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Friday, August 21, 2009

Secret Tunnel

Did you ever have a nagging thought revolving around something unresolved? I recall reading in a secrets of New York City book that there was an underground tunnel in Chinatown, now some sort of shopping arcade. However, no one I knew had heard of such a place.

I do love to find secrets in New York City. This is increasingly hard to do, so this mystery would typically make the prospect of search and discovery all the more exciting. However, in this case, all of the individuals I queried, including a long-time resident of Chinatown for 30 years and a few members of the Chinese community, had no idea as to what I was referring to. I began to seriously question whether such a thing existed.

Some digging did finally uncover the existence of a tunnel on Doyers Street in Chinatown, but no address or precise location was given. I made an excursion to Doyers Street, a one-block alley between Pell Street and Chatham Square. This street, which makes a sharp 90° turn, was once known as the Bloody Angle, owing to the numerous shootings that took place there at one time. From the New York Times:

Doyers Street, a crooked, one-block street off Pell Street in Chinatown that was near the Bowery and the notorious Five Points intersection, offered an ideal place for ambushes during the wars between the On Leong and Hip Sing tongs in the late 19th and early 20th century. Tabloids of the day christened the angle in the street, and the police said that more murders occurred on that spot than in any other place in an American city.

I canvassed the entire street. There are many hair cutting salons on the street - it is sometimes known as "hair alley." At 5 Doyers Street, mid-block, I found a staircase leading down below ground. It did not have the charm of a secret historic tunnel at all, but it was an underground passageway. I learned that this was known as the Wing Fat shopping arcade - a maze of quite nondesrcipt passageways with fluorescent lighting and acoustic tiled ceilings. A variety of merchants line the arcade: acupuncturists, dentists, a philatelic shop, and the office of Tin Sun metaphysics. The tunnel winds it way underground, leaving Doyers Street to exit in the lobby of the Wing Fat Mansion building at Chatham Square.

This tunnel was apparently the main artery in a network of tunnels used by members of the Tong gangs as escape routes. It is interesting that there is no signage or advertising of this historic tunnel. In a way, it remains undiscovered...


Phrank said...

your posts always make me want to shut down my computer, leave work and go on an "adventure" to these great places. I love the mystic this post has!

Vivien said...

I love your is always great!

Beth in NYC said...

A very cool bit of NYC trivia! This one's news to me!

Brian Dubé said...

Phrank - I love adventures.
Vivine - thanks much - keep reading.
Beth - It was a surprise to me too.

Alexandra said...

Fascinating! I love NY and just started following your blog. Love the pictures!
God bless.

Anonymous said...

Leave work and go on an "adventure" to these great places. I love the mystic this post has!


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ChickenUnderwear said...

I see "Rita the spammer" loved your blog too!

Alan in Melbourne, Australia said...

Interesting that you should show this. My wife took me through here a couple of years ago when we lived in NYC. She always seems to know about the hidden places like this.

Been to the underground restaurant at L'asquina?