The Piranesian Fantasyland That Runs S.F.'s Mobile Monument

Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley tour the "otherwise nondescript brick building" on San Francisco's Mason Street that houses the machines running the "Endless Wire Ropeway" that hums beneath the city's streets and pulls its famous cable cars.

The brick building at 1201 Mason Street houses the "surprisingly fantastic" San Francisco Cable Car Museum. Inside the museum, in addition to historic photographs and display cases filled with mechanical devices, one finds "a cavernous and open interior that stands all but gutted to make space for these vast winding wheels [that pull the cables] and the electric motors that drive them."

"However," say Manaugh and Twilley, "it's not until you descend into an underground viewing area to see the the spinning 'sheaves' that bring each of the four cable lines back into the building from their channels beneath the streets that the immense strangeness of the cable car system really becomes apparent."

"The fact that something so familiar and over-photographed -- in an era dominated by notions of urban software, immaterial metaphors of 'the cloud,' and the very idea of 'smart cities' -- actually operates by way of shadowy, clockwork mechanical systems so exhilaratingly titanic, analogue, and, frankly, bizarre was an astonishing thing to learn."

The best part? The museum, and its "Herculean wheels," are free and open to the public daily.

Full Story: The Giant Underground Machinery That Runs San Francisco's Famous Cable Cars


Brand new! Urban Grid City Collection

Each city has its own unique story. Commemorate where you came from or where you want to go.
Grids and Guide Red book cover

Grids & Guides

A notebook for visual thinkers. Available in red and black.

City Coasters

Hand-drawn engraved maps of your favorite neighborhoods are divided up across 4 coasters making each one unique.
Red necktie with map of Boston

Tie one on to celebrate your city!

Choose from over 20 styles imprinted with detailed city or transit maps.