Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Underground Portland

Funny after Harding’s mention of my going underground, I actually did just that this weekend. My new friend David Schargel invited me to come down and join him on the Underground Portland Tour one of several Portland walking tours that can be found at www.portlandwalkingtours.com. Sunday was a beautiful day for a walk and one of my favorite hobbies is walking to historical Portland addresses.

We started near the oldest building in Portland, on the corner of SW Naito and Oak, built in 1857. It’s now covered in stucco, but the Dielschneider Building next door, has exposed brickwork and was built only two years later.

From there we walked along the waterfront, through the Memorial to the Japanese Internment. One thing I really appreciated was that our tour guide, David, did a great job of bringing details in to enhance our understanding and appreciation of the sites we visited.

I have been to the Memorial twice before and it is always moving, but the research David had done on the Japanese Community in Portland, what was known as Little Tokyo in 1940, brought home the magnitude of what was done to them. From the Memorial we walked up through what had been Little Tokyo and is now Chinatown.

For a couple of hours we walked through Old Town/Chinatown seeing old buildings and talking about such things as: the only state-sponsored and organized Rock Festival in history (Vortex I); firemen fighting over a burning building, back when Portland’s fire companies competed for business; men “crimped” into service on the clippers to China; and Portland’s Three Sirens Liverpool Liz, Nancy Boggs and Mary Cook.

We ended up in the basement at Old Town Pizza in what some say are Portland’s Shanghai Tunnels. This is a fun little argument that people have been quarreling over for years. Rumors of the Shanghai Tunnels go back a lot further than anyone can remember. The oldest that I know about, I just found out, goes back to the Fifties.

I don’t care how the argument comes out, but we know there are tunnels in the Old Town area. Some of those tunnels were used for loading goods onto ships. In fact anyone who grew up in Portland will tell you, most stores do their loading through tunnels in the sidewalks. Portland has very few alleys. We also know that people were impressed against their will into service on ships in Portland’s harbor.

Did they ever get “Shanghaied” through tunnels? Probably. Does it really matter? Who cares? It’s fun to poke around in the basements of old buildings and out under the sidewalks. At one point we turned off our flashlights and heard Stewart Holbrook’s wonderful story of “Bunco” Kelly crimping the dead guys. This is history as legend and history as fun.

David also carried a magic portfolio emblazoned “Keep Portland Weird” that contained photographs and historical documents of all kinds to back up the “legends”. The thing that intrigues me is that there are 12 tour guides and each does their own tour, based on their own interests. I’m thinking I might need to do this tour a few times. In fact I hear that at least one tour guide has an interest in Portland crime and has found stories on this blog helpful. All I can say to that is, “Thanks for reading and helping to keep these stories alive.”

My ideas for improvement: If I managed the Old Town Pizza where the tour ended I would have a bucket of iced beers, sodas and waters available at the end. I would have gladly paid for a cold drink after the hot basement. Make a deal with the Oyster Bar, it’s a great old building and a good stop on the tour, but it would have been nice to get a discount there like at Old Town Pizza. My partner and I went to the Oyster Bar after the tour and it was very nice.

For Halloween, how about a Murder Tour around dusk? If you need a guest “scare”-guide, let me know.


Blogger Tere said...

There was no need to use tunnels to Shanghai men (or women) as it was a legal activity until 1917. Shanghaiiers such as Larry Sullivan, the Grant Brothers - Jim Turk was in Tacoma - Joseph "Bunko" Kelley was in prison - used either police paddy wagons or a handsome cab service that specialized in the business. By 1890, the area of downtown, now Southwest Portland with "tunnels" was no longer part of the port system. The wharfs and piers along what is now the seawall (circa 1929) along Tom McCall Park were abandoned by then, and the tunnels, actually openings between adjoining basements, were no longer used.

Portland has an amazing history during that period, but the "Shanghai Tunnels" are a fantasy of someone trying to build a business out of nothing. Sorry.

11:47 AM  
Blogger jd chandler said...


Thanks for reading and commenting. I didn't mention Jim Turk in the post, but I'm pretty sure he was active here in Portland as well. I don't remember the year that Bunco Kelly went to jail, but I'm pretty sure it was after 1890 (maybe '93?).

Most of the crimping in Old Town was done thorugh the Sailor's Boarding Houses, but since you know about Sullivan and the Grant Brothers you probably already know that.

The "tunnels" that are part of this tour are not in southwest Portland -- they are in northwest mostly in the Old Town area -- they are connectors under the streets between basements and normal loading bays from the sidewalk into the basements of some buildings.

In southwest Portland the only "tunnels" I know about are the utility tunnels that were put in around WWI -- David Schargel has some maps of these, but they were not used for loading.

You are correct, though, that Portland does not have an underground city (like Seattle) or Shanghai tunnels.

2:43 PM  
Blogger Nadine said...

While "Hi-Jacking" or "shanghaiing" may not have been specifically illegal, it was certainly NOT an aboveboard business. One of the reasons that it was legal was due to the pay-offs to officials in Portland. Also, the tunnels were used not only to retain the services of the unwilling, but to transport cargo stolen by sailors of those boats that did not pay fairly. Some of the stolen "booty" being delivered, via the tunnels, to the very basements of the businesses to which it was sold.

It also bears mentioning that, if you've ever met a drunken sailor, you'd know that the element of surprise was a much needed advantage.

Another interesting fact: ale steins of the day had glass bottoms, such that a man might look into the bottom of his pint and assure himself that coin had not been placed in it, for if a man drank a pint that did have moneys in it, he was legally bound to employment by whom so ever put said coin into the mans drink.

I, myself, have crewed on square riggers and other historical ships. So, this info really is coming from someone who has lived and worked in historically accurate environments pertaining the the great Age of Sail.

4:27 PM  
Blogger jd chandler said...


Thanks for the great comment. Thanks for reading too.

8:12 PM  
Blogger Candi said...

Hi JD, Tere & Nadine ,

Hi my name is Candi and I just happened onto your wonderful blog. JD I would very much like to meet with you and sit down for a very insightful chat. You see I don't want to ever argue with anyone , I just want to bring forth the truth. You see I know for a fact that the "tunnels" were used for shanghaiing. The reason I can quote this as a fact is that my husbands great grandfather and his cousin and thier children were the builders of the tunnels and would come home and tell what they saw down there. I have done extensive research on Portland and not always her "rosy" past. Yes I too have looked at "Liverpool Liz" and know where she is buried. We have also looked into "Myterious Billy Smith" and the fight clubs of Portland. Also the rest of the "Shanghiaers" and yes there were many and not only until 1917. I am trying to get the real truth out. I think if there is going to be "stories" there should be truth and proof behind them.
You can reach me anytime at cdegrande@gmail.com
Thank You Everyone,
Candi :-)

3:44 PM  

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