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Push to name Bay Bridge east span after Norton

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  • 11/30 SF Examiner
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 1, 2004
      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
      Staff Writer

      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,"
      Frank said.

      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.
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