The will of San Franciscans to hold on to things we love, and fight change when it doesn't feel right, is a source of terrific frustration to real estate developers and others in the business community. But from time to time, the defiance of a few people does some good, and maintains the character that many of us here hold dear, even if we aren't the types to go campaign for its preservation ourselves. Friedel Klussmann was one of those people, and as we approach the anniversary of the launch of her campaign to save SF's iconic streetcars from extinction, the Chronicle has pulled out a bit of this important history. After all, we may take for granted now that the streetcars are inseparable from the city's identity, not to mention vital to tourism, but back in 1947 that was not a foregone conclusion.
In his annual State of the City address to the Board of Supervisors on January 27, 1947, Mayor Roger Lapham was in keeping with the trends of the day which were already seeing the scrapping of aging, prewar public transportation systems during the postwar boom of the auto industry. SF was doing away with its many streetcar lines, replacing them with electric and motorized trolly buses, which were newer and faster and didn't require track maintenance. (The Market Street streetcar wouldn't be revived as the F-Market until the 1990s.) Lapham said, "I know there are strong sentimental reasons for keeping this old, ingenious and novel mode of transportation. ... [But] The fact remains that the sentimentalists do not have to pay the bills."
Klussmann may have been a sentimentalist, but at 51 she was by then a prominent figure in SF society and one to be reckoned with. Within months Klussmann had gathered members from 27 womens' organizations into a citizens' committee, petitioned the Board of Supervisors, and gotten a city charter on the ballot making it the responsibility of Muni and the Public Utilities Commission to maintain and preserve the existing two cable car lines that ran up and down Powell Street. The amendment passed with 77 percent of the vote, 166,989 votes in favor, and thus began the modern era of cable car tourism on Powell.
Five years later in 1952, Klussman would have to get back to campaigning when the privately owned California and Hyde Street cable car lines went out of business, and the city threatened to replace them with buses. These would become the California and Powell-Hyde lines that exist today, soon bought up by the city, and as the LA Times noted upon her death in 1986 at the age of 90, she celebrated that the cable cars were permanently declared National Landmarks in 1964 saying, "The cable cars are the heart of the city and to lose them would be a real tragedy."
She was also known to say of local politicians, "Before an election, you can be sure they are all in favor of the cable cars. After the election, you have watch out a bit."
And as the Chron recalls, Mayor George Moscone once said during his tenure in the 1970s, "Anyone attempting to fool with the cable cars in any shape or form is apt to be run out of town on a spike."
These days, the turnaround at the Hyde Street cable car terminus near Fisherman's Wharf is called the Friedel Klussmann Memorial Turnaround. And the SFMTA keeps a year-round Cable Car Barn, complete with skilled carpentry staff, to rebuild and maintain the 143-year-old cable car system over time something you can see in the video below.