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Let’s Reignite the Movement to Name the Bay Bridge the “Emperor Norton Bridge”

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Shortly after I first moved to San Francisco I learned about Joshua Abraham Norton aka Emperor Norton I, the Gold Rush era eccentric who first declared that we should build a bridge from San Francisco to Oakland. Norton had lost all his money speculating on Peruvian Rice, and subsequently lost his marbles as well. After disappearing for awhile he showed back up in San Francisco in full royal regalia and declared himself the “Emperor of the United States and the Protector of Mexico”. He’s a fascinating character, who you can read about here, and he pretty much set the stage for every eccentric weirdo who we, as a city, has championed as our own ever since.

Not long after learning about Emperor Norton I read that Aaron Peskin, a member of the Board of Supervisors at the time, put together a resolution to name the Bay Bridge after our first and only emperor. He was inspired by the work of SF Chronicle cartoonist Phil Frank who started including Emperor Norton in his Farley comic strip. Peskin’s resolution passed with a 8-2 vote in 2004 (why on earth would you vote against this? I’m looking at you Fiona Ma and Sean Elsbernd) and yet the bridge has not yet been renamed. In fact there are even people trying to name the bridge after Willie Brown at the moment. To this I say NAY! Why name the bridge after a former mayor when you can name it after an emperor? And really, there are cities all over the US that have named bridges, and tunnels, and airports after local political figures. But this is San Francisco, we don’t do things like the rest of the US. Emperor Norton represents the best of what we love about this city; that not matter how weird you are, or how bizarre your ideas are, you can totally flourish here and be celebrated for it. Plus Norton was obviously a visionary when he declared that we should build that bridge, and there’s nothing we love more than visionaries in this town. Hell, every fucking guy with an app thinks he’s a visionary at this point.

Phil Frank’s comic strip which helped launch the original movement

Right now you’re probably thinking, “Well, if the SF Board of Supervisors passed the bill allowing for the renaming of the bridge why didn’t the name change?” And my response is “You’re such a good little San Franciscan thinking the whole world revolves around SF.” The reason it hasn’t been renamed is that it also has to be passed by Oakland’s elected officials, the Department of Transportation, the State Assembly, and the State Senate. Yeah, I guess it kinda got held up along the way.

So this is my call for us to reignite the movement to rename the Bay Bridge the “Emperor Norton Bridge”. I mean for fuck’s sake, the bridge’s technical name is the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge. Is there anything less interesting than that name? It’s like an Italian restaurant calling itself “Italian Restaurant”. Luckily there’s already an online resource with all the info we need, including all the bridge’s history, Norton’s history, and the 2004 resolutions. Check out this site for the Emperor Norton Bay Bridge.

Now who’s with me? Let’s make this shit happen!

photos from popehat, Laughing Squid 

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Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, poet, TV host, activist, and general shit-stirrer. His website is one of the most influential arts & culture sites in the San Francisco Bay Area and his freelance writing has been featured in Lonely Planet, Conde Nast Traveler, The Bold Italic, and too many other outlets to remember. His weekly column, Broke-Ass City, appears every other Thursday in the San Francisco Examiner. Stuart’s writing has been translated into four languages. In 2011 Stuart created and hosted the travel show Young, Broke, and Beautiful on IFC and in 2015 he ran for Mayor of San Francisco and got nearly 20k votes.

He's been called "an Underground legend": SF Chronicle, "an SF cult hero":SF Bay Guardian, and "the chief of cheap": Time Out New York.