The Emperor's Bridge Campaign

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The Emperor's Bridge Campaign
Logo and tagline of The Emperor's Bridge Campaign
Detail from home page of The Emperor's Bridge Campaign Web site
Formation28 September 2013 (2013-09-28)
FounderJohn Lumea
PurposeTo honor the life and advance the legacy of Joshua Abraham Norton (c.1818-1880), better known as Emperor Norton
  • San Francisco

The Emperor's Bridge Campaign is a San Francisco-based nonprofit whose mission is to honor the life and advance the legacy of Joshua Abraham Norton (c.1818 – 1880), better known as the 19th-century San Francisco eccentric, Emperor Norton.

The Campaign was launched on 28 September 2013 as a project to carry forward the call of a 1 August 2013 petition to name the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge—long known locally simply as "the Bay Bridge"—for Emperor Norton, who set out the original vision for the bridge with three newspaper proclamations published in 1872.

Subsequently, the organization has positioned this bridge-naming project within a larger public mission that includes research and documentation; education; and advocacy concerning the full life and legacy of Emperor Norton.

The Campaign incorporated as a nonprofit in October 2014.


In June 2013, a resolution was introduced in the California State Assembly to name the Western crossing of the state-owned San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge—the section from San Francisco to Yerba Buena Island—for former Assembly Speaker and former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown.[1]

A few weeks later, San Francisco-based writer John Lumea wrote and published a petition calling for the entire Bay Bridge, from San Francisco to Oakland, to be named for Emperor Norton, who in 1872—with three proclamations published in the African-American-owned abolitionist weekly The Pacific Appeal—called for a bay-spanning suspension bridge linking San Francisco and Oakland via Goat Island, the present-day Yerba Buena Island.[2]

(The petition's call is an echo of an earlier, 2004 effort in which then-San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin introduced a resolution to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors calling for the Bay Bridge to be named for Emperor Norton. Ultimately, the resolution passed by the Board called for only the bridge's new Eastern crossing—the Oakland-facing side, then in the early planning stages—to be named for Emperor Norton. This suggestion was not well-received by the Oakland City Council, and the idea went no further.)

In the six weeks from the launch of the petition until the final California State Senate vote approving the resolution naming the Bay Bridge's Western crossing for Willie Brown, the petition attracted 3,800 signatures. It also received media coverage from the San Francisco Chronicle,[3][4] San Francisco Bay Guardian,[5][6] KQED (Bay Area NPR affiliate),[7] SFist,[8][9][10] Laughing Squid,[11] San Jose Mercury News[12][13] and the Los Angeles Times,[14] among others.

The petition currently is at more than 5,700 signatures.

Origins and first year[edit]

Encouraged by this response, Lumea set up a Facebook group on 26 August 2013 for a potential new organization that he called "The Emperor's Bridge Campaign."[15]

A launch party for the effort was held on 28 September 2013 at Emperor Norton's Boozeland, an Emperor Norton-themed bar in San Francisco.

Over the course of its first year, the Campaign continued to engage in the call to name the Bay Bridge for Emperor Norton.[16][17] The organization identified a couple of state naming practices that it used to develop a naming approach that it saw as a more politically and financially realistic than a wholesale "renaming" of the bridge. Specifically, the Campaign observed: (1) while the State of California recognizes "Willie L. Brown, Jr., Bridge" as the official name for the Bay Bridge's Western crossing, the state also — separately and independently — continues to recognize the unofficial name "San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge" for the entire bridge system. (2) There exists the precedent of state-owned bridges for which the State of California recognizes multiple names, either multiple official names or some combination of official and unofficial names.[18]

On this basis, the organization introduced the option of simply adding an official name like "Emperor Norton Bridge" for the Bay Bridge as a whole, rather than replacing the longtime unofficial name.[19][20]

While The Emperor's Bridge Campaign remained active on the bridge-naming front, it expanded its mission to include historical research and documentation, and public education, about the full life and legacy of Emperor Norton.

Via its Web site and social media channels (Facebook and Twitter), as well as in public talks, the Campaign began to document its historical discoveries about Emperor Norton and to highlight art, music, film and other creative efforts that are inspired by him.

