History In Plain Sight

(Re)Discover Your City chronicled my visit to New Orleans where I enjoyed the city with the enthusiasm of a first-time visitor. On this trip, I took my first streetcar ride, which was something I always wanted to do. The experience was so enjoyable that it left me wanting to visit again to enjoy a day-long excursion exploring the city by streetcar.

I fell in love with the shiny cars that are a part of the history of the city.

It was a recent drive through a quiet New Orleans neighborhood that yielded a result that made this blogger’s heart happy.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I passed by a warehouse filled with streetcars. The large doors, similar to garage doors, allowed the sun to illuminate the olive green and red streetcars inside. A simple sign in front of the building read “Carrollton Transit Station”.

My heart leaped for joy, and I casually mentioned how amazing it would be to take some photos and find out more about the building and the streetcars inside. My husband slowly pulled our vehicle over and said, Lets do that, then!.

As we approached the building to request permission to look around, we greeted a New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) employee that was on his way into the warehouse. I told him about my blog and how I fell in love with streetcars while playing tourist in my own city. He introduced himself as Eric, and said that he would be happy to show my husband and I around the warehouse and answer our questions.

The first streetcar I encountered looked like an antique. I noticed the words “San Francisco Municipal Railway” painted on the bottom of the car.

It was obvious that this streetcar was not a native of the Cresent City, and I asked Eric more about it. The following video provides a brief explanation of how San Francisco Cable Car No. 59 became a part of New Orleans history:

In an agreement between former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown and former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, cable car No. 59 was exchanged for RTA streetcar No. 952 in 1998.

The exchange took place at the perfect time to coordinate with the world premiere of André Previn’s opera of the Tennessee Williams’ play, “A Streetcar Named Desire” at the San Francisco Opera. New Orleans streetcars were famously featured in the 1947 play of the same name, and streetcar No. 952, built in 1923, ran along the famous “Desire” line until 1948.

Cable car No. 59 was built by Hammond Car Company in 1906. It was originally numbered No. 15 and was renumbered No. 59 in October 1957. After the exchange, No. 59 was on display in New Orleans City Park at Popp Fountain.

In my YouTube video, you heard Eric mention that cable car No. 59 was never operational in New Orleans because the city uses “overhead cat [to power streetcars]”.

I learned that a catenary (commonly known as an overhead line) is a system of overhead wires used to supply electricity to a streetcar. The system works with the trolley pole connected to it. Streetcars and cable cars run on steel rails but cable cars are powered by the cable wire underneath them in the track.

Eric was kind enough to show me around the rest of the warehouse, where I marveled at the shiny green and crimson streetcars that were being cleaned and repaired for their return to the St. Charles Streetcar Line.

Did You Know?
The St. Charles Streetcar Line is the oldest continuously operating streetcar line in the world. It has been in operation since 1835. Every streetcar on the St. Charles Line is designated a National Historic Landmark.


The next beauty that greeted me was a streetcar that was freshly painted and would soon be back out on its route on the Riverfront Streetcar Line.

There’s no mistaking that bright red gleam on the streets of New Orleans!

Freshly Painted Streetcar

I would imagine that if I had been looking down during my drive through this quiet New Orleans neighborhood, I would have missed the open doors of the transit station that exposed the opportunity to learn more about New Orleans streetcars.

San Francisco uses both a trolley system and a cable car system, and one day I plan to visit the city, hop aboard streetcar No. 952, and complete the connection between these two parts of history.
I’m sure that the familiar olive green color will be the first thing I notice.
I just have to keep my eyes open.

“You learn something every day if you pay attention.” ~Ray LeBlond

8 thoughts on “History In Plain Sight

  1. Such an informative and enjoyable post. That’s a great story about the Previn opera! It was a big deal in the opera world at the time and it is fun to know how the car ended up in San Francisco. I also liked the interview. Thanks for writing this, Alecia!

    1. Thank you for taking the time to stop by my blog and read this article, Kevin. Isn’t it amazing how one discovery leads to a story of the history of two cities? I’m happy to hear that you enjoyed the interview, too.

  2. What a marvelous RTA employee and a marvelous husband, who right away pulled over and agreed to explore! You’ve got me fascinated with streetcars, too, and I can’t wait to ride one in New Orleans. How amazing that it’s the oldest continuously operating line in the world, and that every streetcar is actually a National Historic Landmark. Glad your curiosity led you to this spot!

    1. I’m so glad that I kept my eyes open that day, and took the opportunity to ask for a tour of the transit station. I hope you get the opportunity to hop aboard a streetcar one day!

  3. This is so cool! So nice of them to take the time to talk to you and show you around. In SF, there is a museum that you can visit to learn about the history and take pics with older streetcars. What a great little exchange between SF and NOLA.

    When we visited NOLA, we rode the Green line and loved the experience. It really is a fun way to see the city and explore it.

    1. I’m so happy that you mentioned the museum in SF! I will definitely add it to my itinerary when I have the opportunity to visit. Thanks for reading, Kathy!

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