NAME IT THE EMPEROR NORTON BRIDGE (Preserve Existing Names — Just Add This One)
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This petition about the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge does not call for a wholesale re-naming of this bridge system for Emperor Norton. Rather, it highlights a naming solution that simply would add a name like "Emperor Norton Bridge" for the system, which Emperor Norton decreed in 1872.
In this scenario, the existing names and signage for the system and its constituent parts ("spans," tunnel, pedestrian/bike path, etc.) would remain in place. The "Emperor Norton" name could be memorialized with a single prominent overhead sign on either end of the bridge and perhaps other such signs at a handful of key bridge approaches around the Bay Area.
This solution is consistent with the State of California's precedent and current practice of giving multiple names to certain state-owned bridges.
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Updated September 2013 to reflect actions by the California State Legislature
"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 80-plus 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 San Francisco pioneer, Joshua Abraham Norton (c.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 and greater legal protections 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 [now Yerba Buena 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 RECENTLY GET NAMED FOR WILLIE BROWN?!!
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 2016 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.149) and the "San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge" (p.171) 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 should be possible to simply add an official "Emperor Norton" name — say, "Emperor Norton Bridge" — to stand alongside the "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 State of California 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.
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To learn much more about this project, visit
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This petition is the impetus for a nonprofit launched in September 2013:
THE EMPEROR'S BRIDGE CAMPAIGN
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
Articles on Emperor Norton
Short Documentary Film on Emperor Norton
Named Freeways, Highways, Structures and
Other Appurtenances in California (2016)
California State Bridges With Multiple Names
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
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