Probably the person who best embodies San Francisco’s do-it-yourself spirit is Joshua Abraham Norton, who was born in England and later emigrated to the city to amass his fortune like so many others. But rather than pan for gold, Norton invested in Peruvian rice. A famine had cut off shipments from China, California’s main supplier of rice at the time, and the entrepreneurial Norton figured he could corner the market by signing away $25,000 of his inheritance in exchange for 200,000 pounds of rice from Peru, ready and waiting for distribution in the local harbor. Unfortunately, a new shipment of superior Peruvian rice arrived in San Francisco the very next day and others quickly followed. Norton’s ship, figuratively speaking, sank, and the once-popular businessman slipped out of the city in disgrace.
It was on Nov. 18, 1936, that the two sections of the main span of the Golden Gate Bridge were joined in the middle.
Courtesy Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation
Fast-forward six years, and a disheveled Norton — dressed in a ragged military uniform, a plumed top hat and with sword in hand — returned to San Francisco, declaring himself the emperor of the United States. At first, no one knew what to make of him. Had he gone crazy? But soon enough, “Emperor Norton” had charmed himself into the hearts and minds of locals and tourists with his public philosophical ramblings and bold declarations on political and social matters (he even demanded that anyone using the term Frisco to refer to San Francisco be fined, an order that most locals would still gladly agree with). He rode public transit for free; ate in the city’s best restaurants on the house; and even printed his own currency, which businesses happily accepted as payment. Sadly, though, on Jan. 8, 1880, Norton collapsed on the corner of California Street and Grant Avenue in downtown San Francisco and died. The following day, more than 10,000 people lined the city streets to pay homage.
Scheduled for Sunday, May 27, the Golden Gate Festival is the centerpiece of a year of birthday-related events and programs. Venues along the bay will host individual events, including an outdoor art installation at the Fort Mason Center and a 1930s music-and-dance festival at Pier 39. The city will showcase historic watercraft, vintage cars and other items from its past.
“75 Tributes to the Bridge” honors the Golden Gate all year long through a series of Bay Area public programs such as walking tours, informative exhibits and much more.
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Taking a cue from Norton, San Francisco has ?remained a breeding place of innovation and experiment, and we’re not just talking about the tech industry. On the green front, art and design studio Rebar created the city’s first temporary parklet (a modular urban park) in 2005 to draw attention to the fact that some neighborhoods need more outdoor space and, as such, could easily turn underused parking spaces into communal areas. Despite the project’s activist bent, its overall intention didn’t go unnoticed. In March 2010, the city opened its first official parklet at Divisadero and Hayes streets as part of the city’s Pavement to Parks program, a collaboration between the mayor’s office, the Department of Public Works, the City Planning Department and the Municipal Transportation Agency. Now there are 25 parklets citywide — in front of bars, outside of cafés and along Powell Street in the heart of the Union Square shopping district — each with its own design that caters to and is inspired by its surroundings.
Eccentric Joshua Abraham Norton, the self-proclaimed “emperor” of the United States
At the Residence, an unassuming cocktail lounge on 14th Street tucked between the city’s Castro and Duboce Triangle neighborhoods, the atmosphere is a mix of homey and updated retro, with cushy couches along the wall and minimal noise, making it an ideal spot for carrying on a conversation. It’s about as true to its name as a bar can be. And like so many similar establishments that have opened citywide over the last several years, the drinks are top-notch — like the tart, tequila-based pink cocktail Riding with Death, which calls to mind a homegrown Hell’s Angel on a Harley who has a taste more suited to demure sipping. It’s deceiving, sort of like San Francisco itself.