The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) and its nonprofit conservation partner, Market Street Railway, have partnered with a dozen organizations, including business and trade groups, as well as nonprofit history and conservation organizations, to host a series of special events throughout summer and fall 2023, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the cable car, San Francisco’s landmark.
The six-month series of events includes the first-ever public tours of the Muni store in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco, where cable cars are being built and rebuilt; Historical walking and cycling tours of the neighborhoods served by the cable car lines; the planned operation of ‘ghost’ cable cars from disappeared lines; and a re-enactment of cable car founder Andrew Hallidie’s historic first ride. All are detailed on sfcablecars.org.
San Francisco’s Cable Cars are among the only moving National Historic Landmarks. To make it easier for visitors and residents to experience cable car rides, a special $5 all-day pass is available July 1 through the end of 2023, allowing riders to hop on and off the California cable car line and explore neighborhoods along the route. A standard point-to-point cable car ticket costs $8.
Residents and visitors can also use their existing $13 all-day Muni Visitor Pass to hop on and off all cable cars, historic F-Line trams, Muni trains and buses, and to walk through neighborhoods near the cable car company lines. The passes are available via the Muni Mobile smartphone app. For travel guides to points of interest along and near the cable car lines, the San Francisco Travel Association has three travel guides on its website for the Powell-Mason Line, the Powell-Hyde Line, and the California Street Line.
“For 150 years, residents and visitors have enjoyed the incredible experience of riding our cable cars through our neighborhoods and taking in breathtaking views of the bay that are famous around the world,” said San Francisco Mayor London Breed. “San Francisco is unimaginable without our legendary cable cars. To celebrate the 150th anniversary, we invite everyone to experience the magic of San Francisco on our wonderful cable cars.”
The six-month celebrations began on June 13 at California, Drumm and Market Streets when Mayor Breed, Board President Aaron Peskin and SFMTA Transportation Director Jeffrey Tumlin joined civic, business and neighborhood leaders in attending the oldest surviving cable car float , “Big 19”, originally built in 1883 to operate on Market Street and one of the largest cable cars ever built. The inaugural drive took them through the Financial District, Chinatown and over Nob Hill to Polk Gulch and Van Ness Avenue.
“San Francisco is famous for hosting wonderful community events, and what better way to celebrate than 150 years of cable cars,” said Jeffrey Tumlin, SFMTA’s director of transportation. “SFMTA owns and operates the cable cars as part of Muni, but actually everyone owns them and we invite people from around the world, around the bay and around the block to enjoy our legendary cable cars.”
“No other city in the world has cable cars. San Francisco was the first city to have cable cars, and since 1957 we’ve been the only city to operate them,” said Rick Laubscher, President of Market Street Railway. “Our special 150th anniversary website, sfcablecars.org, is full of cable car history and little-known stories. It also makes it easy to combine cable car rides with walking tours of Chinatown, the Barbary Coast, Fisherman’s Wharf, Nob Hill, Russian Hill, Union Square, Polk Gulch, and the Financial District. It’s a great year to rediscover San Francisco and the cable cars.”
Events and program for the anniversary of the cable car
The cable car, which was the focus of the opening event, is unique. In the 1880s, the facility was open-sided and carried crowds of riders from the Ferry Building down Market Street and Haight Street to enjoy Golden Gate Park. After the earthquake and fire of 1906, “Big 19” switched to the Sacramento-Clay route, the successor to Andrew Hallidie’s original 1873 cable car line, and operated there from 1907 to 1942, when that line was closed. Restored by Muni artisans, the Big 19, one of the largest cable cars ever built, kicked off the celebrations with a ride up California Street through Chinatown and over Nob Hill, just two blocks south of inventor Hallidie’s Clay Street line.
Later in the summer, Muni hopes to use the “Big 19” in scheduled service on the California Street line every Saturday through the fall as part of the celebrations. If the work can be completed, Muni also plans to operate Cable Car 42 monthly on its original Hyde Street
tracking. Cable car 42 operated the O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde line until 1954 when the southern half of the line was abandoned and the tracks at Hyde were connected to part of a Powell Street line. Car 42 retains its original 1907 paintwork and details. Decades after it was sold as surplus to a Santa Barbara County rancher following the closure of the O’Farrell line, Market Street Railway brought it back to San Francisco and partnered with Muni to get it working again.
On the actual 150th Anniversary, August 2, historical figures representing Andrew Hallidie, Emperor Norton, Domingo Ghirardelli, Lotta Crabtree and other notable San Franciscans from 150 years ago will gather at 10 a.m. at Hallidie Plaza at Powell Street and Market Street gather to honor Hallidie’s historic monument first run. This is followed by an invitation-only lunch honoring Cable Car heroes, including Hallidie; Friedel Klussmann, who saved the cable cars in 1947; Senator Dianne Feinstein, who as mayor 40 years ago personally oversaw the rebuilding of the cable car system; Fannie Mae Barnes, the first woman to operate a cable car as “Gripman” 25 years ago; and other.
For the interested reader, the San Francisco Public Library has compiled a list of Cable Car books available at its various branches. The Main Library’s San Francisco History Center will host an exhibit of historic cable car photos later this summer in collaboration with the SFMTA Photo Archive. The Market Street Railway’s free San Francisco Railway Museum on Steuart Street across from the Ferry Building will open a special exhibit celebrating 150 years of cable cars in mid-July.