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

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has 42 cable cars, of which four are dedicated to individuals
In frame: A cable car dedicated to Tony Bennett makes its way up California Street to Nob Hill in San Francisco
In frame: A cable car dedicated to Tony Bennett makes its way up California Street to Nob Hill in San FranciscoEric Risberg

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.

In frame: A cable car dedicated to Tony Bennett makes its way up California Street to Nob Hill in San Francisco
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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.

Eric Risberg

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, according to 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.

Eric Risberg

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.

In frame: A cable car dedicated to Tony Bennett makes its way up California Street to Nob Hill in San Francisco
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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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