Jump to content

AF needs funding again

- - - - -

San Francisco Chinatown Secret Tunnels


5 replies to this topic

#1 Mike.Lee620

    faq.asianfanatics.net

  • AF-n00b
  • Pip
  • 2 posts

Posted 07 November 2011 - 01:13 AM

A few months ago, I came across an article written about the secret tunnels of San Francisco Chinatown. (http://www.sfgate.co...fbeat/city.html) . When the Chinese first came to San Francisco in the 19th Century, tong members and gangsters dug secret tunnels to evade police from detecting opium use, prostitution, and among other illegal activities. These long and winding tunnels allowed someone to travel from one location to another with ease. In 1906, San Francisco suffered from a major earthquake and a widespread fire; most, if not all, buildings in Chinatown were burnt down to the ground. Any existing tunnels would have been sealed by debris or collapsed on its own. Today, the existence of secret tunnels remains an urban legend. Older Chinese claim that they have seen these tunnels when they were a child. Chinatown tour guide would tell you that these tunnels still exist and is sealed with metal grates which can easily seen on the streets of Chinatown. But, I highly doubt these manholes bout are the very same tunnels that the Chinese dug over 100 years ago.

Walking through the streets of Chinatown, one will notice each structure has a staircase that descends to a basement. I wonder if there are still any so called secret tunnels behind these basements that merchants and landlord don’t even know about it. According to former San Francisco Police Chief Jesse Cook, who served as a sergeant in the Chinatown Squad, he wrote in his 1931 SF Police and Peace Journal, that there is no such thing as secret tunnels in Chinatown. He explains:

“True, you could go from one cellar to another, but that is all. In order to deceive the people, the Chinese guides would take them in on Grant Avenue, between California and Sacramento Streets, going down into a cellar. From this they would go downstairs into the next cellar, and so on, sometimes going into six or seven. These basements, however, were all connected with the stores on Sacramento Street. Should you go from any one of these basements toward Sacramento Street, you would, of course, come to the cellar of some Sacramento Street store, and all you had to do was to go up one flight of stairs to Sacramento Street. The guides naturally would not allow anyone to do this. They would bring the people back the same way that they came and tell them that they had been down six or seven stories. The people of course believed them, but at no time were they ever over one story below the street.

The Chinese Theatre was also a good place to take tourists. The guides would take them in the entrance on Washington Street and from there down into the basement. This basement led down into another cellar where the guides would tell the people that they were now two stories under the ground. At this time they would show them the Chinese actors’ dressing rooms and sleeping quarters. Had the door at the end of the room been opened, the stage of the theatre would have been seen. The people had been told they were two stories under ground, however, and they believed it.

The nearest thing to an underground passage that I ever saw was in 1905 when with Captain Matheson, then a patrolman, I went through a passageway leading from Spofford alley into the basement of Old Tie Loy Lottery Company on Waverly place. There were fourteen doors in this passageway, each door leading into a room so constructed that it appeared as though you were going down into the bowels of the earth. In reality you were only going down into the basement on Waverly place." (http://www.sfmuseum....hist9/cook.html)
The interconnected basements can still be seen in Chinatown if one is interested. Next time visiting, you can go to Ming Lee Trading Inc located at 768 Jackson Street. This is a grocery store that allows you to descend into its basement and then exit from another building next door.

As far as the secret tunnels goes, it still remain as an urban legend. However, the SFMTA will expand its transit route to Chinatown and begins its excavation in the near future. Hopefully, this 100+ year old myth can be solved by that time. If you want to know more about these secret tunnels, please check out my internet radio show here http://www.openskyra...pic.php?t=1163. Show is in Cantonese. Enjoy!!

Mike Lee.

#2 muddy

    faq.asianfanatics.net

  • Members+
  • PipPipPip
  • 584 posts

Posted 08 November 2011 - 12:20 AM

Oklahoma City had secret tunnels dug out by the Chinese when they were relocated from the coastal areas. and these tunnels really did exist, they were documented and many pictures were taken during excavations, when it was recently discovered again. its called the "underground Chinese city" if you want to google it.

#3 Mike.Lee620

    faq.asianfanatics.net

  • AF-n00b
  • Pip
  • 2 posts

Posted 08 November 2011 - 02:39 AM

Thanks Muddy...i will check it out

#4 Trambeline

    faq.asianfanatics.net

  • Members+
  • PipPipPip
  • 184 posts

Posted 18 December 2012 - 12:07 PM

Very interesting Mike and Muddy! This reminds me of the Prohibition period in America when many people hide their booze in secret chambers/doorways.

#5 DreamWeaver1337

    faq.asianfanatics.net

  • Members+
  • PipPipPip
  • 983 posts

Posted 23 December 2012 - 07:21 AM

I heard San Francisco is a city with great Asian American history behind it...

Edited by DreamWeaver1337, 23 December 2012 - 07:21 AM.


#6 mushr00m

    faq.asianfanatics.net

  • AF-newbie
  • PipPip
  • 20 posts

Posted 01 March 2013 - 07:41 AM

wow does this secret tunnel still exist? has anyone (resident of san fran)checked this out.
I wish i knew this early as i was vacationing there 3 years ago.





2 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 2 guests, 0 anonymous users