How activists saved SF's cable cars: Presentation focuses on need for preservation

Courtesy of Robin Chapman
Rick Laubscher headlines a Los Altos Forward Community Conversation on San Francisco’s preservation of cable cars and streetcars April 21 at the Los Altos main library.

Historian and author Rick Laubscher shared his vast knowledge of San Francisco’s vintage cable cars and streetcars in his presentation “How San Francisco Saved Its Heart,” part of Los Altos Forward’s Community Conversation series, April 21 at the Los Altos main library.

As president of the Market Street Railway Foundation, he works with San Francisco’s Muni to preserve what are now among the city’s most important attractions.

“Every city needs to figure out what in its history makes it special – and then work very hard to make sure that thing never goes away,” Laubscher said.

Laubscher, author of “On Track: A Field Guide to San Francisco’s Historic Streetcars & Cable Cars” (Heyday, 2014), wove a historical tale for the audience, describing how San Francisco nearly lost its famed cable cars and streetcars and how they were ultimately saved by citizen-activists.

Key among the advocates was Friedel Klussmann, a widow who lived on Telegraph Hill. When she heard about San Francisco Mayor Roger Lapham’s 1947 plan to replace the city’s cable cars with modern double-engine buses, she stepped forward and said, “Not so fast!”

After waging a long battle, Klussmann and others saved several historical lines of the cable car system. And when the electric streetcars of San Francisco were similarly threatened in the 1980s, Laubscher, former reporter at KRON-TV, was among those who campaigned against the move. Working with then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein, he helped launch the city’s Historic Trolley Festival, which led to the preservation of many of the city’s electric streetcars.

With nearly 2,000 members, Laubscher’s Market Street Railway Foundation operates the San Francisco Railway Museum at 77 Steuart St., across from the Ferry Building.

“When people ask why the museum is so small, I just point outside. The museum is really out there,” he said gesturing with his hand, “carrying passengers along the famed streets of San Francisco.”

The Los Altos Library, the Los Altos History Museum and Los Altos Neighbors co-sponsored the presentation, which was followed by a book signing and reception at the Los Altos History Museum.


For more information on the Community Conversation series, visit

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