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.
November 28, 2012, 12pm PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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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.

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Published on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 in The Atlantic
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