San Diego’s Early Streetcars

Horse-drawn cars


San Diego Cable Railway ~ Those Fabulous Cable Cars.

The San Diego Cable Railway was incorporated on 22-Jul-1889. It took over the franchise of an unsuccessful electric line. Frank Van Vleck (the man at the left, leaning with one foot up, in this photo) was the designer. The first cars ran on 07-Jun-1890. On 09-Sep-1890, the company opened Mission Cliffs Gardens. The cable company went into receivership in early 1892 and the last cable cars ran on 15-Oct-1892. The system lay idle until 1896. The Citizens Traction Company took over the property and began running the old cable cars converted to electrics on 28-Jul-1896. The San Diego Electric Railway took over the Citizens company and converted the line to standard gauge some time after 23-Mar-1898. [History courtesy of Joe Thompson, author of The Cable Car Home Page]

Streetcar barn, Mission Cliffs Gardens on Adams Avenue, about 1915




The Coronado Beach Railroad Company was organized in 1886. Its first line ran from the Coronado Ferry Landing via Orange Avenue to Ocean Front, site of Hotel del Coronado – a distance of 1.4 miles. A horsecar was used until a steam dummy arrived August 19, 1886. (Steam engines which operated on street railways were called dummies because they were camouflaged to look like enclosed horse cars, so they wouldn’t scare horses in the street.) A second line from the Coronado Ferry landing, around Glorietta Bay, down the peninsula to Coronado Heights was completed December 15, 1887 – a distance of 7.6 miles. Rails were being extended around San Diego Bay when the road was renamed Coronado Railroad Co. in March 1888. The line was electrified in 1893. The line was sold to the San Diego Electric Railway Co. in July, 1908. The man in the window is probably the engineer. [History from Alvin A. Fickewirth’s “California Railroads”]



Here is another steam dummy. They came in various sizes depending on the loads they had to pull. The San Diego & Pacific Beach Railway Company ran from Morena to Pacific Beach. In 1888 it was taken over by the San Diego, Old Town & Pacific Beach Railway Company, which combined it with the San Diego & Old Town, allowing trains to run from San Diego to Pacific Beach. It was a standard gauge line.



This was a unique gasoline powered engine, not a streetcar, but apparently a popular way to get from La Jolla to Old Town and Pacific Beach.

Return to Photograph Collection.

Order prints of these and many other images from the Photo Archives of the San Diego History Center. These photographs have excellent detail which cannot be fully appreciated on the computer screen.