April 24th, 2024

Riders can climb ‘halfway to the stars’ on San Francisco cable car dedicated to late Tony Bennett

By Janie Har, The Associated Press on March 15, 2024.

A commemorative plaque is seen on a cable car dedicated to Tony Bennett in San Francisco, Thursday, March 14, 2024. Tony Bennett loved San Francisco and its cable cars and in return, the city has dedicated one of those cable cars to the famous crooner who died in July. Cable car 53, built in 1907, has several plaques and painted gold ribbons remembering Bennett. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – A cable car recently dedicated to the late Tony Bennett rolls past the landmark Fairmont hotel where the singer in 1961 first performed the song that would forever tie him to San Francisco.

San Francisco officials on Valentine’s Day dedicated one of the city’s iconic cable cars to Bennett, whose “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” included a line about “the city where little cable cars climb halfway to the stars.” He died at age 96 last summer.

The song was an enormous hit and Bennett returned to the city often, even appearing with the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein when she was mayor to toast the rebuild of the cable system in 1984. His statue is on the front lawn of the Fairmont San Francisco and a short street by the hotel is named for him.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has 42 cable cars of which four are dedicated to individuals, including baseball’s former center fielder Willie Mays, says Arne Hansen, superintendent of cable car vehicle maintenance.

“Some people specifically wait for this car because they want to ride the Tony Bennett cable car just like they want to ride the Willie Mays car, which is Car 24,” he said.

Car 53, built in 1907, was in the process of being restored after an accident when the idea came up to dedicate the car to Bennett. It is shiny red with blue and and white trim and features plaques explaining the singer’s connection to San Francisco.

Also unique to the car, the traditional “ribbons” on both ends say “Halfway to the Stars, Since 1873,” referencing a lyric and the year the city’s cable car system was born. Regular cable cars have ribbons listing names of the streets on their routes.

The car also gives a nod to the song’s writers, George Cory and Douglass Cross, who had moved to Brooklyn and were nostalgic for San Francisco. The song received little attention until Bennett came along.

As Bennett’s cable car pulled out of the barn – where cable cars sleep at night – and into Chinatown on Thursday, a group of children on the sidewalk yelled, “Ring the bell.”

The Bennett route is not just for tourists, but also takes people to work and to grocery markets, while treating them to a view of the Fairmont.

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