More than 1,000 people have signed a petition that calls on California lawmakers to rename San Francisco’s Bay Bridge in honor of Joshua Abraham Norton, according to the San Francisco Bay Guardian.
The petition, drafted by San Francisco freelance writer John Lumea, seeks to have the Bay Bridge officially named “The Emperor Norton Bay Bridge.”
Norton, a successful businessman, immigrated to San Francisco from South Africa during the 19th century. After losing his fortune, Norton took the unusual step of proclaiming himself Emperor of the United States in 1859. He later added “Protector of Mexico” to his official title.
Though Norton could have easily been dismissed as a loon and lost to history, he is still remembered today because the people of San Francisco embraced him. Newspapers printed his proclamations free of charge and businesses accepted his imperial currency. He strolled through the streets clad in a blue army uniform and a beaver hat, inspecting his royal domain and speaking with his loyal subjects.
“He was a champion of racial and religious unity; an advocate for women’s suffrage; a defender of the people; and a general ambassador of San Francisco who embodied the values that came to be known as ‘San Francisco.’ And he was beloved by San Franciscans, in return,” Lumea wrote.
In 1872, he issued a proclamation calling for a bridge to be built from Oakland Point to Yerba Buena Island. He later issued two more proclamations calling for the bridge.
“Indeed, although Emperor Norton is identified as a San Francisco figure, his proclamations calling for a cross-Bay bridge embodied a profound recognition that Oakland needed San Francisco — and that San Francisco needed Oakland,” Lumea wrote.
Cartoonist Phil Frank previously sought to rename the bridge in 2004. His efforts ultimately failed.
“It just seemed that naming it for a character as interesting as Emperor Norton would be very fitting. We’re probably the only place in the country that would consider doing such a thing,” Frank explained to the San Francisco Chronicle in 2004.