The Emperor's Bridge Campaign



EMPEROR NORTON BRIDGE  ::  Historical Efforts

Two Hits & A Pop Foul in 2004

From the Proclamations of 1872 to the Plaque of 1939 was 67 years. It was nearly that long again, before the first effort to name the Bay Bridge itself for the Emperor made headlines in 2004.

It all started with a comic strip.

Longtime San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist Phil Frank (1943-2007) was the creator of Farley, a topical satire of life and current events in the Bay Area, which appeared in the Chronicle daily from 1975 until Frank’s death.

In a Farley series that ran primarily from late summer 2004 to early spring 2005, Frank introduced his readers to the story of Emperor Norton and to the idea of naming part of the Bay Bridge for him.

The series was narrated by Frank’s character, Baba Rebop. But there also were key cameo appearances by Robert “Doc” Chandler, a respected public historian for Wells Fargo (1978-2010) and a recognized authority on 19th-century California who, at the time, was publicly urging that the Western crossing of the bridge be named for the Emperor.


In effect, Frank and Chandler were collaborators in a kind of tag-team campaign that turned out to be quite effective in leveraging the idea of naming the Bay Bridge for Emperor Norton into the public imagination of local citizens — and into the political agenda of their elected officials.

In November 2004, then-San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin — who represented District 3, which includes Commercial Street, where the Emperor lived from 1863 until his death in 1880 — introduced to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors a Resolution urging

  • that “the bay-spanning bridge” — the entire bridge — “be designated ‘The Emperor Norton Bridge’”;
  • that “the City of Oakland…join in this endeavor”; and
  • that “Bay Area legislators, operating on our behalf in Sacramento, see to its accomplishment in the State Legislature.”

The first provision proved to be the sticking point — although not in the way one might guess.

As introduced in November 2004: “[T]his board decrees that the bay-spanning bridge be designated ‘The Emperor Norton Bridge.’”

As adopted in December 2004: “[T]his board decrees that the future additions to the San Francisco Bay Bridge be designated ‘The Emperor Norton Bridge.’”

In other words: San Francisco said to Oakland that only the new Eastern crossing of the Bay Bridge — the section closest to Oakland — should be named for the Emperor.

Predictably, the Oakland City Council said “No, thanks,” and — with the exception of a tribute site launched in November 2011, on the occasion of the Bay Bridge's 75th anniversary — little more was heard about naming the Bay Bridge for Emperor Norton until…

To return to the Overview of our bridge-naming project, click here.

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