SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — Reports of an extensive network of underground escape tunnels beneath former gay bars threatens to delay a major development project in San Francisco. But KPIX5 has learned the tales about a tunnel system appear to be unfounded.
The property at 950 Market Street, situated where mid-Market meets the Tenderloin, has long been ramshackle. Developers plan to demolish it soon and build a 12-story condo and hotel complex providing about 1,000 jobs during construction and 200 more when the hotel is finished.
Renderings of the proposed project show floor to ceiling glass windows and a sleek, modern exterior.
But some local activists have asked the planning commission to stall the project, claiming they have found evidence of historical significance to the LGBT community.
The Bay Area Reporter has detailed some of the former LGBT bars that once occupied that block, such as the Old Crow Bar and the Silver Rail.
Nate Allbee, a former aide for San Francisco Supervisor David Campos, provided KPIX5 some photos which allegedly showed an extensive network of tunnels under some former gay bars that were once outlawed in the city.
“Police would come and raid LGBT bars and be very violent and take people away to prison,” Allbee said. “So if they heard a raid was about to happen, they could have used these tunnels to escape the raids.”
Allbee did not snap the photos himself. He said he could not tell us where he got them, but insists there is a network of tunnels.
SFist reported Allbee’s photos and notes that activists maintain that a “previous study conducted by preservationist architecture firm Page & Turnbull failed to adequately address the cultural significance of the sites.”
But the developer says, no way.
“This is the first time we’ve heard that there is a tunnel…” said Joy Ou, president of Group I. “As far as we’re concerned, there is no tunnel.”
To settle the matter, KPIX5 asked the property owner to let us inside. We found an extensive basement that leads from the front of the building on Market Street to the back exit on Turk Street. But the basement has walls on all sides and does not appear to connect to any other property.
We took a video of our walk-through and our search for the network of tunnels.
It may turn out somebody finds tunnels under other properties, and that the area could still be deemed important in LGBT history, but we found no evidence of any network of underground tunnels.
The San Francisco Planning Commission approved the project, without delay.
Still, Albee said he plans to appeal to the Board of Supervisors and that appeal could stall construction at 950 Market St.