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Ding! Ding! San Francisco may name cable car after Tony Bennett

Mayor Dianne Feinstein, Tony Bennett and Muni General Manager Harold Geissenheimer ride Cable Car 58 during the celebration of the reopening of the cable car system on May 2, 1984. | Source: Courtesy Bill Owyang/Market Street Railway

Tony Bennett, the legendary crooner who died Friday at age 96, could end up with a dedicated cable car in San Francisco, the city he is most closely associated with. The nonprofit Market Street Railway is leading a push for the tribute, in what the organization’s president Rick Laubscher said would be the city’s “highest honor.” 

“To be where little cable cars / Climb halfway to the stars,” Bennett sang in his signature song “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” The tune describes riding the city’s signature mode of transportation, one that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world and which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year. 

Bennett didn’t only sing about cable cars; he also supported them. The New York native traveled to San Francisco in 1973 to celebrate their centennial, and again in the 1980s during a lengthy renovation spearheaded by then-mayor Dianne Feinstein.  

“He loved being around the cable cars,” Laubscher said. “They rejuvenated him.”

A Tony Bennett cable car wouldn’t be the first San Francisco attraction to be named after the beloved baritone. Since 2016, a Tony Bennett statue has stood in front of the Venetian Room at the Fairmont Hotel, where Bennett first sang the song that became his most famous. The street on which the monument stands has been renamed “Tony Bennett Way.” 

A picture shows a San Francisco street with a cable car going down it with people on the running boards.
Cable Car 51 on California Street Cable Car Line at California Street and Grant Avenue, Circa 1970 | Courtesy SFMTA Photo | Source: Courtesy SFMTA Photo

But an eponymous cable car would be a unique and fitting honor, one that has previously been bestowed on only three individuals: Friedel Klussmann, whose advocacy saved the cable cars from extinction in 1947; Reynaldo Murante, a conductor killed by a drunk driver in 2015; and Willie Mays, the famed San Francisco Giant baseball player. 

For its part, Market Street Railway has helped create streetcars—not to be confused with cable cars—named after Herb Caen and Harvey Milk, and is also advocating for a restored streetcar named Maya Angelou

A renaming resolution would need the approval of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to become official, which would then result in a dedicated plaque in the cable car. For transit aficionados like Laubscher, the decision to honor Bennett is a simple one. 

“He made cable cars famous around the world, beyond San Francisco,” Laubscher said. “He brought millions to San Francisco to ride those little cars over 60 years.”