcar at 5th Ave & B street, taken from a 1915 Panama-California Exposition postcard. Originally published by Eno & Matteson, San Diego, CA.

Every once in a while our organization comes across some interesting historical artifacts related to the Class 1 streetcars and San Diego’s early history. You may recall some of our previous posts on the topic, and if you follow our Facebook page, you’ve definitely seen some pretty cool historic photos of these streetcars and their old stomping grounds. This time around, we’ve got a pair of antique postcards to share with you.

Please scroll through the photos in the slideshow below to follow along.

The first postcard depicts an evening scene at the junction of 5th Avenue & B Street and bears the official seal of the 1915 California Exposition on the reverse side. The shape of the streetcar pictured, as well as the historic importance of the Class 1s in relation to the Exposition, suggests that this is indeed one of the twenty four original Class 1 streetcars. To top off the historic charm, a short and whimsical note from one friend to another on the reverse reads: “This street has a good many picture shows on it, so I’m generally on it when in San Diego” and is signed “Yours looking South”. This is easily one of our favorite finds yet!

The second postcard is equally interesting, showing two San Diego Electric Railway Company motormen in front of a Class 1 streetcar that ran out to “East San Diego”, which at that time was City Heights. The #2 streetcar line ended at University & Euclid Ave. If you peer closely, you can even catch a glimpse of some of the advertisements that lined the roof of the Class 1s interior… wow!

Hope you all enjoy seeing San Diego as it once was as much as we do. We hope to restore a bit of that history– and a bit of practical public transportation– to San Diego’s streets in the near future. If you’d like to help out, please head to our website and find out how you can get involved!

Summer Concerts in the Park 2013

Summer Concerts in the Park 2013

It’s that time of year again! University Heights will be out in full force each and every Friday evening through August 2nd— including us! We’ll be attending each evening of the Summer in the Park Concert Series, chatting with friends and neighbors about our efforts to bring a historic streetcar line to San Diego’s streets. Please come by, say hi, and learn how you can get involved!

Your line-up for this summer is as follows:

  • July 5th, Rodello’s Machine (Acoustic Folk / Rock)
  • July 12th, Stoney B Blues Band (Chicago and Southern Style Blues)
  • July 19th, Theo & the Zydeco Patrol (Southwestern Zydeco & Cajun Music)
  • July 26th, Bill Magee Blues Band (Blues with a Southern Flavor)
  • August 2nd, Sue Palmer & Her Motel Swing Orchestra (Boogie Woogie & Swing)

Of course, don’t forget that Mrs. Frostie will be there serving up delicious ice cream and Brooklyn Dogs will be selling Sabrett hot dogs! I don’t think I need to say anything more, but if you’d like you can read more about the event on page 5 of the Univeristy Heights Community Association Newsletter.

Have a great summer— hope we’ll be seeing you!

Class 1 Streetcar: Darling of Earth Fair

Photos by Marilia Maschion.

Another Earth Day has come and gone, but we can see that San Diego’s enthusiasm for protecting our environment continues to grow stronger and stronger. We have faith that this enthusiasm will help carry our city into the future as a leader in forward-thinking environmental policy. Thanks to all those citizens, organizations, and companies on the front lines of this fight— we had a blast celebrating with you on the 21st! You can check out some photos from the event up above.

We were also very excited to have Mayor Bob Filner stop by Class 1 streetcar #138 and say a few words about returning these San Diego historic landmarks to the rails. Of course, we still need your vocal support to make this dream a reality. There is no other project available to San Diego today that represents such a significant benefit for our city on a whole. From the potential boon to tourism, the creation of jobs, the boost to private investment and redevelopment, and of course the expansion of practical, charming public transit in a way that supports pedestrian culture and brings more customers to local businesses along the route, restoring these streetcars should be a no-brainer.

Class 1 #138 to Make an Appearance at Earth Day 2013!

Class 1 #138 at Balboa Park

Earth Day in San Diego is always a big deal— we should all be concerned with our environment and carbon footprint, but when you live in a city surrounded by such natural beauty the imperative of “being green” becomes all the more apparent. On Sunday, April 21st, America’s Finest City officially celebrates its environmentalism with the 24th annual Earth Fair in Balboa Park! We’ll be there from 10am ’til 5pm with Class 1 streetcar #138. Our board president Christian Chaffee will be making a presentation on our proposal to restore these historic streetcars to the rail at around 11 am and we will be screening our short documentary-style video San Diego’s Lost Treasure: The Historic Class 1 Streetcars, 100 Years Later throughout the day.

