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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Lo, Emperor Norton Has Returned to San Francisco

Posted By on Tue, Apr 27, 2010 at 6:30 AM

Hail Norton!

Norton I, the Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, has returned. The former industrialist -- who lost everything, went bananas, and wandered the streets of 19th-century San Francisco in quasi-military garb, paying for goods with his own currency and issuing edicts -- died in 1880 at age 61. But now you can drink with him again, and you don't have to take a trip to his final resting place in Colma.

As we've noted before, one's reaction to the city's benevolent embrace of this well-intentioned madman says a lot about his or her worldview. One could read it as an early indicator of this city's renowned tolerance -- or an equally early example of San Franciscans' ability to turn a blind eye to the loud, disorderly, and mentally ill.

Either way, you'll soon be able to tipple with the Emperor at the yet-to-be-opened Comstock Saloon at 155 Columbus. While the establishment is slated to open its doors next month, the Norton sculpture designed by renowned San Francisco sculptor Peter Macchiarini is already holding court. The above video is a sneak peek at the place, focusing on the sculpture.

This is a poignant moment for Macchiarini's son, David, himself a sculptor and jeweler. The elder Macchiarini spent his entire life battling to get his sculpture erected somewhere in town -- and despite many close calls, he never succeeded.

Like a proud papa, Danny Macchiarini proudly notes that the sculpture is four feet tall and weighs 230 pounds. And he is one of a kind:" One important thing about it -- he is No. 1 of one. There will be no others of that size made, ever."

Macchiarini is contractually forbidden from disclosing how much this sculpture cost -- but he has let it slip that the folks at the foundry were friends of his old man, so a good deal was had. He's also thrilled that the marquee below the sculpture reads "Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico."

"They did it right," he says.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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