muni_generic.jpgFormer and current San Francisco mayors joined other city officials on The Embarcadero this morning to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the San Francisco Municipal Railway.

When Muni was founded on Dec. 28, 1912, it earned the title “The People’s Railway” for being the first public streetcar system in a major American city.

The railway’s first streetcar, initially used on a route between Kearny Street and Golden Gate Park, was the centerpiece of the system’s anniversary celebration this morning, when it rejoined Muni’s streetcar fleet.

Salvaged from cities as faraway as Melbourne, Zurich and Milan, colorful F-Wharves streetcars paraded behind the dais where city dignitaries spoke of the system’s history and future.

Former mayor and current Sen. Dianne Feinstein said she developed a fondness “for these mechanical giants” as a young girl living in the city’s Marina neighborhood.

Decades later, at a time when streetcars had fallen out of favor, Feinstein, as the city’s top executive, and others–including Rick Laubscher, now president of Muni’s nonprofit preservation organization, Market Street Railway–helped streetcars return to regular service by holding the first summer-long historic trolley festival in 1983.

What started as a one-year deal grew into a city institution with the establishment of the F-Wharves line, which showcases the refurbished “mechanical giants.”

While speakers celebrated the railway’s preservation of history and past innovations, several people, including Feinstein and Mayor Ed Lee, stressed that continued investment and care for Muni, which has more than 700,000 daily boardings, is needed to preserve its legacy for future generations.

“It needs care, concern, funding, fixing–and that’s really what all of this (celebration) is about,” Feinstein said. “Let’s keep it going–strong, fixed and funded–for the next 100 years.”

Laubscher, the force behind the streetcar museum located just south of Justin Herman Plaza, said that although the streetcars are worthy of a place in the Smithsonian that they are better honored by their continued use.

“Here, we put our history to work,” he said, adding that San Francisco is a city “where transit is not treated as the ride of last resort” thanks to continued support by city administrators.

Continued innovation, Mayor Ed Lee said, is also necessary to keep Muni running into the future, especially as the system expands with the Central Subway and, perhaps one day, connects to high-speed rail service at the Transbay Transit Center under construction.

“We cannot risk the inability to have our transit system connected up to all of the areas,” Lee said.

As part of this morning’s celebration, past and present city officials, including former Mayor Willie Brown, boarded Municipal Railway No. 1, which was restored to a state nearly identical to when it first operated in 1912, for its first ride since it was taken out of service in 2006.

Several supervisors attended the event, including Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, who spoke as a member of the Honorary Centennial Committee.

“Love it or hate it, ‘Muni’ is San Francisco’s favorite four-letter word,” Chiu said.

Patricia Decker, Bay City News

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