The Emperor's Bridge Campaign

TO HONOR THE LIFE + ADVANCE THE LEGACY OF EMPEROR NORTON

RESEARCH • EDUCATION • ADVOCACY

A "campaign within the Campaign"
Name the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge for
Emperor Norton — and do it in a way that respects and preserves the existing names for the bridge and its parts

Detail of cabinet card of Emperor Norton, c.1878, by Bradley & Rulofson. Collection of The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

Detail of cabinet card of Emperor Norton, c.1878, by Bradley & Rulofson. Collection of The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

The Emperor's Bridge Campaign launched in September 2013 as an effort to carry forward the call of that summer's Change.org petition for the State of California to name the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge for Emperor Norton, who set out the original vision for the bridge in 1872.


In the years since the Campaign's launch, we've become a nonprofit and built out a larger mission that has us working on a variety of fronts — research and documentation; education; advocacy — to advance the full legacy of the Emperor.

Within in this broader context, our bridge-naming project now is a "campaign within the Campaign."

But we remain "on task" in our effort to name the Bay Bridge for Emperor Norton.

To be clear, though...

The Emperor's Bridge Campaign does not call for "replacing" the name "Bay Bridge" — or for this state-owned bridge to be "renamed."

Rather...

Consistent with the state's precedent for allowing its bridges to have multiple names, we call on the California State Legislature to use its prerogative simply to add "Emperor Norton Bridge" as a second name for the bridge system as a whole — a name to stand alongside the existing names for the bridge and its constituent parts ("spans," bike path, etc.).   

We are seeking state legislation to do this at the earliest historically symbolic opportunity. Our current focus is on 2018 — the bicentennial of Emperor Norton's birth.
 

 
 

Now at
5,636 signatures

Please sign!


A DEDICATED URL
The best way to share this project with others is via this easy-to-remember address:

EmperorNortonBridge.org


The address opens to a splash page that includes two buttons:

  • SIGN THE PETITION directs to the Change.org petition.
  • LEARN MORE directs to this page.


THE BIG PICTURE
For an overview of the ideas that motivate this project, scroll beneath the photograph below.
 

DIG DEEPER
For a "deep dive" into the history and aims of this project, click on the following links — which also are in the drop-down menu for this project along the lefthand side of this site:

»»» Intro
»»» Bridge Proclamations
»»» Historical Efforts
»»» The Petition & the Campaign
»»» Current Plan
»»» Whys & Hows of Bridge Naming


THE SAN FRANCISCO-OAKLAND BAY BRIDGE
For documentation of the background, history and significance of the Bay Bridge itself — including original plans and a comprehensive photographic record — please click here
 

AERIAL VIEW OF THE SAN FRANCISCO-OAKLAND BAY BRIDGE IN 1936 | Photo by James Kenneth Piggott

AERIAL VIEW OF THE SAN FRANCISCO-OAKLAND BAY BRIDGE IN 1936 | Photo by James Kenneth Piggott


EMPEROR NORTON CALLED FOR THE BRIDGE
The case for the bridge designation could hardly be stronger. After all, it was Emperor Norton who set out the original vision for the Bay Bridge. With three newspaper proclamations in January, March and September of 1872, he called for the survey and construction of a great bay-spanning bridge linking Oakland and San Francisco via Goat Island (today called Yerba Buena Island).

Technical know-how and political will would not catch up to the Emperor’s vision for several decades, with the opening of the Bay Bridge in November 1936.
 

EMPEROR NORTON WAS AN EARLY CHAMPION OF BAY AREA VALUES
But it’s not only Emperor Norton’s connection to the Bay Bridge itself that warrants naming the bridge for him.

The Emperor was a champion of the public interest who was more far-sighted and more forward-thinking that most of his contemporaries. He called out political corruption and corporate fraud. He sought fair treatment and greater legal protections for African Americans, Native Americans and Chinese. He urged better labor standards. He saw the danger of religious sectarianism and advocated against it.  He encouraged technological innovation in the service of the common good. He supported women’s suffrage.

Emperor Norton was known for his kindness. He was both passionate and whimsical. Not least, in asserting his own right to be heard, he stood for the outsider, the dreamer and for the idea that people should be accepted for who they are.

In all of these ways, the Emperor was himself a “bridge” who embodied and heralded the values of tolerance and eccentricity that came to be associated with San Francisco, Oakland and the Bay Area.
 

EMPEROR NORTON WAS AN EAST BAY FIGURE, TOO
Although it’s true that Emperor Norton often is identified as a San Francisco character, history shows that he made weekly visits to Oakland and Berkeley and, indeed, that he spent a few months a year in Brooklyn, Calif. — present-day East Oakland — which he is said to have considered his “summer capital.”

And: Of the 1,000-plus signatories to the Change.org petition who also have left comments via the petition interface, many of the most thoughtful and eloquent remarks have come from Oakland and the East Bay.


THE BAY BRIDGE DESERVES A NAME WITH POETRY & HISTORY — LIKE "THE GOLDEN GATE"
What long has united admirers of the Emperor and the Bay Bridge, on both sides of the Bay — and, indeed, across the country and around the world — is the recognition that a great local and national landmark like the Bay Bridge deserves a name that has poetry, a name that, like “the Golden Gate,” rises above the purely descriptive.

Naming the Bay Bridge for Emperor Norton — one of the region’s most compelling historical figures and one of its most durable legends — will do that, and more.

It will:

  • celebrate the original visionary of the bridge;
     
  • unlock a powerful new opportunity to tell the story of the spirit of openness, fairness, passion and whimsy that is uniquely associated with San Francisco, Oakland and the Bay Area;
     
  • strengthen the fondness that so many already have for the place from which this spirit emerges; and
     
  • signal, to residents, visitors and observers alike, that the communities on both sides of the Emperor’s bridge embrace the Emperor’s legacy.


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The vision of THE EMPEROR’S BRIDGE CAMPAIGN is to ensure that Emperor Norton's life and legacy is kept alive and relevant. We seek to bring together all those individuals, organizations and groups who share our vision — and to assist those in the movement to name the Emperor's bridge for him, by helping them forge an effective coalition that speaks with one joyful but determined voice so that their collective desire becomes reality.

© 2017 The Emperor's Bridge Campaign  |  Site design by Polished  |  Background: Detail from image courtesy of Eric Fischer