The Emperor's Bridge Campaign

to honor the life + advance the legacy of Emperor Norton

"Let the Emperor Have Skates — Or Close Up the Rinks!"

What Cheer House, 1866. Photograph by Lawrence & Houseworth. Source: Library of Congress.

What Cheer House, 1866. Photograph by Lawrence & Houseworth. Source: Library of Congress.

The success and popularity of the What Cheer House — a men's hotel and club at Sacramento and Liedesdorff Streets, in San Francisco — was enough to make the hotel's owner and proprietor, Robert B. Woodward (1824-1879), very wealthy indeed.

In 1861, Woodward bought and moved his family to a house and four acres that most recently had been owned by the noted military officer, explorer and politician John C. Fremont (1813-1890).

This country estate was in today's San Francisco Mission District — in an area bounded by Valencia, Mission, 13th and 15th Streets.

By 1862, Woodward had built a new main house and was cultivating the surrounding acreage into beautifully landscaped gardens, lakes and fountains.

Woodward also was an art collector;  he'd caught the bug from What Cheer clients — often sailors who would bring him curiosities from around the world.

Over the next few years, Woodward added to his collections with finds from trips to Europe. He brought back everything from paintings, ceramics and sculptures, to exotic plants, to exotic animals (dead and alive). The houses were the initial repositories for many of these finds.


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By the mid 1860s, public curiosity about Woodward's gardens and collections had grown to the point that his family was able to persuade him to open the grounds to the public. 

So it was that Robert Woodward moved his family to Napa and — in 1866 — opened Woodward's Gardens as a public resort that became one of the most popular and celebrated amusement parks in the West.
 

Entrance to Woodward's Gardens. Collection of the San Francisco Museum & Historical Society. Source. Found SF.

Entrance to Woodward's Gardens. Collection of the San Francisco Museum & Historical Society. Source. Found SF.


Over the years, Woodward continued to expand the offerings of his Gardens. The main house became a Museum of Wonders. A new glass conservatory housed the collections of art and plants. There were pleasure boats and hot-air ballon rides. Tame animals like ostriches, deer, flamingos and barnyard animals roamed free; and there was a zoo with wolves, bears, lions, camels, zebras, buffaloes, kangaroos and monkeys. An aquarium with lighted tanks showed visitors crabs, lobsters, sharks, rays and the occasional octopus.

There even was an amphitheater that could accommodate 5,000 people.

Admission was 25 cents for adults, 15 cents for children. 

About the same as the price that entitled Emperor Norton to a pass at the "free lunch" table at any number of his favorite taverns and saloons along Montgomery Street. 
 

Woodward's Gardens, 1875. Photo by T.E. Hecht. Collection of the San Francisco Public Library. Source: Found SF.

Woodward's Gardens, 1875. Photo by T.E. Hecht. Collection of the San Francisco Public Library. Source: Found SF.

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Among the amusements at Woodward's Gardens was what has been called "the West Coast's largest rollerskating rink."

It seems that this is where, in March 1872, Emperor Norton had an unpleasant experience.

Here is the Proclamation that appeared on the back page of the Pacific Appeal newspaper of 16 March 1872. 
 

 
Proclamation of Emperor Norton in The Pacific Appeal, 16 March 1872. Source: California Digital Newspaper Collection.

Proclamation of Emperor Norton in The Pacific Appeal, 16 March 1872. Source: California Digital Newspaper Collection.

 

 Proclamation.

LET THE EMPEROR HAVE SKATES — OR CLOSE UP THE RINKS!

Whereas, the proscriptive treason against our person, rights and privileges, crops out occasionally, and has lately shown itself at Woodward's Gardens, the Superintendent of the Skating Rink having refused us the use of skates, when we wish to amuse ourselves in that way; and whereas great aches from little toecorns grow, and to prevent other acts of a like disloyal nature as now spoken of, we do hereby command the arrest of the aforesaid Superintendent if he perpetrates the offence the second time.

NORTON I.

Done in the city of San Francisco, this 14th day of March, 1872

 

 

This Proclamation is intriguing for at least a few reasons:

First...
The Proclamation is on the back page. Typically, The Pacific Appeal ran Emperor Norton on page 1.

Second...
There is an editorial headline that almost certainly was not written by the Emperor. The Appeal rarely added its own commentary to what the Emperor had submitted.

Third...
The Emperor liked to skate!

Who knew?


Did the Emperor get better treatment, the next time he tried to get skates from the Superintendent of the roller rink at Woodward's Gardens?

Let's hope so!


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