UPDATE: Developers say secret tunnels under San Francisco gay bars are a myth
This is truly amazing, and we had no earthly idea.
A fascinating story published this week in 48 Hills sheds light on a labyrinthine network of underground tunnels beneath San Francisco’s Tenderloin district.
Related: 10 Wild Milestones In The Twisted History Of San Francisco’s Sisters Of Perpetual Indulgence
Connected to watering holes from the ’30s and ’40s like The Old Crow, The Silver Rail, The Pirates Den, and the College Inn, the tunnels were used by gay men to escape police raids back in the day. (For true Goonies realness, there’s even Prohibition-era bottles lying in disused corners of the tunnel.)
Sadly, The Planning Commission is considering demolishing the tunnels to make way for a monstrous hotel and housing project.
Compton’s Cafeteria, fondly dubbed “the Stonewall of the West” because of drag queens’ ongoing battles with police raids, also runs the risk of being torn down. Community activists are vying to turn the area into a historic district while the project moves forward. Impossible to say what happens next.
Related: Why San Francisco Is The World’s Gay Mecca
The excellent article, worth reading in its entirely, can be seen here.
I have trouble believing tunnels constructed for bars that “opened in the 1930s and ’40s” would have left-over bottles from Prohibition when Prohibition lasted from 1920 to 1933. The bars would have to have all opened and the tunnels completed by 1933 and I don’t understand why one would go to the expense of building a tunnel in 1932 when, by that time, the repeal of Prohibition was a near certainty. Moreover, the tunnels aren’t hidden or secreted, so, once the police raided the bar, they’d know about the tunnels, making them rather useless for an escape in future raids. I also don’t know of any contemporaneous accounts of the raids where any patron mentions escaping by tunnel.
These tunnels were almost certainly created for storage and have been maintained for such.
@MacAdvisor: The mention of Prohibition is misleading. The writer probably means “raids” because gay bars and homosexuality per se were illegal (until the 1960s), not raids from when alcohol was illegal 1920-1933.
As for the escapes, well, out-of-shape fat cops are not new. Maybe young gay guys easily outran them – even if they were in drag and high heels, lol – and they’d be more familiar with the tunnels. The cops would be busy busting the bartenders and patrons upstairs. Just use a little imagination.
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I’m old enough to remember gay bars being raided so I don’t take it lightly, but the gay “Underground Railroad” this conjured up makes me giggle despite myself. It’s just a tad hyperbolic, no? (Even if it wasn’t meant that way.)
I just read another article about these tunnels on another LGBT site that said how the tunnels were NOT used by patrons of gay/LGBT bars to escape police raids.
I’m sure there was more going on down there than run away gays
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