Cliff House Project

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Horse & Buggy Tour Bus Rail Automobile


Railroad & Streetcar Timeline
Contributed by John Martini, 11/2005

1885 Adolph Sutro starts work on a steam train line to the Heights and Cliff House, but sells out to a private firm before it's completed. This becomes the "Ferries & Cliff House Rail Road" that runs around Lands End. (Locals sometimes call the route simply "The Cliff Line.") The train depot is located at the corner of 48th and Pt Lobos, right across from the main entrance to Sutro Heights. Fare is 5 cents with transfer privileges to connecting streetcars and cable cars. (click here for details)

1894 The Ferries & Cliff House line is bought by the huge Southern Pacific Railroad. (However, the name of the train stays the same.) SP discontinues transfers, so the fare effectively doubles. Infuriated, Sutro decides to build a competing streetcar line called the "Sutro Rail Road." It will offer a 5 cent fare -- and transfers.

1896 Sutro Rail Road opens on February 1st. Its cars run along Clement and Geary Streets and terminate at a large wooden depot near the entrance to Sutro Baths. This terminal, called the Sutro Depot, was adjacent to today's Louie's restaurant. For the next several years, the new streetcars and the aging steam train run in competition to each other.  (click here for details)

c1900 A new city-wide streetcar company called the United Railroads (URR) buys both the Ferries & Cliff House steam train line and the electric Sutro Rail Road. The two now run as companion lines, not competition.

1905 The old Ferries & Cliff House steam train around Lands End is converted to an electric streetcar line, which is eventually designated the #1 California Street line. (The old Sutro Rail Road route becomes the #2 Clement Street line.) For the next 44 years, both the #1 and #2 lines terminate in the Sutro Depot.  (click here for details)

1921 The old United Railroads are bought by yet another company, the Market Street Railway.

1925 Severe landslides in February destroy large portions of the #1 streetcar tracks, and service around Lands End ceases. The #1 line streetcars continue to run to Sutro's but are re-routed along city streets instead of the scenic cliff route.  (click here for details)

1944 SF Municipal Railway buys out the old Market Street Railway, including #1 and #2 lines.

1949 The Sutro Depot burns and MUNI stops all streetcar operations to the Sutro Baths.


Ferries & Cliff House Rail Road
Adolph Sutro begins 1888, then sells to private firm before completion

SF Public Library Collection
(SFPL AAB-9123)

SF Public Library Collection
(SFPL AAC-8235)
(California St. near 6th Ave)


Online Archive of California (link)


Thomas Edison film from the engine, 1902


Library of Congress link:


The San Francisco Examiner - May 24 1888


The San Francisco Examiner - Jun 15 1888


The San Francisco Examiner - Jun 28 1888


The San Francisco Examiner - Jul 2 1888


San Francisco Chronicle - Sep 20 1888


The San Francisco Call - Feb 19 1905



United Railroad Streetcars
Extended to Lands End in 1905

Photo courtesy John Freeman Collection

Photo courtesy John Freeman Collection

Photo courtesy John Freeman Collection
(Reverse: "March 1906)

Photo courtesy of Dennis O'Rorke


Photo courtesy Darlene Thorne Collection

Pictured are two different streetcar types. On the right is the #1 California Street Car which provided regular passenger service around Land's End to end of the line near Sutro Baths. Along side it is the Observation Car California with sight-seeing passengers having their photo taken. The Golden Gate and the California left from the Ferry Building 2 to 4 times a day (depending on tourist volume) with sightseeing groups and a "lecture en route," stopping at various points of interest, as far as the Cliff House, then returning to the Ferry Building for a round trip of 50 cents. These streetcars ran the service from 1905 until about 1917, but were superseded by the gasoline tour busses.


This photo was taken in 1908 at the Lands End station along the cliff portion of the #1 California Street line. The sightseeing car at right is parked at the same place as the two pictures above.  The station building itself was a combination restroom and car depot, and also held a gift store and snack concession run by a family named Harris.  Besides the regular sightseeing streetcars that visited the area, there were two Private Party Cars, the Sierra and Hermosa (later renamed Golden Gate). These cars could hold up to 40 passengers and could be hired for day-time picnics or evening theater dates, sometimes including a trip with friends to the Cliff House area. The automobile's popularity eclipsed the Private Party Cars and United Railroad phased out the operation by 1915.

Contributed by John Martini & John Freeman


The San Francisco Call - May 28 1905

San Francisco Chronicle - May 28 1905



Adolph Sutro's Railroad Streetcars
Began service to Sutro Baths in 1896


Streetcar passing Merrie Way, 1898
SF Public Library Collection

SF Call Feb 2 1896 - Sutro RR opening





Courtesy of Dennis O'Rorke