Who or What is the N-Judah Named After, Anyway?

Someone asked me the other day why the “N-Judah” was called the “N-Judah” and not something else. Some confuse the letters with the name of the system – for example, the railway system is Chicago is often called the “L” or “El” – but that is an abbreviation of “Elevated” (since these are elevated rail systems).
Anyway, what was the question? Right, the “N-Judah”.
If you look at a map of the Muni System, the rail car lines are the J-Church, the K-Ingleside , the L-Taraval, the M-Ocean View and of course, the N-Judah. The letters are left over from when there were not just a few rail lines, but actually a LOT more, all operated in groups by different private companies. There once was an A-line, a B-line, and so on. Only the ones rolling remain in service. Hence the letters.
But what about “Judah?” The name comes from Judah Street, in San Francisco’s Sunset District, where the line runs until it turns on to Irving (which, as you pass UCSF becomes Carl, even though you’re on the same street) and on into downtown and beyond.
That’s part of the answer, here’s the fun part: the name of the street itself is named after Theodore Judah, who was the engineer who first conceived of the idea of a transcontinental railway. Often called “Crazy Judah” by his contemporaries, he nonetheless pursued his dream of one railroad system bringing the nation together. A short bio fills in some details, most notably that he did not live to see completion of the line due to yellow fever.
Bear in mind that San Francisco, and California for years were dominated by railroad tycoons – in fact many of the state’s political insititutions were formed to fight against the domination of life by these guys. When you hear names locally like Crocker (once a bank), Huntington (as in Huntington Beach, Park Hotel in SF, and more) Stanford (as in University!) and more, you’re hearing the names of the people who were dominant in contemporary life in the 1800s and the turn of the century.
Now you know – impress your friends at the bar sometime with your rapier like wit and knowledge of city history!
PS: And for an extra dose of trivia, take a look at this interesting review of San Francisco’s “Carville” – an area on the west side of the city where people built housing out of abandonted cable cars after the 1906 quake. Some of these houses are still in use, although after 100 years they have been covered up with modern day flourishes.
There are also a few homes left that are left over from the many small houses built in Golden Gate Park to house people after the quake. Once their lots had been cleared, many peopel hitched up a horse team, and towed a couple of the small cabins back to their lot, and started over.

This entry was posted in Local History. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.