San Francisco celebrates beloved cable cars

Jerold Chinn
3 min readAug 4, 2023

San Francisco leaders and cable car fans celebrated the 150th anniversary of cable cars in the city

A decorated cable car at the Powell Street Cable Car Turnaround in San Francisco, Calif., on Wednesday, August 2, 2023. | Jerold Chinn

San Francisco will dedicate a cable car to the late and legendary singer Tony Bennett, Mayor London Breed announced Wednesday at an event celebrating 150 years of cable cars in the city.

Breed said at the Powell Street cable car turnaround:

“That amazing tribute, ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco,’ performed at the Fairmont Hotel in the Venetian Room for the first time, has been a true ballad and a contribution to San Francisco that is like no other song that exists.”

San Francisco Mayor London Breed at the 150th cable car anniversary event in San Francisco, Calif., on Wednesday, August 2, 2023. | Jerold Chinn

Bennett died July 21, but his signature song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” will live on in the city, as Bennett sang about the city’s iconic cable cars climbing halfway to the stars. The San Francisco Giants play the song after each home win at Oracle Park.

The Market Street Railway Museum made the push for the city to dedicate a cable car to Bennett.

City leaders not only celebrated Bennett, but the cable cars themselves as Wednesday marked the 150th anniversary of cable cars. Entrepreneur Andrew Hallidie, who created the rope system to operate the cable cars, tested the first cable car on Aug. 2, 1873, on Clay Street.

“It’s a moment for us to take pride in our past, a past that was about innovation for the future,” Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi said at the event.

District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin said the cable cars are part of the city’s economic vitality.

“These cable cars inexplicably linked to the economic success of San Francisco. Not only do they attract tourists from around the world, but because they continue to deliver our people to work each and every day…,” he said.

Women have played a critical role in the city’s history of cable cars, including Friedel Klussmann, a well-known prominent figure in San Francisco society, who saved the cable cars from extinction in 1947 when then-Mayor Roger Lapham sought to get rid of the cable cars in favor of modern buses.

Klussmann and the Committee to Save the Cable Cars placed a measure on the 1947 ballot that preserved and protected the cable cars from going away. Voters approved the measure.

Then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein secured federal funding to rehabilitate the cable car system in the late 1970s. Feinstein was absent at the event.

Fannie Mae Barnes, the city’s first female cable car grip at the age of 52, was also celebrated and on hand to receive a special award from the city.

From left to right: SFMTA Director Jeffrey Tumlin, Mayor London Breed, Fannie Mae Barnes and Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi honor Barnes at the 150th cable car anniversary event in San Francisco, Calif., on Wednesday, August 2, 2023. | Jerod Chinn

“Growing up in a small town in Georgia, my mom told me baby you can do exactly what you want to do. You just have to put in the work,” Barnes said.

The city has a year-long celebration of cable cars, including a special all-day $5 fare on the California Cable Car line that will last through the end of the year. The public can also visit an exhibit through Sept. 30 on the Main Library’s sixth floor, which includes collections from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and San Francisco History Museum.

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Jerold Chinn

I am a freelance reporter in San Francisco with over a decade of experience covering transportation in the city. Bylines include SFBay and The Ingleside Light.