© Anne T. Kent Room
Women representing Marin as part of promotion of Greyhound commuter service, San Francisco, November 27, 1940
Two recently acquired photographs in the Anne T. Kent California Room collection presented a mystery: Who was this group of women, where were they standing, and when and why were these photos taken?
The background was not a familiar Marin locale, but based on the photography and clothing style, it was safe to place the era as being in the late 1930s or early 1940s.
Looking closer, the women are carrying flowers, and wearing individual sashes adorned with names of Marin towns. The setting for one image looked like the Civic Center area of San Francisco, and a Google Street View confirmed that the photo was taken on the corner of McAllister and Polk Streets, with the California Superior Court building in the background.
Newspapers of that time were the next tool to solve the mystery, as this looks like an event with enough prominence to warrant having been covered. Using a bit of creative keyword searching (and some librarian jujitsu), I found the answer.
On November 27, 1940, a fleet of twenty Greyhound buses carried local “boosters” – including a dozen women, each representing part of Marin – over the Golden Gate Bridge to downtown San Francisco in order to advertise commuter service.
This was the era of reduction of electric commuter rail and ferryboat operations. The much-anticipated Golden Gate Bridge had opened in 1937 to considerable success. Two months before this 1940 booster day, passenger service on the downtown Mill Valley rail line had ceased (“A Meloncholy Ending"). One year after this promotional junket, the steam-powered passenger train into Sausalito ended; and the track between San Anselmo and Larkspur was torn up. This event also coincided with the purchase of property at Third and Tamalpais Streets for the San Rafael bus terminal.
Greyhound service in Marin officially began in December of 1940, one month after these two photos were snapped. The shift was not without controversy. Many were resistant to trains and ferries being replaced by Greyhound, hoping instead for a municipal bus system. There had been previous attempts to keep Greyhound out of Marin altogether. The general future of commuter travel created anxiety among residents.
However, these two photos represent a celebratory, "good-will" day, where a caravan of 800 passengers was organized by a variety of Marin groups, including chambers of commerce, Marvelous Marin, the Real Estate Board, politicians, and Pacific Greyhound itself. The aim was to ensure Marin and San Francisco that although rail and ferry passenger service was scaling back due to financial losses, Greyhound would efficiently and cost-effectively take over in style. Witnessing a fleet of what probably seemed like endless buses and pretty women certainly turned a few heads that day.
- "Bus Caravan of Marin to S.F. Tomorrow Invites Riders." Mill Valley Record, November 26, 1940.
- "Rapid Transit is Theme of Caravan." Sausalito News, November 28, 1940.
- "San Francisco Day in Marin." Sausalito News, December 12, 1940.
- "Former Stagecoach Operator Compares Travel." Sausalito News, April 6, 1939.