The bizarre journey of San Francisco's Lost Streetcars, a fleet of old PCC cars last seen stranded in the snows of Lake Tahoe, has taken a strange new twist.
This month, at least eight of Gunnar Henrioulle's PCC streetcars (including former Muni cars 1113, 1127, 1145, and 1148) were purchased and relocated to a new suburban development near St. Louis, Missouri. Henrioulle, a resident of South Lake Tahoe, California, had previously hoped to use the streetcars as the foundation for a new regional transit network. Instead, in their new home, his former San Francisco streetcars will be converted for use as (GULP!) diners, cafés, sushi bars or bookstores.
Telstar Logistics called Mr. Henrioulle to get the full story.
"I'll tell you what, I've been trying to get my [PCC transit project] going here in South Lake Tahoe, but now the local casinos have gotten it into their heads that they want to build a monorail," he said. "A monorail! Can you believe that? At this point, I just want the cars to go where they will be appreciated."
Appreciation, of a sort, awaits the streetcars in Missouri. Here is an excerpt from the announcement by The New Town at St. Charles, a "new urbanism" development constructed by Whittaker Builders Inc.:
Whittaker Builders Inc. has arranged for transport from the hillsides of Lake Tahoe in California to St. Charles, Missouri! We will restore these streetcars and use them throughout New Town, a new urbanism development. Possible uses include an old-fashioned diner, café, sushi bar or bookstore. We will incorporate an educational component with plaques and informational handouts, allowing residents and visitors alike to appreciate the local heritage.
Whittaker Homes has already traveled back in time in a sense with The New Town at St. Charles. What’s old is new again with a town market and neighborhood stores interspersed within a town that is home to a mix of residents with different demographics and lifestyles. Tree-lined streets accommodate walking and biking first; cars second. These street cars – with their local heritage – fit perfectly into the town.
The City of St. Charles and Whittaker Homes have formed a Trolley Committee and are having initial talks about the possibility of bringing a streetcar system to the City. We hope to eventually restore these street cars so they are fully functional!
Well, maybe someday. But we won't hold our breath. In the meantime, however, this strikes us as an unfortunate chapter in the long history of these vintage streetcars -- particularly at a time when many PCCs have been restored to regular service in cities like San Francisco, Kenosha, and Philadelphia. But such are the forces of Progress, we suppose.
Back in Lake Tahoe, Mr. Henrioulle says he's also sold a few PCCs to Savannah, Georgia. That will leave just one original PCC -- former Muni car No. 1101 -- on his high alpine property, and he's holding on to that just in case. "We can still do this in Lake Tahoe," he says.
So to the citizens of New Town at St. Charles, we say:
Please take good care of our former streetcars!
We hope you enjoy them! (We sure do.)
We'd like a double soy latte with a side order of hamachi nigiri, to go, please!
Photos of Gunnar Henrioulle's PCC streetcars in 2006 and early 2007 (Telstar Logistics photos)
(Photos above from the New Town Courier Steetcars Photo Gallery)