Tacoma Urbanist

Feb. 20, 2009 at 12:35am

Growing Evidence Supports Existence of Chinese Tunnels Under Tacoma

Photographic documentation, never seen before, of a portion of the tunnels below downtown Tacoma.

Here, an intersection of the tunnels is revealed, with one branch heading towards the bay and another transversing down Pacific Avenue.

Although this area appears to be solid ground during the day, the lights from the illuminated tunnels reveal the Labyrinth below Tacoma's streets and sidewalks.


These photographs were taken on the 700 block of Pacific Avenue outside of Capers at approximately 2130 on 19 February 2009.  Capers is now open for dinner these days under the new ownership.

comments [20]  |  posted under Tacoma


by Crenshaw Sepulveda on 2/20/2009 @ 12:54am
It it not too late, there is still time to seal off the tunnels and keep the mole people at bay. On top of everything else, Tacoma does not need an invasion of the mole people. You have been warned.

by boearc on 2/20/2009 @ 7:24am
Ah - vaulted sidewalks do not correspond directly with 'underground smuggling tunnels.' My understanding of the mythical tunnels is that they are actually over on the North side of the Old City Hall and run down to Half Moon Bay.

by Mofo from the Hood on 2/20/2009 @ 7:58am
The prospect of finding fossilized chop sticks sounds fascinating.

by ixia on 2/20/2009 @ 8:22am
HA! I knew it!

by zastica on 2/20/2009 @ 9:11am
Don't forget this article, from July of 2008: www.zastica.com/entries/tacomas-undergro...

by morgan on 2/20/2009 @ 9:26am
I heard the railroad built tunnels from the hotel they were building (now Stadium High) to their headquarters at 7th & Pacific.

by Nick on 2/20/2009 @ 9:28am
Looks like probably just valuted sidewalks for the bulding's basement . . . but you never know, maybe that's why they're valuted in the first place?

by Dave_L on 2/20/2009 @ 4:44pm
I love your spin on things, EB. And I'm glad this story keeps resurfacing, so to speak.

That's a nice article, zastica. More here:


Or search www.historylink.org/ for Dunkelberger's essay #7379

by Erik on 2/20/2009 @ 4:51pm
Looks like probably just valuted sidewalks for the bulding's basement . . . but you never know, maybe that's why they're valuted in the first place?

Yes, the section with the lights is certainly vaulted. They placed heavy glass in to allow some light through many years ago.

And I'm glad this story keeps resurrfacing.

No one has really looked into Tacoma's underground, they end up just making statements without checkout out what really is left of it.

BTW, here is Seattle Underground tour site:



When Bill and Shirley arrived to give the first public tour, Pioneer Place Park, �was packed with people holding dollar bills. We took 500 people on tours that day.�

The Speidels soon scheduled public tours: The Underground Tour finally was opened to the public. Soon after, the mayor was presented with 100,000 names on a petition, and in May, 1970, the Seattle City Council adopted an ordinance naming 20 square blocks in Pioneer Square an Historic District. Later, Pioneer Square became the city's first neighborhood to be so listed in the National Register of Historic Places.


Tacoma has yet to tap this vast resource.

by boearc on 2/20/2009 @ 5:11pm
Erik - Since Downtown Tacoma is built over hard-pan and rock (with perched water issues) while Seattle was built over fill that allowed whole stories to sink into the swamp, there is limited potential for a Darren McGavin to go running around underground Night Stalking in T-Town. But if you score an Infamous Tacoma Tour - sign me up.

by Dave_L on 2/20/2009 @ 5:24pm
Ha - Darren McGavin / Kolchak - I haven't thought about that in a long time.

Born in Spokane, Wash., McGavin was sketchy in interviews about his childhood. He told TV Guide in 1973 that he was a constant runaway at 10 and 11, and as a teen lived in warehouses in Tacoma, Wash., and dodged the police and welfare workers.

Port Townsend (where Jack London supposedly spent a night in jail) also has a tunnel rumors, although this article debunks that theory: www.ptchamber.org/history/shipping.html


by Erik on 2/20/2009 @ 5:37pm
...if you score an Infamous Tacoma Tour - sign me up.

