NAME IT THE EMPEROR NORTON BRIDGE* (*Existing Names to Remain in Place)
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 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 political corruption and corporate fraud;
- a persistent voice for the fair treatment of racial and ethnic minorities;
- a champion of religious unity who saw the folly of sectarianism;
- an advocate for fair labor practices;
- an exponent of technological innovations that advanced the public welfare;
- a supporter of women's suffrage;
- a defender of the people's right to fair taxes and basic services, including well-maintained streets and streetcars; 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, known as "the Bay Bridge."
In fact, the "bridge" is a bridge system composed of two bridges. 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 name the Western crossing of the Bay Bridge — the "San Francisco side" — the "Willie L. Brown, Jr., Bridge," for former California Assembly Speaker and former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown.
But the state continues to recognize "San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge" as the name of the entire bridge system.
Indeed, the 2015 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.143) and the "San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge" (p.164) 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.
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 a dozen or so bridges that have multiple "main titles."
Following this precedent, 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.
WHAT THE EMPEROR'S VISION HAS DONE FOR THE BAY AREA
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 is identified as a San Francisco figure. But, the truth is that, for many years, day-trips to Oakland via ferry were part of the Emperor's weekly routine. In his day, Emperor Norton was very well-known in those streets.
Moreover, the Emperor's prescient proclamations calling for a cross-Bay bridge 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.
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The 145-year-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...
This vision is specific to Emperor Norton.
In recognition of this — and whatever name(s) might be given to the constituent sections 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 (2015)
Policy on Measures Naming Highways
or Structures | California State Senate
Transportation & Housing Committee
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
The 200th birthday of the 19th-century eccentric and visionary Emperor Norton (c.1818-1880) is coming up on 4 February 2018.
I'm writing to add my voice to the thousands of others — including thousands of California voters — who are calling upon you and your colleagues in the California State Legislature to use the opportunity of this momentous anniversary simply to *add* "Emperor Norton Bridge" as a second / tandem / parallel / honorary name for the entity known as the "San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge."
The State of California continues to recognize "San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge" as the "main title" of the entire bridge system.
Also: The state has provided a number of its bridges with *multiple* main titles.
Based on these precedents...
A name like "Emperor Norton Bridge" for the Bay Bridge system as a whole can be authorized *independent* of the names given separately to the bridge's constituent elements — such as the bridge's Western and Eastern "spans" and Yerba Buena Tunnel.
Such an official "Emperor Norton Bridge" naming could stand alongside the unofficial name "San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge,".
In this scenarios, the "Emperor Norton" name given to the bridge "as a whole" would function as a "main title" of the bridge — as the name "San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge" continues to do today — with the names of any of the constituent elements functioning as "subtitles."
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It was Emperor Norton who set out the original vision for the Bay Bridge with three newspaper proclamations in 1872, calling for the design and construction of a great bay-spanning suspension bridge linking San Francisco and Oakland via Yerba Buena Island, then known as Goat Island.
This is but one example of how Emperor Norton was a visionary. Well ahead of his time, the Emperor was an adversary of political corruption and corporate fraud; a persistent voice for the fair treatment of racial and ethnic minorities; a champion of religious unity who saw the folly of sectarianism; an advocate for fair labor practices; an exponent of technological innovations that advanced the public welfare; a supporter of women's suffrage; a defender of the people's right to fair taxes and basic services, including well-maintained streets and streetcars; 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 other words: Emperor Norton not only *called* for a bridge. He *was* a bridge who embodied and heralded the values of tolerance and the common good that came to be associated with San Francisco, Oakland and the Bay Area.
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Worth noting: Although Emperor Norton often is identified as a San Francisco figure, he actually spent quite a bit of time in the East Bay, especially Brooklyn, Calif. — present-day East Oakland, which he is said to have considered his "summer capital" — and Berkeley, where he both attended and gave public lectures, as well as reviewed the cadets, at the new University of California.
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To learn more, please visit:
I hope that you and your colleagues in the California State Legislature will agree that naming the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge for Emperor Norton is an idea whose time has come.
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