San Francisco’s Cable Car Lady

Save the Cable Cars/Proposition Q campaign flyer, 1971
Most San Franciscans would not recognize the name Friedel Klussmann if they heard it, but they have her to thank for one of their city’s most famous attractions: their beloved cable cars. The San Francisco History Center invites you to get to know the Cable Car Lady through the Friedel Klussmann San Francisco Beautiful Records SFH 65, which were donated to the library in 2010 by San Francisco Beautiful, the organization Mrs. Klussmann founded.

Mrs. Klussmann fought for the beautification and preservation of San Francisco from the 1940s through the early 1990s, but is best known for saving the cable cars from extinction several times during that period. She kept meticulous records of meetings and saved clippings about her campaigns, which included 1971’s Proposition Q (Save the Cable Cars) and Cable Car Friends, a strong community organization that ran throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

Friedel and her husband Hans Klussmann

She and her husband, Hans, lived near the top of Telegraph Hill in the farmhouse they built at 260 Green Street.

Letter from Harvey Milk to Friedel Klussmann, 1978

Mrs. Klussmann knew how to talk to all kinds of people—hobnobbing with city folks, moving in society circles, and keeping in touch with highly placed politicians. You’ll find letters from Mayor Dianne Feinstein and Mayor Joseph Alioto, plus a heartfelt one from Harvey Milk.

Scrapbooking might be all the rage now, but Mrs. Klussmann was in on the trend decades ago. She collected memorabilia from the centennial celebrations of the Clay Street cable car line in 1973 and the California Street line in 1988, and from the Cable Car #16 Festival in 1990. Even a 1980 cable car instruction manual is right at home here.
Cable Car 16 decorated for the 1990 festival
Friedel Klussmann in the cable car barn. Peter Vilms, S.F. Magazine, Aug.1973

You might have seen tributes to Mrs. Klussmann around town without even knowing it. If you’ve lived in San Francisco a long time, you might remember the cable cars draped in black in 1986 after she died. Or maybe you’ve visited Fisherman’s Wharf since 1997, when the Mason Street terminal was renamed the Friedel Klussmann Memorial Turnaround.

To learn more about Friedel Klussmann and her work to keep San Francisco beautiful, read our brief guide on the Online Archive of California.

Images are courtesy of the Friedel Klussmann San Francisco Beautiful Records (SFH 65), San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.

With the season of school semesters, the San Francisco History Center continuously has interns in the department working on special projects. What's on the 6th Floor? asked Jennifer Greenwood, San Francisco History Center summer intern and San Jose State University's School of Library and Information Science graduate student, to be a guest blogger. This is one of two blog entries in which Jennifer highlights recently processed collections in the Center.