Tony Bennett performs on stage in 1966. The crooner famous for his song about San Francisco was also a “gracious and wonderful ambassador for our city,” said Rick Laubscher, who is behind an effort to have Cable Car 58 renamed in Bennett’s honor. (Onbekend/Anefo via Wikipedia, CC0)

WHEN RICK LAUBSCHER first heard Tony Bennett’s “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” he was a teenager in 1962, upset that the Giants had just lost the World Series to the Yankees. But he says the “catchy tune” always brings back fun memories.

“I still get a little a little choked up when I hear him sing that song,” Laubscher said.

Bennett died on July 21 at the age of 96.

Now, Laubscher, the president of the Market Street Railway nonprofit, is proposing that San Francisco name a cable car after the crooner.

At a SFMTA board meeting on Tuesday, transportation director Jeffrey Tumlin confirmed that the nonprofit’s request is under consideration, but didn’t have any additional details.

Captivating hearts

Bennett’s ode to San Francisco was written by Douglass Cross and George Cory, a gay couple that had moved from San Francisco to Brooklyn and wrote the song out of nostalgia for their hometown, a nostalgic feeling shared by Laubscher and other San Franciscans.

One line in particular has brought crowds of people to the city from around the world: “Where little cable cars climb halfway to the stars.”

“What better time than right now, while the song is humming through our minds, collectively,” Laubscher said. “We just think this is a great opportunity to honor somebody who’s done such a service to our city.”

The label from a 45 RPM record of Tony Bennett’s 1962 hit “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” The song was written by Douglass Cross and George Cory in a nostalgic tribute to their former hometown. (The45Prof/YouTube)

Laubscher said Bennett’s Grammy-award-winning rendition of the song released in 1962 has had an “incredible impact” over the last six decades, bringing waves of people to San Francisco to ride its historic cable cars.

The song doesn’t mention the Golden Gate Bridge, or the Bay Bridge or any other landmarks — just the hills, the fog and the cable cars.

“It’s a tremendously powerful endorsement of the city,” Laubscher said.

Originally from New York, Bennett was an “adopted son of San Francisco,” as former San Francisco mayor and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein put it. In 2018, the city honored Bennett with a statue on Nob Hill and renamed a street “Tony Bennett Way” outside the Fairmont San Francisco Hotel.

The Market Street Railway especially hopes to name Cable Car 58 after Bennett, which is the car where Bennett, Feinstein and other officials gathered in 1984 to celebrate the opening of the revamped cable car system.

Renamings are rare

Laubscher, who met Bennett at a cable car celebration and again at a dinner party in New York, called him a “gracious and wonderful ambassador for our city.”

“Every time a mayor wanted Tony Bennett to come out here for a cable car celebration, he came and performed,” Laubscher said.

The request came as the city prepared for the 150-year celebration of the cable car’s invention on Wednesday. The cable car first operated on city streets on Aug. 2, 1873, before opening for public use in September.

“Every time a mayor wanted Tony Bennett to come out here for a cable car celebration, he came and performed.”

Rick Laubscher, Market Street Railway president

San Francisco currently only has three cable cars that have been dedicated to people over the years: Friedel Klussmann, who rallied support to save cable cars when city leaders wanted to eradicate them, Giants Hall of Famer Willie Mays and cable car operator Reynaldo Morante, who was struck and killed by a motorcyclist while on duty.

Laubscher acknowledged the work San Franciscans are doing to improve the city amid its current struggles, citing the end of Bennett’s song:

“When I come home to you, San Francisco, Your golden sun will shine for me.” “Right now, we need to accentuate the positive as we work so hard to combat the negative,” Laubscher said. “I think the song is an important reminder to all of us.”

Catherine Allen is a data intern through the Dow Jones News Fund. She is a rising senior at the California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, with a major in journalism and minor in statistics. Catherine previously served as editor in chief of Mustang News, Cal Poly’s multimedia news organization. She is passionate about public policy’s impact on communities and individuals and often writes about housing and homelessness, public health and politics.