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.

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!

Class 1 #138 at the North Park Toyland Parade & Little Italy’s Tree Lighting

Mayor Bob Filner (middle), First Lady Bronwyn Ingram, and San Diego Historic Streetcars board president Christian Chaffee (right) [Photo by Betsy McCue of La Vida Creations Photography]

On Saturday, December 1st we had a full schedule here at San Diego Historic Streetcars, spreading holiday cheer throughout the city with Class 1 Streetcar #138. We started the day on Utah Street in historic North Park with the streetcar wrapped up like a present for the 49th Annual North Park Toyland Parade. At 10:30 am, our invited guests boarded the decorated streetcar on University Avenue. We were joined by many civic and community leaders, our board, and our friends and family.  We’d like to give a special thanks to Mayor Bob Filner and First Lady Bronwyn Ingram, as well as Balboa Park Centennial Celebration Steering Committee chairpersons Ben and Nikki Clay for joining us. And, as always, a big thanks to Betsy McCue at La Vida Creations Photography for documenting the morning. We appreciate you and your serious skills! Last but not least, we’d like to thank Brenda at Victoria House Corp for her huge help in organizing the day’s logistics.

We were thrilled to wave, smile and laugh our way through the parade route. Afterward we hung out for a while and thoroughly enjoyed the ensuing procession of vintage cars, marching bands, dance groups and of course the big guy himself— Santa Claus. No offense to Kris Kringle, but we thought Todd Gloria looked best in red rollin’ down University in that ’63 Ford Falcon. Keep it up, Council President!

It really was a blast… and the proof is in this slideshow below. Betsy got some great shots, so be sure to check it out in full screen.

Following the end of the parade, we wove our way through University Heights, Hillcrest and downtown to our destination in Little Italy so we could join in on the festivities of the annual Tree Lighting Ceremony and Christmas Village from 4 to 8pm. Our streetcar, still wrapped up as a gift from San Diego’s past to San Diego’s future, served as the site for a scavenger hunt as children and adults searched for hidden candy canes on board the streetcar. A big thanks to Chris at the Little Italy Association for hosting us!  You can also see photos from this event in the slideshow below.

Tired but happy, we ended our day and let the streetcar catch some zzz’s. Thanks to all who boarded the Class 1, reminded us that history matters, and helped us get in the holiday spirit.

Update: Video from the Bob Filner Press Conference

San Diego Historic Streetcars, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) and endorses no political candidate. However last Sunday, Congressman Bob Filner did endorse our project and we greatly appreciate his support and the visibility it can bring to our efforts. Check out the video footage of the event above!

We hope to continue to have the leaders of our city and our region recognize the Class 1 streetcars for what they are  — beautiful historic treasures — and also for what they can be: practical people movers on a national historic streetcar line, connecting and revitalizing our downtown and uptown neighborhoods.

If you’d like to get involved, please take a moment to find out how you can over at our website.

A Big Endorsement for the Class 1 Streetcars!

Bob Filner shows his support for the Class 1 streetcars

Last Sunday our project was paid a visit by the Bob Filner mayoral campaign at Old Trolley Barn Park! Congressman Filner took time to address attendees and the press on the merits of our streetcars and what bringing a historic Class 1 streetcar line to San Diego could do for our city. Thanks a ton, Bob! We’re glad to have your support.

We invited Councilman Carl DeMaio out as well, but unfortunately his schedule was too packed this weekend. We hope to get you out to the streetcar soon, Carl!

We’d like to thank all of our supporters who made it out to this event on short notice. We couldn’t be where we are today without you all.

Take a peek at a few more shots from the event, courtesy of Charles Best from the Congress of History of San Diego and Imperial Counties, down below.

Orchids & Onions

We’re very proud to announce that Class 1 streetcar #138 has been nominated for an Orchid Award from the San Diego Architectural Foundation in the category of historic preservation! This is truly an honor for our organization.

It’s hard to deny that these streetcars are absolute architectural marvels. The Class 1s were designed and built at a time when everything was crafted with much thought and exquisite artistry. These Arts & Crafts originals were streetcars on the technological cutting edge, but the true spirit of their epoch can be found in the fine details of their construction. From their fine cherry wood interiors, warm yellow paint jobs, solid bronze hardware, gold-leaf decoration, and mother-of-pearl push buttons, the Class 1 streetcars were truly designed as both practical people mover and beautiful works of art.

Our organization has put in a lot of work in restoring Class 1 #138 to reveal that beauty, as you can see from the before and after photo below— but our work isn’t done yet! We take this nomination as a much appreciated recognition of our work thus far, but we hope to see these historic landmarks serving San Diego once again as a practical form of transportation.

Until then, be sure to follow our Orchid nomination and give us a vote for the People’s Choice Award on their website. I’ll be sure to remind you once the voting begins!

Before & After: Compare Class 1 #138 when it was re-discovered in 1996 to what it looks like today!