Secret Tunnels of Chinatown

images of secret tunnels of Chinatown

The 1906 earthquake and fire unearthed the vast system of secret tunnels beneath Chinatown in San Francisco. Many believe the catacombs stretched throughout the sixteen-block enclave and into North Beach. The leaders of the tongs guarded the whereabouts of entrances to these passageways with their lives. The underpasses hid thriving opium dens (upper left photo), torture and execution chambers as well as escape routes that confounded authorities for decades. Mayor Eugene Schmitz (mayor 1902-1907) and attorney Abe Ruef would use their influence to scare Chinese out of their downtown enclave.

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Secret Tunnels of San Francisco – Part 2

A secret tunnel runs under the former San Francisco law office of Melvin Belli (1907-1996), the “King of Torts”, whose client list included Errol Flynn, Muhammad Ali, The Rolling Stones, Mae West, Jack Ruby, and others. After winning a court case, Belli would raise a Jolly Roger flag over his office building and fire a cannon, mounted on the roof, to announce the victory and the impending party. The structure at 722 Montgomery Street in the Barbary Coast District was built circa 1850. Belli claimed that it was a Gold Rush era brothel, later to become the Melodeon Theater where one of the most acclaimed and beloved entertainers in the City’s history performed. Lotta Crabtree was a noted singer with a zealous fan base. (more…)

Secret Tunnels of San Francisco

image of House of ShieldsWhen America went dry during Prohibition, San Francisco simply went underground, digging secret tunnels. The House of Shields was established in 1908 and is presently located at 39 New Montgomery St. As you enter under an alluring neon sign right out of a Bogie movie, you saunter across a mosaic tiled floor to a grand bar. Textured panels and columns that adorn it provide a reassuring sturdiness that fits the bar’s authenticity. A thick bar rail, flat stools, paneled walls, and dark booths confirm the fact that yes, this is a real, historic tavern. To gain access to bootleg whiskey (as well as women) during Prohibition, a tunnel was built connecting the laundry room of the Palace Hotel to the above establishment, which was across the street. The House of Shields was a former gentlemen’s club where women were not allowed until 1976. (more…)

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