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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

S.F. Artists Snub Willie Brown, Install Rogue Sign Naming New Bay Bridge After Emperor Norton

Posted By on Wed, Feb 12, 2014 at 2:31 PM


Much to the chagrin of San Francisco progressives, the western span of the Bay Bridge was officially rechristened the Willie L. Brown Jr. Bridge Tuesday in a ceremony held on Treasure Island.

But while politicos, including Gavin Newsom, flocked to Treasure Island to celebrate, a group of artists remained on this side of the Bay Bridge and did a little celebrating of their own, honoring their successful attempt at upstaging Willie Brown

Late Monday night, a group of unidentified artists installed a large sign at the Bay Bridge onramp at Fifth Street, commemorating Joshua A. Norton, not Willie L. Brown. Norton was a famed 19th Century San Francisco eccentric, known for his many, many proclamations, notably the one where he declared himself Emperor of the United States, and later tacked on "Protector of Mexico" to his title. In addition, Norton is best-known for his many decrees about bridges and tunnels that he had hoped to build, connecting San Francisco and Oakland.

There have been multiple movements over the years to rename the western span of the Bay Bridge the Emperor Norton Bridge in his honor, although some Norton fans have often said that he wouldn't have had a "movement," per se -- he would have just issued a proclamation.

Emperor Norton
  • Emperor Norton

Following his protocol, the group of artists who installed the Emperor Norton sign this week did just that: issued a proclamation. "In 1872 Emperor Norton decreed this Bridge." Along the bottom of the sign in small lettering, it reads: "A gift from the artists to the city of San Francisco, Feb. 11 2014."

One artist involved in the project contacted SF Weekly, but asked to remain anonymous. He claims he isn't some crazy Emperor Norton fan, but said the sign was meant to call attention to the lingering resentment San Francisco artists have toward Willie Brown and his efforts to gentrify the city over the years.

The artist provided us with more insight in the following email sent today:

This plaque is a historically accurate gift to San Francisco, recognizing the origins of the Bay Bridge and honoring Emperor Norton's vision and unique character. The date was selected to coincide with the controversial naming of the old Western span for Willie Brown. During Mr Brown's mayorship in San Francisco his policies lead to wide-scale displacement of many cultural groups as well as great loss and abuse of the arts communities. So as we, the working class, teachers, artists, service industries, and families are displaced, the bulk of which are moving East, we'll have to see the name of one of those responsible emblazoned on the bridge while we leave.

No word yet from the Department of Public Works about how long the rogue sign might stay up. Best you get a glimpse of it while it's still up.

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Devin Holt

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