Name A Major San Francisco Public Landmark After Emperor Norton (Honorary)
Name A Major San Francisco Public Landmark After Emperor Norton (Honorary)
Since its launch in August 2013, this petition has called on the California legislature simply to add "Emperor Norton Bridge" as an honorary name for the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge system.
In October 2022, The Emperor Norton Trust — the nonprofit project that sponsors this petition — "laid down" the "bridge campaign" and shifted focus to a major public landmark that San Francisco can name on its own, without needing the approval of the state legislature.
The Trust's current proposal is to name the San Francisco Ferry Building clock tower the Emperor Norton Tower. To read this proposal and related commentaries, go to EmperorNortonTower.org and click "Learn More."
This petition will close on its 10th anniversary: 1 August 2023.
Until that time — to build on the current total of nearly 6,700 signatures...
We have broadened the title of the petition to "Name A Major San Francisco Public Landmark After Emperor Norton (Honorary)."
And, we urge all to sign and share the petition who would like to see any one of the following authorized and enacted...
- "Emperor Norton Bridge" as the honorary name for the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge;
- "Emperor Norton Tower" as the honorary name for the San Francisco Ferry Building clock tower; or — at least —
- Some major San Francisco public landmark named after Emperor Norton
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Updated September 2013 to reflect actions by the California State Legislature (and revised occasionally to reflect the current signature tally and the date relative to the 2013 launch)
"San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge." It's a name straight out of bureaucratic central casting. A clunky, hyphenated mouthful of a moniker that tries to please everyone — but winds up pleasing few. It's little wonder that, as soon as the bridge opened in 1936, local residents cropped the name down to the handier "Bay Bridge." Still a fundamentally technical, descriptive name that lacks poetry — but two syllables are better than eight.
After 86 years, though, the original name has earned its place. "The Bay Bridge" is here to stay. And yet...
For generations, the Bay Bridge has had a second name — a parallel name, if you like. This second name — which some consider to be the bridge's real name — never has graced any official highway sign. But it lives in the hearts of many.
It's time for the bridge's historical name to share the marquee with a name that has a history of its own. A name that speaks to a deeper history. A name that finally honors the bridge's original 19th-century visionary.
In short: It's time to make the alias official. Time for the State of California to add an honorary name for the Bay Area's "workhorse" bridge, and, in so doing, to recognize that, before the first survey for the structure was begun in the early 1920s, this bridge was, and shall remain...
The Emperor Norton Bridge.
The nearly 6,700 signatories to this petition call on the California legislature to authorize this honorary name by 2026 — the 90th anniversary of the opening of the Bay Bridge on 12 November 1936.
The San Francisco pioneer Joshua Abraham Norton (1818–1880) — the self-styled "Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico" — was considered eccentric, and so he was. Some considered him certifiable.
But Emperor Norton also was a visionary. He was:
- an adversary of corruption and fraud of all kinds — political, corporate and personal;
- a persistent voice for fair treatment, greater legal protections and equality for marginalized and immigrant communities — including Chinese, African-Americans, Native Americans and women;
- a champion of religious unity who saw the dangers of religious puritanism and sectarianism — and advocated against it;
- an advocate for fair labor practices;
- a defender of the people's right to fair taxes and basic services, including well-maintained streets, streetcars, trains and ferries;
- an exponent of technological innovations that advanced the public welfare; and
- a general ambassador of his adopted city, who embodied and heralded the values of tolerance and the common good that came to be identified with San Francisco, Oakland and the Bay Area.
In January 1872, Emperor Norton issued a proclamation that declared, in part:
"Whereas, we observe that certain newspapers are agitating the project of bridging the Bay; and whereas, we are desirous of connecting the cities of San Francisco and Oakland by such means; now, therefore, we, Norton I, Dei gratia Emperor, do hereby...order that the bridge be built from Oakland Point to Telegraph Hill, via Goat Island [now Yerba Buena Island]."
In a second proclamation, in March 1872, the Emperor specified that the bridge should be a suspension bridge [emphasis added]:
"The following is decreed and ordered to be carried into execution as soon as convenient: That a suspension bridge be built from Oakland Point to Goat Island, and then to Telegraph Hill; provided such bridge can be built without injury to the navigable waters of the Bay of San Francisco."
He repeated this decree with a third proclamation, in September 1872
"ordering the citizens of San Francisco and Oakland to appropriate funds for the survey of a suspension bridge from Oakland Point via Goat Island; also for a tunnel...."
[See the Resources section below for a link to view all three proclamations, as they originally appeared in The Pacific Appeal newspaper.
