San Franciscans Fight to Keep Historic Cable Cars
Life Magazine, February 24, 1947
Thanks to Walter Rice for providing this interesting article.
On January 27, 1947 San Francisco Mayor Roger Lapham
in his annual message to the Board of Supervisors declared, "the city should get
rid of its cable cars as soon as possible." The mayor was referring to the
city owned Powell Street cable car lines -
Powell-Mason and Washington-Jackson. Three other cable car lines were
also in service, but they were owned by a private company the
California Street Cable Railroad (Cal
Cable), and hence were exempt from the mayor's pronouncement.
Eight days after Life Magazine published its February 24, 1947 cable
car article, on March 4, within the sight of Roger Lapham's office, the San
Francisco Federation of the Arts and the California Spring Blossom and Wildflower
Association held a joint meeting attended by leaders of 27 women's civic groups.
Rallied by the impassioned pleas of Friedel Klussmann,
they formed the "Citizen's Committee to Save the Cable Cars." The Citizen's
Committee would be successful in winning an election that November that saved the
Powell Street cars.
The Life article is important in that it shows how rapidly opposition
to Major Lapham's plan developed - before Friedel Klussmann's committee could
spring into action! One could conclude that Life's editors did not do
their homework since the article prominently features photographs of the private
unaffected Cal Cable.
The text of this February 24, 1947 Life (pages 15-17) article is below.
Four representative pictures with their captions from the publication are
... SAN FRANCISCANS FIGHT TO KEEP HISTORIC CABLE CARS
Two cars of California Street Cable Car R.R. Co. (sic), passengers
clinging to their sides, pass on a steep hill in San Francisco.
For almost three quarters of a century San Franciscans have gone about their affairs
to the staccato clanging and clicking of the hard-working little cars that crawl up
and down, the city's precipitous slopes, pulled by an endless, subsurface cable. Last
month the venerable old cars were in danger of extinction. Unmoved by riders, who
voted 9 to 1 in favor of retaining them, bouncy Mayor Roger Lapham announced that the
cable cars must go.
It was as though Venice had proposed ridding itself of its gondolas. Civic-minded San
Franciscans and sentimentalists all over the U.S. denounced the move, ridiculed
Lapham's claim that the cars were losing $200,000 a year, wondered how buses, even
if they could climb the hills, would lose any less. Not only were the little cars
part of the city's flavor; they were part of its history. Invented by a Scot named
Andrew Hallidie in 1873, cable lines developed areas on the city's almost
inaccessible hills. Railway Pioneer Leland Stanford built his own line in 1878,
and on it early nabobs like Mark Hopkins and Collis P. Huntington used to ride to
their Nob Hill homes. Stanford's line, the California Street Cable Car R.R. Co.
(sic), still operates independently, but the other seven that flourished
in the 1890s have disappeared. As Lapham intensified his campaign of extermination,
one local newspaper wrote him a bitter open letter, suggested that he might as well
make the job complete and get rid of famed Fisherman's Wharf, Golden Gate Park and
LEG DISPLAY of pretty passengers will be missed if the cars go. Another
objection of some citizens is the danger of new motor buses slipping on wet hills.
EMBATTLED CABLE-CAR RIDERS like Mrs. Henry Dippel (right) are
organizing an all-out campaign of resistance among women to scrapping of the
CAR ON TURNTABLE at Powell and Market Streets is turned about for the
return climb. Passengers often turn the car by hand, take a proprietary interest
in 40-year old equipment.
The July 15, 1946 edition of Time featured
San Francisco Mayor Roger Lapham
on its cover. The article inside said "On July 16 the city will
go to the polls and decide whether to recall Mayor Roger Dearborn
Lapham. Some San Franciscans wanted to oust him because his
administration had put through a 3¢ fare rise on the city's
rattletrap trolley lines."
Read the complete article
Go to top of this page.
Go to SF cable car lines in detail.