Although Sacramento's bright idea to name the western span of the Bay Bridge in honor of noted local hat wearer Willie Brown was met with derision locally, the effort did remind us of a long-lost attempt to name the entire bridge after noted San Francisco eccentric Norton I, the self-proclaimed "Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico."
Emperor Norton is perhaps best known for declaring use of the word "Frisco" a misdemeanor way back in 1872 (among other things), but his connection to the Bay Bridge stretches back to well before the span opened in 1936. Although he was quite possibly very much insane, he had a few visionary moments, including when he proclaimed the need for a bridge and a tunnel to cross the bay from Oakland to San Francisco, passing through Yerba Buena (then Goat Island) in the process:
WHEREAS, we issued our decree ordering the citizens of San Francisco and Oakland to appropriate funds for the survey of a suspension bridge from Oakland Point via Goat Island; also for a tunnel; and to ascertain which is the best project; and whereas the said citizens have hitherto neglected to notice our said decree; and whereas we are determined our authority shall be fully respected; now, therefore, we do hereby command the arrest by the army of both the Boards of City Fathers if they persist in neglecting our decrees.
Given under our royal hand and seal at San Francisco, this 17th day of September, 1872.
During his 21-year reign, Norton was known for parading about town in a uniform and fancy hat examining and commenting on the condition of sidewalks and cable cars (so, not all that unlike Willie Brown, actually). Now, to give him the recognition some feel he deserves, a Change.org petition has popped up to restart the effort to name the bridge after him. As of this writing, the petition has only 84 signatures, which will be sent to legislators.
This isn't the first time someone has suggested naming the bridge for Emperor Norton either. Back in 2004 Chronicle cartoonist Phil Frank spearheaded a similar effort that garnered support from a handful of local historians as well as the Board of Supervisors. Unfortunately, the effort needed the support of the folks on the other end of the bridge and the City of Oakland shot the whole thing down.
Update: As a commenter points out, there's also a second petition on Petition Site.com that has over 400 signatures. Maybe if the two of these petitions join forces under Emperor Norton I, they'll achieve the goal of 1,000.