Muni's 'New' Notion of Selling Cable Car Sponsorships Was a Great Idea -- In 1982

Categories: Public Transit
Sadly, it's too late to wheedle a cable car sponsorship out of Thelonious Monk
When Municipal Transportation Agency director Malcolm Heinicke earlier this week proposed selling off "sponsorships" to the city's treasured cable cars as a means of making the city's ends meet, you could almost hear the resultant hemorrhages in city preservationists' cranial blood vessels.

After all, the cable cars -- along with the Golden Gate Bridge -- are the city's most treasured and unique symbols. Good sir, how can you consider transforming our city's heritage into a veritable fleet of cable-pulled NASCAR vehicles? Would the Parisians sell ad space on the Eiffel Tower? (Actually, yes. Yes they would).

Yet the most curious element of Heinicke's proposal to sell cable car sponsorships is that the cable cars are already sponsored -- and have been since the early 1980s. When the system closed for a near-total revamp between '82 and '84, much of the money to keep the cable cars running came from private businesess -- and this was denoted by plaques on most of the cars denoting its "adopter." And back in 1978, notes Cable Car Museum director Jose Godoy, around 15 local companies put their imprimatur on the tokens folks bought to get on the cable cars. Incidentally, you can see the full list of all the active cable cars -- complete with designations of their "adopter" -- here, at Joe Thompson's wonderful "Cable Car Guy" Web site.

All of this prompts two questions: Is Heinicke and the rest of MTA even aware of these exceedingly well-documented sponsorships? And, if not, what could hurt about a little more money raised through such an unobtrusive practice?

Incidentally, glancing at that list of "adopters" induces a wave of early 1980s nostalgia. Several cars were sponsored by Atari, others by the old Hearst Examiner, defunct radio station KJAZ, Datsun, and the Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corporation on behalf of the City of Oakland. The plaques even look classy; here's a close-up of Standard Oil of Ohio's.

If the MTA wants to have another go-round of plaques like this -- or affix them to the F-Line trolley cars -- then it seems hard to argue against it. After all, the cable cars have long served as the public face for those boxes of salt and chemicals casually referred to as Rice-a-Roni.

Perhaps the MTA ought to hit them up for a sponsorship. They owe the city in a big way for all those years of still referring to themselves as the "San Francisco treat" -- when Quaker Oats bought the brand from the local DeDomenico family in 1986

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