City to purchase Cable Car Museum artifacts

A long-running dispute over how to hand over a valuable collection of cable car artifacts to The City has been resolved.

The City has reached an agreement with Friends of the Cable Car Museum Inc., which own the artifacts on display at the popular Cable Car Museum that the nonprofit group operates in the Nob Hill neighborhood.

The museum – which is free to the public – has been operating since 1974 and is must-see for tourists. It includes “one of the first cable cars to operate anywhere in the world as well as related items such as grips, bells, tools, sections of track and historical photographs,” according to an Oct. 6 San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency memo to the Board of Supervisors.

The MTA and the museum operator had been in a dispute over how much the artifacts were worth. That dispute came about after The City said it wanted to have a competitive process for groups to be able to bid to operate the museum. Since the nonprofit owns the artifacts, any bidding process would be unfair – and the best resolution would be for San Francisco to buy the historical objects, The City decided.

Yet while Friends of the Cable Car Museum pegged the value of the artifacts at more than $1 million, The City came up with an appraisal of only $370,000.

“After intensive and lengthy negotiations,” according to the MTA memo, an agreement was reached. The final purchase price was set at $660,000 and a 10-year deal was submitted Tuesday to the Board of Supervisor for approval.

Under the terms of the deal, a $50,000 annual payment the nonprofit group currently makes to The City so it can run a gift shop at the museum site will instead be applied toward The City’s debt for the purchase of the artifacts.

The remaining $160,000 The City owes the group at the end of 10 years will be paid out of the agency’s operating budget or through donations.

For the Muni history buffs, some details of what the city will own at the deal’s conclusion:

“The Clay Street Hill Railroad car #8 and the Sutter Street Cable Railway dummy #46 and trailer #54 which represents an irreplaceable history of the City. The first experimental Cable Car line was Clay Street which opened to the public in August 1873 and is the oldest example of a cable car worldwide. The Sutter Street Railroad Company, originally worked by horses, converted the whole length to cable by the end of 1879.”
 

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