Push to name Bay Bridge east span after Norton
- Published Tuesday, November 30, 2004, in the San Francisco Examiner
Unique notion for bridge name
Emperor Norton was one of city's great eccentrics.
By Adriel Hampton
A move is afoot to christen the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge
in honor of one of San Francisco's most famous historical residents
-- the wildly eccentric Norton I, who dubbed himself the Emperor of
the United States and the Protector of Mexico.
And the idea's main proponent says he's not kidding.
"It's something that we're working on seriously," said local
cartoonist Phil Frank. "We have about 20 historians, regionally and
statewide, also supporting the idea. If The City supports it, we go
to Oakland and then to the state Legislature."
Last week, Supervisor Aaron Peskin, at the behest of Frank,
introduced a resolution calling on state officials to name new
portions of the bridge after Norton. The full Board of Supervisors
will consider the issue Dec. 7.
Emperor Norton, born Joshua Norton in England, emigrated from South
Africa to The City in 1849 as a wealthy real estate broker. He lost
his fortune in the rice market and declared bankruptcy in the 1850s,
subsequently wearing a dress uniform and declaring himself Norton I.
"He went slightly, not crazy, but a little mentally unbalanced,"
Norton's legacy includes the sale of his own bonds -- they were
worthless -- and his death in 1880 resulted in San Francisco's
largest public funeral. He was friendly with Mark Twain and
corresponded with Abraham Lincoln and Queen Victoria. He was also
known for championing voting rights for all, equality for Chinese
residents, and, in one of his many public proclamations, advocating
the creation of a suspension bridge between Oakland and San
Francisco -- 60 years before the completion of the Bay Bridge.
Norton's legacy has also become intertwined with gay history,
following famed drag queen Jose Sarria's declaration in the 1960s
that he was "Empress Jose I, the Widow Norton."
Frank, creator of the "Farley" strip in the San Francisco Chronicle,
held a naming contest for the bridge through his strip earlier this
year and the Norton idea picked up steam, he said. In the past two
months, he published a 10-part history of Norton and his importance.
Assemblyman Mark Leno called the campaign "an interesting concept"
but said he is currently focused on cost and design issues that have
held up construction of the bridge.