Saturday: Toast The Bay Bridge's 80th Birthday With The 'Emperor's Bridge Campaign'

Saturday: Toast The Bay Bridge's 80th Birthday With The 'Emperor's Bridge Campaign'

Photo: Eric Kilby/flickr

Elaine Gavin
Published on November 10, 2016

The Emperor's Bridge Campaign is hosting a celebration this Saturday, November 12th, to wish the Bay Bridge a happy 80th birthday—and rally support for giving the bridge a new, honorary title.

The Emperor's Bridge Campaign is dedicated to the history and legacy of Joshua Abraham Norton (better known as Emperor Norton I). The effort began with a petition in 2013 with the goal of adding the honorary title "The Emperor Norton Bridge" to the Bay Bridge. In 2014, Emperor Norton's Bridge Campaign became a nonprofit public benefit program, leading research and education on Emperor Norton.

The campaign's current mission: rename the bridge "Emperor Norton Bridge" by 2022—on the 150th anniversary of Emperor Norton's first declaration calling for the construction of the Bay Bridge. From 1871-1875, Emperor Norton released three separate proclamations that were published by the local newspaper The Pacific Appeal. The declarations demanded the construction of a bridge spanning from San Francisco to what is now known as Yerba Buena Island. 

"Some people know him as the lovable kook. But he actually made a lot of proclamations calling for the open, tolerant and progressive spirit of the Bay Area," said John Lumea, founder of the Emperor's Bridge Campaign. "We want to build that part of the public imagination and show people he does deserve the honor of his name on the bridge."

Emperor Norton | Photo: Emperor's Bridge Campaign Photo Archive

The bridge—which opened to the public on November 12, 1936—is unofficially titled the "San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge." In 2013, the California State Assembly approved the addition of an honorary title for the western span: "Willie L. Brown, Jr., Bridge." Rather than attempting to remove those names, The Emperor's Bridge Campaign is seeking to add one more honorary title—which they say is consistent with state law.

"In this scenario, the existing names and signage for the system and its constituent parts ("spans," tunnel, pedestrian/bike path, etc.) would remain in place," the organization's petition says. "The 'Emperor Norton' name could be memorialized with a single prominent overhead sign on either end of the bridge and perhaps other such signs at a handful of key bridge approaches around the Bay Area."

So far, the petition has received nearly 5,400 signatures. Lumea says he hopes that Saturday's birthday celebration will remind people of the organization's ongoing efforts and allow organizers to share their thoughts on why Emperor Norton should share the glory of the Bay Bridge's title.

The Bay Bridge under construction in 1937. | Photo: San Francisco's Public Photo Archive

Saturday's birthday party will start at 2pm at Rincon Park (on the Embarcadero at Folsom Street). Lumea advises guests to keep an eye out for Emperor's Bridge Campaign signs at Rincon Park near the Cupid's Span sculpture.

At 2:30pm, the party will take a quick seven-minute walk to Red's Java House at Pier 30 on the Embarcadero to raise a glass to the iconic historical figure, with a view of the bridge. (The event is free of charge; food and beverages are not.)

A few board members for The Emperor Norton's Bridge Campaign will be in attendance, including historian Joseph Amster. Amster leads the Fantastic San Francisco Time Machine Tour dressed as Emperor Norton and has played a large part in the campaign's efforts. 

Lumea hopes at least 50-75 supporters will join them.