The Campaign also began to produce public commemorative events to mark and celebrate various aspects of the Emperor Norton story.[21][22][23][24]


In October 2014, The Emperor's Bridge Campaign incorporated as a nonprofit,[25] with a "specific foster public awareness, understanding and appreciation of the life and legacy of Joshua Abraham Norton (c.1818–1880), the self-proclaimed "Norton I, Emperor of the United States," known as Emperor Norton.


  1. ^ Wyatt Buchanan, "Bay Bridge May Carry Willie Brown's Name," San Francisco Chronicle, June 13, 2013.
  2. ^ The Emperor's Bridge Campaign, "Bridge Proclamations,"
  3. ^ Debra J. Saunders, "Willie Brown Bay Bridge — Whether You Like It or Not", San Francisco Chronicle, 10 September 2013.
  4. ^ Carolyn Said, "Wide Range of Causes Use Online Petitions" San Francisco Chronicle, 10 October 2013.
  5. ^ Justin Slaughter, "Petition to name Bay Bridge after Emperor Norton gains 1,000 signatures", San Francisco Bay Guardian, 13 August 2013.
  6. ^ Editorial, "Forget the Willie Brown Bridge", San Francisco Bay Guardian, 9 September 2013.
  7. ^ Dan Brekke, "Bay Bridge? Willie Brown Bridge? Fight Over Span's Name Erupts", KQED, 13 September 2013.
  8. ^ Andrew Dalton, "Effort To Rename Bay Bridge After Emperor Norton Revived By Online Petition" Archived 2016-01-04 at the Wayback Machine, SFist, 6 August 2013.
  9. ^ Andrew Dalton, "The Willie Brown Bridge Must Be Stopped," Archived 2014-12-10 at the Wayback Machine SFist, 5 September 2013.
  10. ^ Andrew Dalton, "The Willie Brown Bridge Is Moving Forward Despite Growing Opposition, Common Sense", Archived 2013-09-15 at the Wayback Machine SFist, 11 September 2012.
  11. ^ EDW Lynch, "Petition Calls for San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge To Be Named After Emperor Norton", Laughing Squid, 7 August 2013.
  12. ^ Martin Snapp, "Move Afoot to Honor Historic S.F. Eccentric", San Jose Mercury News, 21 August 2013.
  13. ^ Mike Rosenberg, "Bay Bridge Span, Against Gov. Jerry Brown's Wishes, Set to be Renamed, San Jose Mercury News, 10 September 2013.
  14. ^ Anthony York, "Gov. Jerry Brown Opposes Bid to Name Bay Bridge after Willie Brown", Los Angeles Times, 11 September 2013.
  15. ^ John Lumea, Post documenting creation of Facebook group for The Emperor's Bridge Campaign, Facebook, 26 August 2013.
  16. ^ Stuart Schuffman, "The Deeper Problem with 'Willie L. Brown, Jr., Bridge,, 11 February 2014.
  17. ^ "The Bridge Name Game" in "Intelligence" roundup, San Francisco Bay Guardian (vol. 48, no 9), 27 November – 3 December 2013 issue, p.4.
  18. ^ The Emperor's Bridge Campaign, "Whys and Hows of Bridge Naming: A Primer" (points 8–9; 11),
  19. ^ See point number 11 at "Whys and Hows of Bridge Naming: A Primer",
  20. ^ See third FAQ at "Frequently Asked Questions",
  21. ^ "Raise a Tannenbaum Toast with Emperor Norton," second item in "Drink Here Now: Five Places to Sip This Week,", 4 December 2013.
  22. ^ Stuart Schuffman, "A New Tradition: Toast the Union Square Xmas Tree with Emperor Norton!", 5 December 2013.
  23. ^ "The First Annual Tannenbaum Toast," Archived 2014-12-05 at the Wayback Machine The Bold Italic, December 2013.
  24. ^ "The Emperor's Garden Party," Archived 2014-12-05 at the Wayback Machine The Bold Italic, September 2014.
  25. ^ Rachel Swan, "The Emperor's Bridge Campaign Is Now a Nonprofit", SF Weekly, 11 November 2014.

External links[edit]