Friedel Klussmann, 90; Champion of San Francisco Cable Cars’ Preservation


Friedel Klussmann, whose stubborn determination was credited with saving San Francisco’s fabled cable cars, died peacefully Wednesday in her Telegraph Hill home at the age of 90.

After learning in 1947 that buses were being tested as replacements for the cable cars, she formed a committee and quickly collected enough signatures to put a cable car preservation measure on the city ballot. The campaign attracted national attention. Katherine Cornell, then reigning queen of the American theater, announced she would never return to San Francisco if the cable cars were abandoned.

Her charter amendment to preserve the bell-ringing cars with their often faulty brakes received a resounding 77% favorable vote.


Continued to Fight

She continued to fight for the preservation and maintenance of the cable cars, although she was unable to stop the system from being cut to its current level. It now mainly runs only along lines frequented by tourists.

“The cable cars are the heart of the city and to lose them would be a real tragedy,” she said in 1964 as the cars were saved forever by being declared National Historical Landmarks.

“The only ones who wanted the cable cars were the people,” Mrs. Klussmann said.

At the time of her death, she was still president of San Francisco Beautiful, a group dedicated to preserving the cars, planting trees and beautifying neighborhoods in the city.

She left no immediate survivors except, of course, the 37 cars that continue to wend their way up and down the city’s hilly, 113-year-old system at 9 m.p.h.