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San Francisco to Name Street After Emperor Norton

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Emperor Norton as portrayed by Joseph Amsterin his walking tour.

While San Francisco doesn’t have the Beastie Boys, we do have Emperor Norton!

On Sunday, September 17th, from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. there will be a celebration honoring the official naming of Emperor Norton Place. It’s all going down at the Northwest corner of Montgomery and Commercial Streets.

For those who don’t know, Emperor Norton was the original SF weirdo. He paved the way for the rest of us to let our freak flags fly. As the press release so succinctly explains:

Emperor Norton’s remarkable journey began in 1849 when he arrived in San Francisco as an English Jew seeking fortune. He established himself as a successful merchant and investor in commodities and real estate but faced financial setbacks leading to bankruptcy in August 1856. On September 17, 1859, Norton declared himself “Norton I, Emperor of the United States,” later adding the title “Protector of Mexico.”

Over two decades, Emperor Norton became a beloved champion of fairness, tolerance, self-determination, and the common good—values deeply associated with San Francisco. He remains a cherished folk hero of the city.

Earlier this year, the City and County of San Francisco honored Emperor Norton’s memory by designating the 600 block of Commercial as “EMPEROR NORTON PLACE” and installing an “Emperor Norton Place” commemorative street sign at the southwest corner of Montgomery and Commercial Streets. This spot was chosen because  Norton resided in the Eureka Lodgings at 624 Commercial Street from 1865 until his passing in January 1880. Although the building was lost in the earthquake and fires of April 1906, the site now hosts a 4-story building at 650/652/654 Commercial Street, adjacent to the serene Empire Park.

Emperor Norton, SF’s Patron Saint of the Weird and Wonderful

Ok, actually most of that was from the press release. But did you know that Emperor Norton was also one of San Francisco’s first antiracist activists? Pretty interesting guy all around.

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The event will have a lot of fun things going on including:

● Music performed by the Freedom Marching Band
● Art activities for kids
● Colorful figures from history, including the Emperor himself dressed in full regalia
● A scavenger hunt for historical plaques, with prizes
● Free tours of the SF Historical Society

Individuals from the following organizations and projects contributed to planning for this event:

● Office of San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin
● Emperor Norton Legacy League
● The Emperor Norton Trust
● San Francisco Historical Society
● The Ancient & Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus, Yerba Buena Lodge Number One

Have fun!

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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.