Extra! Extra! “The Terrible Tunnel” in Downtown

October 4, 2012

Angels Flight (chapter 3, p130-135) was originally located by the 3rd Street Tunnel – just at the end of the block from where it is now. Today that tunnel is almost invisible under buildings, but at the time it was considered to be an engineering marvel, even if it was always surrounded by controversy and seemed cursed by accidents. It took at least six lives during construction, and after work began in early 1899 numerous accidents led the Los Angeles Times to call it the “Terrible Tunnel”, then on January 21, 1900 came the most serious of them all.

Thirteen men were trapped following a cave-in, and though the frantic efforts of the rescuers bought ten men out alive (the Los Angeles Herald front page described a “Voice From a Living Tomb”), the remaining three died. The Carpenters Union #428 immediately protested the “reckless and criminal manner” of work being done, but just a few months later on July 9, Albert Williams, 40, was another victim. He suffered a broken back, broken legs and cracked ribs, his face “horribly mutilated” when it was driven into the crowbar he was holding, when he was crushed by falling clay estimated to weigh around 250 pounds. His three children were described as now “practically orphans”.

Later that year on November 25 the two ends of the tunnel were joined, and in March 1901 it was opened to the public. By 1904 the tunnel was handling 1,500 horse teams and 4,700 pedestrians a day, though the opening of the 2nd Street Tunnel in 1924 only briefly slowed the overwhelming tide of the automobile. Ironically, the 2nd Street Tunnel is now often used in car commercials, and if you go downtown on a Sunday there’s a good chance you’ll see a film crew at work somewhere (it also featured in the movie Blade Runner).