Saturday, April 11, 2015

Photo Essay: Into the Abyss of Downtown LA's Underground Tunnels

Los Angeles is a town that has gotten away with hiding behind a veneer of glitz and glamour, a silver screen sheen that makes it seem like everything here is fancy. But this city has a seedy underbelly: it will go down in history as the site of the most mysterious and grizzly murders, home to the notorious and the nefarious (Mickey Cohen, Al Capone, Charles Manson, O.J. Simpson, the Black Dahlia).

After all that, a little bootlegging during prohibition doesn't seem so bad.

Speakeasy-style cocktail lounges have become popular with the renewed interest in classic mixology, but LA is home to some actual, real speakeasies – many of which have sat in hiding for years, and are still being discovered – as well as the underground tunnels that once led to them. Reportedly, there are at least 11 miles of those underground walkways, plus the abandoned subway tunnels and equestrian tunnels used to transport criminals (or anything illicit) safely and securely.

I set out to find one of the best-known, and shortest, of such tunnels: between the Hall of Records and the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration in the Civic Center area of Downtown LA.

It took me two tries on my subterranean adventure, but I got there...eventually.



It turns out, I could've started at either building and end up in the other one...



...but I began my journey (on both tries) at the 1962 Richard Neutra-designed Hall of Records...



...a pretty cool Modernist building worth walking into anyway.



The tunnels can't be so secret, because there are several signs throughout the park about them...



...even though technically they're condemned because of sustained earthquake damage.



I took a scary elevator down to every floor below ground...



...weaving through stacks and stacks and boxes and boxes of records and archives...



...but my misdirected wanderings led me into the parking garage, stuck and lost. I had to abort and return later.



Three months had passed, and I finally made my way back, actually finding the tunnels this time, identifying them by those unmistakable "SOUND HORN" signs.



Apparently carts like this would once zoom down these long hallways and clip around corners...



...making it necessary for them to announce themselves so as not to crash on a blind curve.



But these days, there's hardly anything moving down there, except the cool breeze from the air conditioning...



...which soon turned into a warm blast of air as I went deeper, past a disturbing chute...



...some fenced-off areas...



...and equipment...



...until the path dead-ends.



But with all those corners, the tunnel isn't just a straight line to the Hall of Administration...



...so I wandered down there for a while, poking around every turn...



...until ascending the escalator which was to be my egress...



...and emerging on the other side into the Paul R. Williams-designed Hall of Administration, just across the street from the Hall of Records.

In this town, you never quite know what might be underfoot.

Related Posts:
Underneath the City (Hall)
Photo Essay: Searching for Gold Under Scotty's Castle
Photo Essay: Eagle Mining Company's Underground Tunnels
I've Outdone Myself Again
Downtown LA's Upwards Build into the Open Air
Looking Up from the Streets of Downtown LA