Repurposed streetcars perch haphazardly in dunes not yet cowed by asphalt and the Java Beach coffeeshops. They’re homes to a community of urban escapists and artists. Some of them have front porches, some of them house bicycle clubs. It’s like a Dali painting, it’s like the boxcar children -- but it’s also an accurate picture of the first non-indigenous inhabitants of the Sunset, on whom local historian Woody LaBounty has written an awesome book, Carville-by-the-Sea.
The book’s images of 19th century Carville are chicken soup for the boho soul. I want one. My room mate wants one. LaBounty himself says he’d live in one -- were the lone streetcars still surviving in the western neighborhoods’ not firmly in the grips of their current owners. There’s even one still-standing house built in 1908 that’s made of three cars; a two street car living room, and a bedroom from one that was horse drawn.
One of Carville-by-the-Sea's trippy colorized historical photographs
There used to be hundreds of these things. People moved out to Ocean Beach despite the subpar public transit service that places without sidewalks are often subject to -- when the community was first started in 1895 was a steam car that ran out Lincoln Way down to the Cliff House, a service intended mainly for the weekend day trippers. They went to escape the city, to improve their health. There were bars and restaurants in street cars, shoe repair stores, artist studios.
So how did I not know about these things before? LaBounty says he grew up in the Richmond in the ‘60s and 70’s, a few blocks from one of the surviving streetcars, which latched a steampunk-sized hold in his childhood psyche.
More pages from Carville-by-the-Sea. Where's a Delorean when you need one?
“I loved planes, trains, and automobiles, so living in a street car -- it just seemed like the coolest thing in the world,” says LaBounty, who is one of the founders of the Western Neighborhoods Project, proprietor of what is reportedly the most popular SF history website/propagator of history walks, plays, and films by teenagers who interview older residents in their neighborhoods. “I used to watch Wild, Wild West, the ‘60s TV show, and they were living in a train, which I thought was great.”
To research, he began interviewing historians he knew, and motor vehicle enthusiastists, and learning all he could about the old community on the beach. Though he’s privy to all kinds of juicy info on the town’s colorful past, LaBounty found interest in his stories of the bohos and families living on the cars really captured listeners. “We all thought, there needs to be a book on this,” he says. “And then I realized that I should probably write it.”
So here it is, colorized like the postcards of yore for that extra oomph of fantasy creation. Newspaper articles from the 19th century on the streetcars, biographies of the community’s founding members, lots of lovely photos from the dunes.
La Bounty’s doing a series of live talks on his Carville expertise which are open to the public. Just be forewarned: he’s not versed in how to get you a steetcar of your own. Still fun to hear, though.
Wed/19 7 p.m., free
History Guild of Daly City/Colma
Doelger Senior Center
101 Lake Merced, Daly City
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