The Emperor's Bridge Campaign

to honor the life + advance the legacy of Emperor Norton

The Proclamatorium of Post Street

When Emperor Norton lived at the Eureka Lodgings on Commercial Street (between Montgomery and Kearny), from 1863 to 1880, his days often followed a similar pattern. Shortly after awaking and dressing, he made his way to the Empire House lodgings next door. The Empire House had a reading room, where the Emperor was able to read the dailies — probably the Morning Call and the Daily Alta California. After reading the papers, he strolled the couple of blocks up Kearny Street to Portsmouth Square, where he spent the rest of the morning meeting and speaking with friends.

In the afternoon — perhaps after a repast at the "free lunch counter" of one of his favorite taverns, the Bank Exchange or Martin & Horton's, both on Montgomery Street — the Emperor could be found at one of a number of libraries and reading rooms in San Francisco where he was welcomed. Perhaps the Mercantile Library. Perhaps even the reading room of the Bohemian Club, where there was a portrait of him, by Virgil Williams, in the reading room — even though, almost certainly, the Emperor himself wasn't a Bohemian.


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But it appears that the Emperor's favorite "afternoon residency" was at the Mechanics' Institute library and chess room. In 1866 — three years after Emperor Norton moved in to the Eureka — the Institute built a new home at 31 Post Street (pictured below) that served the library for the next 40 years, until it was lost in the earthquake and fire of 1906. (The Institute's current building — same site, slightly different number (57 Post) — was completed in 1910.)

Photograph, by Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904), of the Mechanics' Institute's building at 31 Post Street (1866-1906). Emperor Norton — who frequented the Institute "daily," according to the Morning Call newspaper — wrote many of his Proclamations in this building. Source: "Lone Mountain College Collection of Stereographs by Eadweard Muybridge, 1867-1880," Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Photograph, by Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904), of the Mechanics' Institute's building at 31 Post Street (1866-1906). Emperor Norton — who frequented the Institute "daily," according to the Morning Call newspaper — wrote many of his Proclamations in this building. Source: "Lone Mountain College Collection of Stereographs by Eadweard Muybridge, 1867-1880," Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Here, Emperor Norton met and spoke with technological visionaries like Andrew Hallidie (1836-1900), the "father" of the cable car; Frederick Marriott (1805-1884), the inventor of the Avitor, a prototype steam-powered airship;  and Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904), the pioneering photographer who, in 1869, took a certain legendary photograph of the Emperor on a bicycle.

It also was in this building — and on the Institute's engraved stationery — that Emperor Norton wrote many, possibly most, of his Proclamations.
 

Photograph of the Mechanics' Institute's 1866 building at 31 Post Street, San Francisco. The building was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire. Source: The Mechanics Institute.

Photograph of the Mechanics' Institute's 1866 building at 31 Post Street, San Francisco. The building was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire. Source: The Mechanics Institute.


And it was said that, while the Emperor was here, he played a fine game of chess. His biographer, William Drury, related the memory of the Morning Call newspaper that

[h]e was seen daily in the chess-room of the Mechanics’ Library, and there were few who could beat him at the royal game.

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