Certainly. I appreciate your comments David. Yet, there is more to Tacoma than one can see having coffee at Tullys.

Tacoma has a lot of history I don't think a lot of people like to talk about.

by Mofo from the Hood on 2/21/2009 @ 8:16am
Well Erik, here's a footnote in Tacoma history that I seldom share:

According to rice paper documents found in a silk-lined mahogany box hidden in the walls of this storefront, this Pacific Avenue building was originally a rickshaw factory. Chinese-Tacoman owner Wing Tip Shu was the notorious underground racketeer who held the monopoly on approved rickshaws used within the tunnels.*

*I ask that readers maintain a healthy skepticism of this story until it is confirmed as fact by wikipedia.com.

by Erik on 2/21/2009 @ 5:45pm
Some good information here, though I don't agree with all of the conclusions:

72 years ago, a man named William Zimmerman sat down to tell a story about "mysterious Chinese tunnels" to the U.S. government. That interview was conducted as part of the Federal Writers' Project, and it can be read online in a series of typewritten documents hosted by the Library of Congress.

Zimmerman claims that "mysterious" tunnels honeycombed the ground beneath the city of Tacoma, Washington. These would soon become known as "Shanghai tunnels," because city dwellers were allegedly kidnapped via these underground routes which always led west to the docks only to be shipped off to Shanghai, an impossibly other world across the ocean. There, they'd be sold into slavery.


Believe it.

From Stephen Cysewski:

[Image: Entries to Tacoma's mysterious Chinese underworld? Photo by Stephen Cysewski].

by Erik on 2/21/2009 @ 5:49pm
Meanwhile, that same year 1936 a 39-year old man named V.W. Jenkins sat down with a representative of the Federal Writers' Project, and he had this story to tell:

In the spring of 1935 when the City Light Department was placing electric power conduits under ground, workmen digging a trench in the alley between Pacific Avenue and 'A' Street at a point about 75 feet south of 7th Street, just back of the State Hotel, crosscut an old tunnel about ten feet below the surface of the ground. This tunnel was about three feet wide by five feet high, and tended in a southwesterly direction under the State Hotel, and in the opposite direction southeasterly toward Commencement Bay. I entered the tunnel and walked about 40 or 50 feet in each direction from the opening which we had encountered. There it went under the hotel the tunnel dipped sharply to pass under the concrete footings of the rear wall, proving that the tunnel was dug after the hotel had been built. In the other direction the tunnel had a sharp turn to the left, and after several feet, a gradual curve to the right, so that it was again tending in the same direction as at the opening. About 50 feet from the opening on the Bay side the tunnel began to dip and in another ten feet began to decline very sharply so that it would have been necessary to use a rope to descend safely on the met slippery floor. The brow of the bluff overlooking the waterfront is but a short distance from this point, explaining the need for the rapid downward slope, although it is probable that farther on there is a turn, either right or left, and that the tunnel was dug at an easier grade before emerging at a lower level.

by Mofo from the Hood on 2/22/2009 @ 12:22am
Strange but True: Tacoma's Chinese tunnels were dug by imported Welsh miners.

by Chris Van Vechten on 2/22/2009 @ 9:12am
Even if I was Chinese, I still wouldn't use chopsticks.

by Mofo from the Hood on 2/22/2009 @ 11:11am
DID YOU KNOW?: The Shaoyang Tunnel was moved from 7th and Pacific Avenue by Northern Pacific Railroad and renamed the Ruston Tunnel.

by adamb on 1/22/2012 @ 9:47am
the lights under the the street on pacific are in fact vaulted sidewalks. much like seattle at one point in thier history tacoma thought it would be a good idea to raise the streets after the buildings were already built. pretty cool to see from the underside. my daughte and i did find what is supposed to be the entrance to one of the mysterious chinese tunnels under a building on Pacific.

by Jesse on 1/22/2012 @ 9:56am
With the new Pac Ave LID, are they going to install glass blocks on the sidewalk again?