Friday, August 18, 2017

The Password Is ...

Coming from Texas, we don't think about buildings having basements or downtowns having underground passages. But we learned that Pendleton, Oregon offers "World Famous Underground Tours" and thought that we'd better check it out!

It seems that the idea of featuring Pendleton's Underground was not without controversy, as it sheltered many illegal businesses like gambling, bootlegging and prostitution. There is also much history there regarding the Chinese who were brought in as workers and treated rather badly.

The tour requires reservations and the group size is kept small, which we appreciated. Our tour guide was from the area and had led tours during her college days. She is back leading them once again and was very good. She led us out onto the sidewalk and then down a set of stairs into The Underground.

Our first stop was a Saloon. For much of  history Saloons were legal. But during prohibition they were illegal and underground was the place to be!

There were several Speakeasies located throughout the Underground, and this is the actual door from one of them. It had an additional "hatch" to cover the screened portion. Our guide told us that the secret password to enter this speakeasy was "Enter". Not too clever, but easy to remember!

Next was a Chinese Laundry. Chinese immigrants began coming into Oregon in the early 1850's. Most were miners but others came and opened various businesses. With the passage of the first Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 it became dangerous to be a Chinese businessmen. Many Chinese moved both their business and residence underground, where there was more security and strength in numbers.

This is the text from a laundry advertisement in 1885. The proprietor's name was Hop Sing (really!!) and he promised the cheapest prices with satisfaction guaranteed.

The Chinese kept largely to themselves during this period, and even had their own justice system and jail. Better to avoid the above-ground legal system whenever possible!

Underground lighting was by prism glass panels set into the sidewalk. Chemicals in the glass determined the color of the light, and the prism glass in this area took on a purple hue. Apparently you can find different colors in other parts of the country.

Originally there were hundreds of large panels set into the wooden sidewalk. As time passed most were removed, but some still exist. Proper young ladies were taught never to walk over the prism glass, lest someone below look up their skirt!!

Businesses occupied the underground for a variety of reasons. A large meat market was located there as it was cooler in the summer and their large freezers operated best below the surface. This business had one of the first ammonia freezers in the area and sold surplus ice in addition to meat.

During WWII a game room was set up to provide "wholesome" entertainment for soldiers and others. There were several Duckpin bowling alleys (smaller to save space) along with other games.

Both pins and balls are much smaller, but the game is the same. Teenage boys competed fiercely for the job of Pin-Setter, as it paid 1 cent per pin!

Below the floor of the Underground we were able to look down into a water well. The water table was only a few feet below us, and in wet years parts of the Underground flood.

I turns out that not all of the illegal businesses were located below ground. Stayed tuned for a visit to the Cozy Rooms, next!



  1. I think we have been on that tour, but I had forgotten the password.
    Great post.

    1. I thought that the two of you may have been there. Kind of in the neighborhood.