We hope you’ll come down to get a look at the past and potential future of San Diego’s energy efficient public transportation. Plus, there will be a lot of other great exhibitors to check out, so be sure to come down, have fun, and learn how we can all do our part to make our world a cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable place.

Tampa and San Diego: Team Streetcar

From left to right: Tampa Historic Streetcar Vice President Michael English, former Teco Streetcar System Manager Tim Borchers, San Diego Historic Streetcar President Christian Chaffee

If you’ve been following our efforts to return the historic Class 1 streetcars to the rail in San Diego, you’re probably aware that Tampa’s TECO streetcar is one of our favorite systems in current American streetcar development. From their use of historic vehicles and authentic replicas made by Gomaco, to the more than $1 billion in private investments that have accrued in the two blocks around the TECO line since its inception, to their creative and multifaceted funding process — which combines special assessments of streetcar serviced districts, a private endowment fund fueled by naming rights to the stations and cars of the system, advertising, and fares — their story is inspiring to say the least. Last year, our board president Christian Chaffee traveled to Tampa to get an up close look at the operations of their system. He had a great meeting with Joseph Delgado, Streetcar Maintenance Supervisor, and streetcar mechanic “K.B.” that included a tour of the facilities at the 11th streetcar car barn. You can read more about that trip here.
As we’ve progressed and are now much closer to making our dream of restoring the Class 1s a reality, board president Chaffee again thought of Tampa and set out to meet with the Vice President of Tampa Historic Streetcar, Michael English and former TECO Streetcar Operations Manager Tim Borchers on Sunday, February 24th. They met in Ybor City, a historic neighborhood that has been revitalized by the streetcar line and discussed our next steps in creating a successful streetcar system in San Diego. These seasoned streetcar experts also spent their time going over our newly developed proposal for Mayor Bob Filner, which was penned by transportation expert and founder of The Mission Group Alan Hoffman. Both men are very knowledgeable and had a lot of good feedback for board president Chaffee. They also agreed to continue to provide advice to our organization as we move forward, which will surely help ensure our efforts in San Diego are successful.
Discussing the proposal to return the Class 1 streetcars to the rail in San Diego.

Discussing the proposal to return the Class 1 streetcars to the rail in San Diego.

We’re certainly feeling confident and inspired after our visit with our friends at the TECO streetcar line— definitely glad to have their expertise and experience at our disposal as we move forward. And we can’t wait to share our detailed proposal to return the Class 1 streetcars to the rail. We’ll be posting that proposal for you all to take a look at soon, so keep your eyes peeled!

The Seven Bridge Walk

Quince St. Bridge, which crosses Maple Canyon

Quince St. Bridge, which crosses Maple Canyon. (Photo courtesy of

Hello again to all of our supporters and streetcar enthusiasts! We hope you all had lovely holidays. We took some time off to enjoy friends and family, as well as a little bit of San Diego history.

This past weekend, we finally had the chance to take this wonderful 5.5 mile walk forwarded to us by San Diego Historic Streetcars board member Ernie Bonn (Thanks, Ernie!). The Seven Bridge Walk, published in the San Diego Reader in October, took us through several beautiful San Diego neighborhoods, including Bankers Hill, Hillcrest, University Heights, and also into the heart of our city’s crown jewel: Balboa Park.

We especially enjoyed the bridges that allowed access to the trolley lines that connected San Diego neighborhoods. As streetcar lovers, we love being able to walk along (and across!) history— especially a history that opened our beloved uptown neighborhoods to development in San Diego’s earlier days.

When you cross Quince Street bridge, imagine the trolley station that sat right across the way on Fourth Avenue. As you cross the Vermont Street bridge, think of how it might have looked as a wooden-trestle bridge that was used as part of the University trolley line (which ran 1888-1949). The Georgia Street Bridge, the seventh and final on the tour, was built as Greater North Park began to develop because of increased streetcar access starting in 1890. You can read more about how real estate development followed streetcar expansion in section 4.2 of this historic planning document. And you can read more about some of these historic bridges over at Hillquest.

Be sure to check out the entire walking route for yourself in the original article in The Reader.

We encourage you to walk along your local history… and while you’re at it, imagine what it would be like to have the historic Class 1 streetcars return to our cities uptown neighborhoods. Happy rambling, everyone!