Thursday, February 26, 2009

Looking for Chinatown? Take the tunnel!

Drugs! Sex! Scandal! The mob! Let me guess, you’re first thought is Little Italy, right? Wrong. Backtrack out of North Beach a little bit and you'll find yourself in Chinatown. What may seem like a friendly place with some of the best dim sum around has some darker tales to tell.

Photo taken by Jarek Piórkowski

Let me guess (again), you’re thinking illegal fireworks and other nifty back-of-the-store deals, right? Wrong. We’re talking even darker. That’s right! We’re talking about the Chinatown tunnels. You might be asking yourself, “What are you talking about?" Well, it’s time to stop guessing and start digging!

Chinatown has not always been a San Francisco destination; it’s been more commonly associated with being related to the stranger and to the darker side of the occult. So drinking herbal potions made of crushed rhino horn isn’t your cup of tea? Well, skip the green tea and keep on the look out for the real party place, an opium den.

You may not find a den today, but you may find the remnants of one by looking below your feet. Although there is no proof, rumor has it that there' s a wide system of tunnels below Chinatown that have been used for everything from opium dens to smuggling slave girls to mobsters escaping from the police! According to Dr. Weirde, the 1906 earthquake covered up most of these tunnels, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be found. Still think it’s a rumor?

The History Channel show Cities of the Underworld recently visited San Francisco, and one of the places they checked out were these exact tunnels. Recently, someone mentioned to me that even PG&E knows of their existence and even location, so maybe a little more digging will bring us deeper into the underbelly. Supposedly one of the entrances can be found in the Donaldina Cameron House, which housed its share of refugees from the slave trade in the past.

This video was found on YouTube. For the full clip, please visit the History Channel

If you want to try your luck before digging, how about a fortune cookie? If you're lucky, it'll lead you in the right direction.


  1. Bay Area Bizarre is an entertaining and creative approach to the unknown histories of San Francisco. It was alot of fun to read and kept me intrigued all the way through. Although both of your posts are interesting and I enjoyed reading them, it also seemed as though you were trying to promote somthing. If that is the case you are a good salesman because I am sold! If that is not the case the only recommendation I have is to be more informational and provide more explanation. Overall this is one of my favorite blogs in the class.

  2. Frisbie Records, first of I have to comment on this name; are you familiar with "Bang the Chains"? If not YouTube that ish, I think you will amazed by your results.
    Anyways I really like the premise of your blog spot. It seems like it is focused and can be obscurely about anything Bay Area related. I am having a difficult time focusing or figuring out how my blogs tie into the title of the blog spot. Regardless of my own reflection this seem really interesting and I love that show on the HIstory channel. I recently saw on Cities of the Underground, the tunnels of Boston. These would be somewhat older tunnels used during the Revolutionary War. I have no doubt in my mind that these tunnels in San Francisco's Chinatown did once exist or still do. I think it would be interesting if you did a follow up blog with some further research on this topic. So there it is I bit and am not curious, pull this fish out of water.

  3. Nice linkage and content. I'm not a big fan of that tunnel leading to's damp, dirty and smells. Sadly, that describes most of Chinatown. I went on a Chinatown tour for a class and we stopped at the Cameron House and iirc they denied the existence of any tunnels. But we did get to pass my the day care from "The Pursuit of Happyness"! It was located in this alley by I think the Gordon J. Lau elementary school. I enjoyed your style of writing and the ghost buster references. Which reminds me, did that new ghost buster game ever come out? Reading your posts reminded me about the Maltese Falcon, I think they have could be the subject of one of your posts.

  4. The story of the underground tunnels in Chinatown is fascinating. The Youtube insert was interesting, although personally I don't like its sensationalist approach and background music. The true story alone is sensationalist enough -- and there is a lot of literature on this dark history as well. It's not just a rumor. A side note: The Donaldina Cameron House didn't "house the slave trade." It housed refugees from the slave trade.

  5. Wha!? Hidden tunnels? Opium dens? Tell me more! Ha, great post. And great idea for a blog. I had no idea, and I'm sure lots of people had no idea about the "rumors" that swirl around. Also, I enjoyed your writing style, quick and fun. I think you're off to a great start.

  6. wow, mysterious post! i really like it! i didn't know about them tunnels until this blog, and now i want to know more! ah, opium dens...sounds like a good time. i also want to say that i really enjoy the concept for this blog and will be one that i'll follow closely.

  7. I had a previous coworker who was riding a skateboard down the tunnel, hit a rock and swerved into the road a little, and got nicked by a car. She is braver than I am for even daring to skateboard through their (and also more coordinated than myself) and obviously her bravery didn't pay off. I think she told me she had a couple fractures in her leg as a result (since that's what got hit by the car). Good post, I always enjoy learning new things about the city from people who have done the research. What comes next?