San Francisco's iconic cable car rolls into its 150th birthday
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San Francisco's iconic cable car rolls into its 150th birthday

Jun 11, 2023

Updated on: August 2, 2023 / 7:39 PM / CBS/Bay City News Service

SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco's iconic cable cars celebrated a century-and-a-half of operation in style after city leaders, public transit fans and historical reenactors kicked off a birthday celebration downtown on Wednesday.

The cable car, known today as a classic symbol of San Francisco, first operated on city streets 150 years ago on Aug. 2, 1873. On Wednesday, a vibrant crowd vied for a good photograph at the Powell and Market streets turnaround as city officials and historically accurate costume-wearers posed in front of a cable car adorned with dahlias.

"This is a moment for us to take pride in our past -- a past that was all about innovation for the future," said Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco during the ceremony.

The group of onlookers cheered as Mayor London Breed cried out in celebration of the cable car's birthday and rang a golden brass cable car bell. She said she considered the celebration as yet another indicator of the city's legacy of innovation.

"San Francisco is a city of firsts. Not only was a cable car invented here and others followed in other cities around the entire world, but right now the cable car only exists in the city and county of San Francisco," Breed said.

Breed accredited women for stepping up to ensure the cable car remained as part of the city's fabric, including Friedel Klussman, who in 1947 launched a campaign to save the city's cable car after some leaders wanted to toss out the mode of transportation entirely for an underground cable system.

Also honored at the ceremony was Fanny Barnes, who became the first woman cable car Grip in 1998 - an operating job considered to be one of the most physically strenuous in the city's transportation sector.

Breed and a handful of other prominent city leaders also shouted out Sen. Dianne Feinstein for saving cable cars again in the late 1970s during her time as mayor of the city, thanks to securing millions in federal funding. Feinstein was notably a no-show at the event despite an invitation.

San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin considered the cable car a "real symbol of resiliency" after surviving two pandemics, a major fire, two great earthquakes and "mayors who wanted to rip them out."

"God bless these cable cars!" Peskin said.

Breed additionally announced that a cable car would be dedicated to the late Tony Bennett, who died at age 96 on July 21, to forever memorialize the musician's Grammy-winning ode to San Francisco - "I Left My Heart in San Francisco."

The ceremony concluded with the crowd singing the ballad, which was first performed at San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel in the 1960s.

But this is just the beginning of the celebration. Through the winter, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and its preservation partner, Market Street Railway, will join forces with various community organizations to host special events.

For the very first time, the public will be able to step into the Muni shop, where cable cars are both built and refurbished, join historical-themed walk and ride tours of cable car neighborhoods and experience "ghost" cable cars from disappeared lines.

SFMTA also offers $13 all-day, all-Muni passes and a $5 all-day pass for the California cable car line.

First published on August 2, 2023 / 11:39 PM

© 2023 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. Bay City News Service contributed to this report.