Cameron Beach, in his daughter’s own words
Photo by Todd Lappin
Tomorrow, the Geneva Yard (where the historic streetcars reside) will be officially renamed in honor of Cameron Beach, who served on the MTA governing board until he died in March at age 62. We got in touch with his daughter, Lynn Beach O’Neill, to get to know more about the well-loved man who is a streetcar affeciando and city historian. The dedication ceremony is set for 10 a.m. on Tuesday.
Cameron Beach on Lynn’s wedding day
You really could ask my dad anything about San Francisco and he’d know the answer, particularly when it came to public transportation. He could recite the street names from north to south and east to west. He knew every bus and Muni streetcar line – and the timetables – by heart!
My dad would invite his friends over for what might be considered a ‘guys night.’ He would set up a projector and screen in the living room, and a bunch of his friends and him would come over and sit in the living room with popcorn and soda and look at slides of buses and trains for hours on end. Growing up, our garage plastered with old Muni headsigns, like wallpaper. He was particularly excited when he acquired the ‘Beach Street’ headsign. For a period of time he had hundreds of old and rotting bus fareboxes in our garage, he restored them all by hand (new chrome, paint, etc) and gave them to his friends.
The historic streetcar at the Western States Railway Museum that was run in his memory for a day in June this year.
My dad and my mother, Carole Jones, divorced but remained on good terms in 2000. He later remarried Carmen Clark, a transportation consultant who lives in San Francisco. My parents were both San Francisco natives who later moved to other parts of the Bay Area. But my dad never really ‘got over’ moving away from in San Francisco. He absolutely loved it here.
One of my dad’s restored fareboxes
Growing up in Napa, even after he had commuted to San Francisco every single day, he would ask us on his days off if we could go to the city. He said that no matter how many times he crossed either the Golden Gate or Bay Bridge, he always felt his stomach leap in anticipation. He would make any excuse to take us to ‘ride the streetcar’ – but instead of taking us to Pier 39 or ride the cable car, we would ride out to the Geneva car barn. We would cross the bridge, park in sunny downtown, and then go straight underground to take the J, K,L or M. I remember being underground and then come up to the street level, feeling like we had been riding forever, and then the train would take us to some foggy, windy, desolate destination that my dad was oddly super excited about.
We would stand around while my dad chatted with the guys at the car barn – it seemed like he knew everyone there. He would explain to us how the trains got power from the track underneath, how they ‘drove’ the trains they changed the ‘headsign’ (destination sign) – and sometimes let us do it ourselves!
When he was able to move back to the city in the mid 2000’s, he was just thrilled.
Many our family vacations growing up centered on how many types of public transportation we could incorporate in the vacation. Once my dad had to drive a bus down to LA, I rode along with him and played on the bus for over 8 hours. When we got there, we delivered the bus and then got on the train to come back up to Northern California – my dad was so excited to surprise me with our own private room on the train, even though it wasn’t an overnight train – and to take me to dinner in the dining car. In 1988, we went to Vancouver, Canada for the World’s Fair, the theme being ‘transportation.’ We flew to Seattle, took a ferry to Victoria, bus to Vancouver and then spent 3 days learning about public transportation from all over the world.
This is how we moved growing up – borrow a bus and load it up! That’s me with my name on my shirt.
He was very excited to be asked to be on the board of the MTA a few years ago and was thrilled to see the historic streetcars being restored on the F line, and the future of the Muni with the T street line. He loved it when Muni ‘worked well.’ My brother Tim and I really were always in awe of how optimistic he always was about the potential of Muni and never seemed frustrated or feel that the problems of the system were insurmountable. Time and time again, his peers and colleagues have remarked that he always saw things from the ‘rider’s perspective,’ having been a Muni rider his whole life.
My parents and I on my wedding day at the De Young Museum
We lost him too quickly, but at the time of his passing he was just thrilled with life – living in the city he loved, on the board of the MTA, happily remarried and with 2 of his adult children living down the street, still always calling him for directions and because we needed a quick answer to something San Francisco- related that only he would know.