Strephon Taylor’s San Francisco Cable Cars is a loving and very entertaining history of that most iconic of local conveyances, while also tracing the rise and fall of above-ground mass transit in this country. The story is told with copious amounts of archival photos and talking heads, and sidebars that dive into the nuts and bolts — and grips and pulleys — of the still-remarkable underlying technology.
Names familiar to students of San Francisco history, such as Andrew Hallidie, pop up. (A librarian speaks very highly of him, unsurprisingly.) But the real hero is Friedel Klussmann, a society lady who fought to keep the system from being dismantled entirely in the late 1940s, while the Rice-a-Roni commercials that made the cable cars a global tourist destination are also given their due.
And while San Francisco wasn’t yet a sanctuary city in 1982, we were still famous as a hotbed of queers and liberals who voted for Jimmy Carter in 1980, making it even more revelatory that the Reagan Administration provided $44 million of the $62 million needed to restore the cable car lines, even knowing that the completion would coincide with the 1984 Democratic National Convention. San Francisco Cable Cars unintentionally acts a reminder of a time when, in some ways, America was greater than we realized.
San Francisco Cable Cars
Opens Friday at the Balboa Twin.