On October 26, San Francisco got a joyous reminder of just how important our cable cars are with a bell-ringing, bottle-breaking celebration of the 75th anniversary of the saving of the cable cars, in a grassroots campaign led by Friedel Klussmann, in an era when women had very little power in city political and economic life. (Here’s that fascinating story.)
We organized the event along with our partners, SFMTA (Muni), Union Square Alliance, San Francisco Beautiful, and Fisherman’s Wharf, drawing hundreds to Hallidie Plaza and the Powell-Market cable car turntable to hear an impressive array of today’s women leaders extol Klussmann’s initiative and celebrate the steady growth of women’s power in the years since. This video, produced by Andres Acosta for David Perry PR on behalf of Union Square Alliance, is a great four-minute summary.
Leading the celebration was Mayor London Breed, who thanked not only Friedel Klussmann, but also San Francisco’s first woman Mayor, Dianne Feinstein (now US Senator) for personally leading the campaign to completely rebuild the aging cable car system starting 40 years ago this month.’
Several speakers reminded the crowd of the importance of adequate funding to keep public transit as a driving force in San Francisco’s economic recovery, urging voters to approve an extension of the existing half-cent sales tax for transportation, on the ballot as Proposition L, on November 8, which will mark exactly 75 years since Klussmann’s save the cable cars measure passed, along with a critical bond issue, which transformed Muni.
A fun moment away from the crowd, as the guests started heading for Powell Cable Car 1, dedicated to Klussmann, to ride to the end of the Powell-Hyde line and continue the celebration. An aide to the mayor approached MSR President Rick Laubscher and requested that two cable car operators who gave brief remarks to the crowd ride along with her on her cable car. “Well, I guess you can say they’re already riding on her car,” Laubscher replied, “because they’re operating it!” The mayor was delighted at the surprise and spent the whole ride waving to passersby, many of whom were startled when they recognized her. Throughout the event, the Don Neely Trio entertained the crowd with period tunes, even playing from the rear platform of Powell Car 1 over Nob and Russian Hills.
At Aquatic Park, a small script change. The mayor, on a tight schedule (as mayors always are) was slated to break a bottle of “champagne” (non-alcoholic sparking cider) on the “prow” (steel bumper) of brand new Powell Cable Car 8, to christen this magnificent work of art by Muni crafts workers. But a backup of regular-service cable cars at the terminal, coupled with a motor vehicle blocking the line and delaying the arrival of Car 8, forced a quick switch. Fortunately, Powell Car 3, in the Klussmann-era green and cream, was loading passengers right there, and is coincidentally the first cable car dedicated to Klussmann (an honor switched to Powell Car 1 many years ago). As passengers were asked to slide down the seat, the safety-wrapped bottle yielded to the mayor’s mighty whack, allowing her to continue her day and speeches to continue.
The whole event, which concluded with speakers and special guests sharing a yummy lunch hosted by Ghirardelli Square, featuring tasty bites from the great newish restaurants there, was really also a celebration of the accelerating return to a healthy civic life in San Francisco. Perfect October weather (after an abnormal early part of our best month month dubbed “Fogtober”), impressive speakers and guests, and a wonderful camaraderie at celebrating in person, together, again.
We must add a special shout-out to the first appearance of the sole surviving bus that Muni bought in 1947 to replace the Powell cable cars. (Market Street Railway played a role in bringing it home from a museum many years ago.) All credit to the talented crafts workers who volunteered their time, led by Chief Mechanical Officer Louis Guzzo, to restore this tired, inoperable bus to pristine, operating condition. We expect it to be a star at next year’s Muni Heritage Weekend, slated for mid-September (dates to be finalized soon, we hope). We’ll have a post on the history of this bus here in November.
The event is over now, but the celebrating isn’t. Powell Cars 1, 8, and 26 will carry perforated vinyl photos of Friedel Klussmann on their rear side windows (see-through from the inside) for the remainder of 2022. And planning is now underway for a series of fun events in 2023 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Andrew Hallidie’s invention of the cable car. Stay tuned!