In adding, for consideration, the possibility of a cross-Bay tunnel — something he originally had called for in a separate proclamation in June 1872 — Emperor Norton anticipated by more than a century the 1974 opening of the Transbay Tube, which carries four of the five lines of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system under the Bay.]
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In essence, the Emperor's vision for a cross-Bay bridge came to pass in 1936, with the opening of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
In fact, the "bridge" is a bridge system composed of two bridges "hinged" by a tunnel. The monumental Western crossing, or "span," connecting San Francisco to Yerba Buena Island, is a suspension bridge, as the Emperor specified. The original Eastern crossing, connecting the island to Oakland, was built as a more conventional (at the time of its construction) cantilever-and-truss bridge.
The new Eastern crossing that opened in early September 2013 is a different kind of suspension bridge than the Western crossing.
But, in its way, the new crossing brings to full flower Emperor Norton's original vision of 1872, and makes it an especially appropriate time to finally name the entire Bay Bridge for him.
BUT, WAIT, DIDN'T HALF THE BAY BRIDGE GET NAMED FOR WILLIE BROWN NOT LONG AGO?!!
Well, yes and no.
It's true that, on 12 September 2013 — following an earlier 68-0-10 vote by the California State Assembly — the California State Senate, on a 26-7-6 vote, passed a non-binding resolution (Assembly Concurrent Resolution No. 65, or ACR 65) to designate the Western crossing of the Bay Bridge — the "San Francisco side" — as the "Willie L. Brown, Jr., Bridge," for the former California Assembly Speaker and former San Francisco mayor.
But the state continues to recognize "San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge" as the name of the entire bridge system.
Indeed, the 2020 Named Freeways, Highways, Structures and Other Appurtenances in California — the most recent edition of the authoritative listing produced regularly by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) (see Resources, below) — has separate and independent listings for both the "Willie L. Brown, Jr., Bridge" (p.164) and the "San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge" (p.186) The former is listed with a citation for ACR 65; the latter is listed as "Not Officially Named."
In other words: For naming purposes...
The State of California places these two things — (1) the constituent "spans" of the Bay Bridge and (2) the bridge as a whole — on two separate planes. Which means that the naming of the Western crossing of the Bay Bridge for Willie Brown and the naming of the entire Bay Bridge system for Emperor Norton is not an either-or proposition — it can be both-and.
Put another way...
In effect, the Willie Brown name now functions as one "subtitle" of the larger landmark. And a future naming of the Eastern crossing would be a second subtitle.
But the main title of the landmark — "San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge" — remains.
Addressing this "main title" is the opportunity and the imperative highlighted in this petition to name the Bay Bridge for Emperor Norton.
ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT A WHOLESALE RE-NAMING OF THE BAY BRIDGE FOR EMPEROR NORTON?
Today, the state of California has at least 30 bridges that have two or more "main titles." Some two-thirds of these bridges have had their additional name(s) authorized by the state legislature 20 to 60 years after the bridge's original name had been in use (see Resources, below).
A number of these multi-named bridges are multi-bridge systems in which — as is being proposed here — the legislature has given component bridges their own names and has given the larger bridge system more than one name.
Following these precedents and practices, it is possible to simply ADD "Emperor Norton Bridge" as an HONORARY name that would stand ALONGSIDE the original "Bay Bridge" name. The "Emperor Norton" name could be memorialized with a single prominent overhead highway sign on either end of the bridge and perhaps other such signs at a handful of key bridge approaches around the Bay Area.
In this scenario, the existing names for the bridge and its constituent parts, together with all existing highway signs for these names, would be left in place.
A BAY AREA EMPEROR WITH A BAY AREA VISION
It's been widely recognized, since the opening of the Bay Bridge system in 1936, that the entire system — both Western and Eastern crossings, connected in the middle by Yerba Buena Tunnel — is a remarkable feat of architecture and engineering.
But it's not solely Emperor Norton's 1872 calls for the technological achievement of a Bay-spanning bridge connecting San Francisco with Oakland that warrants the Bay Bridge system's bearing his name.
What must be kept firmly in mind is that, in calling for a cross-Bay bridge, Emperor Norton also was planting the seed of inspiration that would enable those after him to water and reap the deeper possibility of what such a bridge could do — namely, to nurture the two-way commerce of goods, ideas and influence between people on both sides of the Bay.
From this perspective, the Emperor can be seen as an early, if unwitting, visionary of the whole idea of a local "regional economy."
Indeed, whatever the Emperor's specific intentions in calling for a cross-Bay bridge 140-plus years ago, it seems undeniable that a major result of the Bay Bridge system has been to facilitate and nurture such an economy, to the benefit of people on both sides — and that, without a bridge system connecting San Francisco and Oakland, we would not mean the same thing by "Bay Area" as we do today.
