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Secret LGBT tunnel in the Tenderloin allegedly found, in peril

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SF, developers could destroy a major piece of queer history

Update: According to a KPIX report, the tunnels could very well be a myth. We have altered this article’s headline to reflect it. Curbed SF has updated the story.

A historic LGBT hiding place has been discovered under the big 950 Market project currently underway—specifically, a secret tunnel used by gay bar patrons in the 1930s to hide from police raids, and to move from bar to bar with out being seen.

The tunnel was brought to the public’s attention at a Harvey Milk Club meeting Tuesday night.

Brian Basinger, Director at AIDS Housing Alliance/SF, has now filed an appeal with the city’s Planning Department, asking for a one-month continuance to study of the queer space before they are torn down in order to make room for 242 market-rate housing units and 232 hotel rooms.

“Some of the first gay bars in the country were on that site,” says Nate Allbee, legacy business preservationist. The space used to be home to early gay bars like the Old Crow, the Pirates Den, the College Inn, and the Silver Rail.

“The whole neighborhood used to be called the Meat Rack,” Allbee adds.

The area is already a historic LGBT space, pre-dating the Castro’s legacy. The Compton's cafeteria riots, for example, took place around the corner from the meat rack.

Community activists now want a pore over the underground space to see what the Prohibition-era tunnels were used for, exactly, and how long. Antique items like a safe and bottles of Canadian Cub whiskey, reportedly dating back to the ’30s, have been found there too

According to Allbee, developers have yet to contact any LGBT group about the historic space.

“The entire intersection of Market, Mason, and Turk was an important hustling and cruising site where gay men went to socialize in an era when our existence was illegal,” says a letter sent to the Planning Commission signed by elected officials community activists. “These sites are connected by an intact underground tunnel system that patrons used to escape police raids and to avoid the loss of employment, family, and housing that were risked in those days by homosexual association.”

As for the tunnel, it is an important piece of history, which should go without saying.

Tim Redmond of 48 Hills notes, “This is a huge find, and I can’t believe anyone is seriously talking about demolishing them. There is so much history there...and this whole amazing infrastructure that allowed gay men to slip from bar to bar and avoid arrest.”

We will continue to report on this story as it unfolds.