Sunday, June 10, 2007

San Francisco Cable Cars from Milan

A number of years ago, vintage street cars from Milan were imported to San Francisco. They can be seen and used today on the F-Line, and bear the familiar arms of Milan on the sides. Red Cross on white background. The Milanese cars, along with others from around the world, were renovated and put into service from 1995 to 2000. The cars run westbound to the Castro and eastbound to Fisherman's Wharf. Cable cars are actually powerless. They're pulled from Hallidie Plaza to Fisherman's Wharf and back (and along California Street) by underground cables moving at 9.5 miles per hour. When the gripman (operator) needs to stop, he disengages the car's grip on the cable. The car stops, but the cable keeps moving. There are 11 of these Milanese cars, all built in 1928. Most are currently painted in the overall orange color scheme that they most recently carried in Milan, although one has been repainted into its original livery of yellow and white with black trim.

It's nice to know that there is something truly Lombardian in San Francisco. Well, there is the famous Lombard Street, named after the Lombard Street in London, where bankers from North Italian regions once had a foothold. There's a curious little item that I would like to share. Once I saw a listing in the business white pages for a business on Lombard Street named "Lombardia." There was no reference as to what type of business this was. Once, while I was in the area, I looked up the address just to take a look at what it was. It was at night, and I came upon what looked like an ordinary apartment building. On it was a gold colored plaque of some type, and engraved on it was the word "Lombardia." It's possible that this was merely the name of the building, but why was it listed in the business section of the phone book?

I once briefly met an old lady who was born in Lombardia, and lived in a house in what is now a very high crime area of San Francisco. She was over one hundred years old! I feel bad that there wasn't anything I could do for her. She passed away some years ago. I wish I could have organized an effort to move her to another area, perhaps in San Mateo or somewhere like that. She was a widow with no family. Very sad. Perhaps she had even outlived her children. We've failed if we can't address these types of community issues. There is a public service that has been around a long time called Italian-American Community Services that helps elderly people of Italian descent. That could be one area that we can look into in the future. Actually someone I knew was looking after her, so it wasn't all bad.

While on the subject of all things Lombardian in Northern California. It bears mention that the traditional "Swiss" of California are culturally Lombardian. While there have been few Lombardians in our local history, there have been many Italian Swiss or "Ticino Swiss." This is a subject to be explored in greater detail in another entry. Ticino is a very small Swiss Canton, and the only one south of the Alps. The inhabitants are of Northern Italian descent, but they ended up on the Swiss side of the border long ago. Ticino isn't really very far from Milan, although it's basically a mountainous area.

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