To be sure, Emperor Norton often is identified as a San Francisco figure. But, the truth is that the Emperor actually spent quite a bit of time and was well-known in the East Bay, making weekly ferry visits to Brooklyn, Calif. — present-day East Oakland, which he is said to have considered his "summer capital" — and to Berkeley, where, at the new University of California, he was warmly received by students; attended (and occasionally gave) public lectures; and routinely reviewed cadets.
The Oakland Tribune published Proclamations from Emperor Norton and reported on his participation in meetings of the Oakland City Council and the Alameda Board of Supervisors. Indeed, in a February 1875 editorial, the Tribune wrote approvingly of the Emperor as a political buffer — a kind of mayoral "figurehead...who can reside on both sides of the bay at once, and who would have no insignia of office to procure in case he were elected."
It was in May 1872, while staying in Brooklyn — soon to be annexed to Oakland — that the Emperor issued one of his most significant decrees, calling for
"the cities of Oakland and San Francisco to make an appropriation for paying the expense of a survey to determine the practicability of a tunnel under water; and if found practicable, that said tunnel be forthwith built for a railroad communication."
An early forecast of the Transbay Tube.
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Emperor Norton's prescient proclamations calling for both a bridge and a tunnel across the Bay have blossomed, in the hearts and minds of succeeding generations of Bay Area visionaries, into a profound recognition that Oakland needs San Francisco — and that San Francisco needs Oakland.
In particular, the century-and-a-half-old vision for a bay-spanning suspension bridge that unites the people of San Francisco, Oakland and the East Bay via Yerba Buena Island — a vision that has shaped the lives of generations of the area's residents and visitors, and that has been advanced further than ever before with the opening of the new Eastern crossing as a suspension structure...
It is Emperor Norton who set out and popularized this vision.
In recognition of this — and whatever name(s) might be given to the components of the bridge, i.e., the West Bay Crossing, the East Bay Crossing and Yerba Buena Tunnel...
This petition calls on the California legislature to authorize and recognize a second name for the bridge system as a whole — the larger entity known as the "San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge."
Name it the Emperor Norton Bridge.
And do this by 2026 — the 90th anniversary of the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge.
The Emperor Norton Trust
San Francisco & Boston
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To learn much more about this project, visit
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This petition was the impetus for a nonprofit, The Emperor's Bridge Campaign, launched in September 2013. This endeavor now is called:
THE EMPEROR NORTON TRUST
Web site — http://www.EmperorNortonTrust.org
Facebook — https://www.facebook.com/EmperorNortonTrust
Twitter — https://twitter.com/EmpNortonTrust
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Media coverage of this petition
WALL STREET JOURNAL — http://ow.ly/ReSZG
HOODLINE — http://ow.ly/ReSEV
SFist — http://bit.ly/12YCvfc & http://bit.ly/153c5Z9 & http://bit.ly/13Ok8YJ
SAN FRANCISCO BAY GUARDIAN — http://bit.ly/13kBiz3 & http://bit.ly/17DcBeE
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE — http://bit.ly/17nSr9K & http://bit.ly/16lnhCI
KQED — http://bit.ly/1dbjOWV
LOS ANGELES TIMES — http://lat.ms/1aqM2vy
LAUGHING SQUID — http://bit.ly/145wjfy
SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS (and others) — http://bit.ly/1c19SPb & http://bit.ly/1fX70mj
GOOD DAY SACRAMENTO (local CBS morning show) — http://cbsloc.al/17xdZ2B
JAMIE ZAWINSKI (Mozilla and Netscape co-founder) — http://bit.ly/1464u6P & http://bit.ly/14n6gVW
THE RAW STORY — http://bit.ly/14vGqud
MISSION LOCAL — http://bit.ly/1eHMCrA
Emperor Norton's 1872 "Bridge" Proclamations (as originally published)
6 January 1872 — http://bit.ly/1dJC3Gs
23 March 1872 — http://bit.ly/1fssp6D
21 September 1872 — http://bit.ly/15wuWXR
Article on Emperor Norton
Short Documentary Film on Emperor Norton
Named Freeways, Highways, Structures and
Other Appurtenances in California (2020)
California State Bridges With Multiple Names
State Transportation Committee Policies on
Measures Naming Highways or Structures
Senate — http://ow.ly/FN0a30gJvgI (direct download)
Assembly — http://ow.ly/1gIA30gJrar
Text of Assembly Concurrent Resolution No. 65
("Willie L. Brown, Jr., Bridge")
Analysis of ACR 65 by the State of California's
nonpartisan Office of Legislative Counsel