Emperor Norton at the Metropolitan Hotel
Exactly 152 years ago today, according to the Daily Alta California newspaper — on Wednesday 1 April 1863, at 11 a.m. — the firm of Dyer & Badger held an auction — a "closing sale" — of all the furnishings and contents of the Metropolitan Hotel at the southwest corner of Sansome and Bush Streets, in San Francisco.
Why does this matter, you ask? A little history...
Recently, we reviewed the story of the Rassette House, the first-class hotel — at the same corner of Sansome and Bush — where Joshua Norton lived in 1852 and 1853, at the height of his prosperity and influence. In June 1853, the Rassette burned to the ground. Four months later, the hotel re-opened on the same spot, in a new edifice that was even grander than the first.
By this time, however, Joshua Norton was well into the downward spiral of financial and personal losses triggered by his ill-fated rice contract of December 1852. His peripatetic series of living arrangements over the next several years — each "establishment" grittier than the last — reflected the new reality. The last San Francisco directory listing for "Norton Joshua," before he declared himself Emperor in September 1859, is in the 1858 directory, which has him living at a cheap rooming house at 255 Kearny. (A listing, in the 1859 directory, for a "Norton Jesse, mcht" at the same address is intriguing. There are no listings for any Jesse Norton in the years before or after that. Was this our Emperor-soon-to-be, flying under the radar?)
The next time we see a listing for "Norton Joshua" is in the 1861 directory, where he is listed as living at the Metropolitan Hotel. In the 1862 directory, he still is at the Metropolitan, now — and for the first time — with the parenthetical honorific "(Emperor)."
It turns out that the Metropolitan Hotel was the second-generation Rassette House under new management, and with a new name. It seems that the hotel operated as the Rassette until early to mid 1858, when it became the Metropolitan. This ad from New Year's Day 1861 has a text dated June 1858 — two and a half years earlier:
This August 1860 ad notes that the Metropolitan has been under new proprietorship for "over two years."
By the time Emperor Norton got to the Metropolitan in 1861, alas, the hotel may already have gone to seed. The Emperor's biographer, William Drury, called it "shabby." Indeed, when the Metropolitan closed in 1863, it was torn down and replaced by yet another new hotel on the southwest corner of Sansome and Bush: the Cosmopolitan.
Still. It's both fascinating and poignant to learn that Joshua Norton, who lived at the elegant original Rassette House in 1852 and 1853, returned to the very same corner in 1861 and 1862 — this time, as the Emperor — to live in a latter-day version of the hotel's second building that, by the time he got there, had suffered a decline of its own.
Emperor Norton moved into his best-known residence — the Eureka Lodgings, at 624 Commercial Street — in 1863.
Almost certainly, it was the closing of the Metropolitan that year — sealed by the auction of the building's contents on this day in 1863 — that prompted his search for new digs.
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