Prohibition was of course a disaster - it backfired massively all around the United States. It was a huge win for gangsters and bootleggers across the nation. It pushed drinking underground and made half the population technically criminals. In this strange period, Los Angeles boasted its own special history - one of corruption, speakeasies, and forgotten tunnels.
There are 11 miles of service tunnels beneath the streets of LA. These became the conduits of smuggling and the passageways to the basement speakeasies. Most of the tunnels are blocked off today, but there are some that are accessible, and even a guided tour that can guide one down into them.
About The Tunnels In Los Angeles
New York City with its well-developed metro, long history, and being so car unfriendly is well known for its many tunnels. Learn about the hidden tunnels under NYC here. But LA is less obvious. On the surface, it looks like a city designed for freeways, but those freeways are not so old. A hundred years ago the tight downtown area was congested with traffic and tunnels were burrowed beneath the city to solve the transportation issues.
There is even a tunnel underneath the Las Vegas Strip. See here for some open secrets about this tunnel.
While most of the tunnels in LA are service tunnels, there are more than just the service tunnels beneath the streets of LA. Some of these tunnels were for streetcars, others were for other things like moving cash. Others still were for illegal hooch. There are also abandoned subway and equestrian tunnels.
Construction of these various tunnels began as far back as the 19th century. At around 1901 workers dug beneath the Bunker and Hill Street area (this tunnel was to mitigate the traffic congestion). Pacific Electric Red Cars built their own system of tunnels. Smaller passageways were built to link different buildings (like the Hotel Rosslyn). But the years of use of these tunnels for their intended purpose were short-lived, and many were abandoned by 1920 - just in time for the Prohibition.
Stories and rumors abound of how these tunnels have been used by police to transport prisoners and bank security to transport large amounts of cash. Then there are the stories of mobsters storing bodies down there and underground parties for boozing it up in a national in prohibition. Unbelievably many of the tunnels were forgotten and lost to time as they were never properly mapped.
- Length: 11 Miles Of Service Tunnels Beneath LA
Accessing The Tunnels
Today most of these tunnels are difficult to visit. They are mostly closed off, while some remain accessible (some are even used as filming locations).
One way of accessing the tunnels is from an elevator hidden behind the Hall of Records on Temple Street. If one can access this subterranean world, one will be confronted with passageways of street art, old machinery, and iron gates that cut off access to parts of the tunnels considered unsafe.
- Note: Officially The Tunnels Are Closed To The Public
Former Speakeasy At The King Eddy Saloon
One of the most well-known conduits to this underground speakeasy world is King Eddy Saloon. Remarkably this saloon has endured for over 100 years. During the days of the Prohibition the owner, King Eddy opened a speakeasy in its basement. Its upstairs front was that of a piano store.
- Address: 131 E 5th St, Los Angeles, CA 90013
- Official Christening: The King Eddy Came To The Open On Repeal Day 1933
- Number Of Speakeasies: An Estimated 400 Speakeasies Operated In LA In The Prohibition
- Duration: The Prohibition Lasted 13 Years (1920 to 1933)
- Corruption: Back The LA Is Regarded to Have Been On Of The Nation's Most Corrupt Cities
Tours Of Underground Tunnels In Los Angeles
For those seeking tours of this forgotten underground world contact Cartwheel Art Tours. They offer a range of custom tours of Los Angeles and explore a range of aspects of this historic city. As all their tours are custom tours, there are no public tickets available. One should contact time directly for more information. With their custom underground tours they say:
"On the Underground LA tour, explore the city’s “underground” past, ranging from famous Prohibition-era murders to hidden speakeasies haunted by the fashionable Hollywood elite"
- Cost: $85 Per Person
- Duration: 2.5 Hours
- Meeting Location: Cole’s at 118 E. 6th Street, Los Angeles 90014
- Note: Guests Are Required To Sign Forms Swearing They Will Not Disclose The Location Of The Speakeasies
Today the city of Los Angeles boasts many mysteries but perhaps the tunnels beneath the city and their use in the days of Prohibition are one of the most compelling.