Herb Caen's "Norton Bridge" Campaign of 1947 (And the 1960 Letter from Berkeley That Watered the Seed)
In 1949, the architect Frank Lloyd Wright sketched a futuristic concept for what he called the Butterfly Wing Bridge.
This was Wright's design response to a surge of Bay Area interest in building a second Bay Bridge somewhere to the south of the first one — a dream that became known as the Southern Crossing.
The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge was only a decade old. But, by the mid 1940s, auto traffic across the new bridge already was 2.7 times greater and trains across the bridge were being used 50 percent less than had been projected in the 1930s, when construction of the bridge was a getting underway.
The Bay Bridge was congested — and something would have to give.
The same year, 1947, legendary San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen had a clear idea of who any second Bay Bridge should be named for. He said it three times in print in 1947 — the first time on 2 January:
I hearby resolve...[t]o suggest that the second Bay Bridge be named after Emperor Norton, who was the first "crackpot" to come up with the idea.
Surely, others must have expressed the idea, before 1947, that a bridge across San Francisco Bay should be named after the Emperor — but this may be one of the earliest published records of the idea.
Caen weighed in again on 5 March:
Shouldn't that second Bay Bridge, if any, be named after Emperor Norton — who first thought our puddle about 75 years ago?
In an echo of Emperor Norton's three Proclamations of 1872 setting out the original vision for the Bay Bridge, Caen filed his proposal a third time on 29 April:
[I]f that second Bay Bridge is ever built, why shouldn't it be called the Norton Bridge? He had the idea 75 years ago.
Here, Caen adds the name: "Norton Bridge."
Based on a search of the San Francisco Chronicle archives, though, it may have been another 13 years before anyone made it into print with the suggestion that the original Bay Bridge — the Emperor's bridge — be named the "Emperor Norton Bridge."
On 12 July 1960, the Chronicle published the following Letter to the Editor from D.J. Stevens-Allen, of Berkeley:
And here we are, 57 years later, still trying to get this done.
Next year is Emperor Norton's 200th birthday. There's never been a riper time to name the Emperor's bridge for the Emperor.
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To learn about The Emperor's Bridge Campaign's project in support of adding "Emperor Norton Bridge" as a parallel name for the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge — and doing this in a way that respects and preserves all existing names for the bridge system and its constituent parts ("spans," tunnel, pedestrian / bike path), please visit:
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