Secret tunnels? Rumors fuel mystery in North Bend
NORTH BEND, Ore. (AP) — Imagine downtown North Bend around 1910: Wooden planks lined Sherman Avenue, horses and horseless carriages shared the streets and upstairs from the saloon that is now Roger's Zoo was a brothel.
Legend has it, a tunnel ran from the saloon's basement beneath Sherman and connected with the Humbolt Building. That way, men could enter the whorehouse discretely.
"And you know aliens came down last week and took 32 people," said Roger Scott, the building's current owner, laughing.
"That is about as true a story as that."
Scott puts more stock in the rumor that the old brothel and the Humbolt building — an old hotel — were connected by switchboards with a little light bulb representing each girl's availability.
A worn switchboard remains in the building's upstairs, lodged in the long, narrow hallways connecting 11 small rooms. But a tunnel seems more than far-fetched, he said.
Scott stood in the building's basement, a mostly raw, open area. No ancient tunnel is in sight.
"This is it," he said, throwing up his hands.
Still, the ultimate proof will come when the construction crew makes it to the 2000 block of Sherman to replace a sewer line in the middle of the street.
The whorehouse's supposed secret entrance is not the only tunnel rumored to crisscross downtown North Bend. Some say tunnels ran all along U.S. Highway 101, and up Virginia Avenue from the bay. Rumors say bootleggers moved hooch, smuggled in by ship, from the bay to the downtown stores during Prohibition. Chinese immigrants may have used the tunnels as opium dens.
With the summer's downtown construction — the sidewalk repaving project and sewer replacement — many residents have wondered aloud:
What have they found? Fresh rumors are circulating that the crews have discovered the secret tunnel system.
They have not, said Derek Windham, the city's engineering coordinator.
"We haven't found anything incredibly unusual," Windham said. But even without discovering a secret tunnel system, construction workers have found evidence of North Bend's history.
Many of North Bend's downtown buildings were constructed between 1900 and 1930. Their basements are elaborate and massive. Some extend far beneath the sidewalks and house relics of the past.
The building that houses Fat Cat's Antiques and Paul'z Trainz has an enormous basement with a 10-foot ceiling that extends almost to the highway. The city will not replace the sidewalk there because it is part of the building.
The sidewalk in front of Beauty and the Beast on Virginia Avenue has old glass skylights — now turned purple — embedded in the concrete and looking in on the basement.
Some of the old basements may have been connected through doors and small passages, said City Administrator Terence O'Connor. That in itself could have sparked the rumor.
Most pre-1930s buildings had large chutes that opened in the sidewalk and dumped directly into the basement. They were used regularly to dump supplies, usually coal that fed furnaces.
The chutes' remnants are still visible on the old sidewalks downtown, covered by rusty metal lids that look even less sturdy when viewed from beneath.
Windham and the construction crew are closing off these old chutes and filling them with gravel before repaving the sidewalk. So far, the city has discovered chutes leading to Rogers Zoo, North Bend Auto Repair and Chan's Wok.
Windham found no evidence of a tunnel connecting Rogers Zoo to the Humbolt Building, but he'll check again when the crew repaves in front of the Humbolt.
And more discoveries could be lying in wait, Windham said. Construction workers have a long way to go.
"There hasn't been a circumstance where we've lifted up the sidewalk and everybody gasps and there's a big hole there," Windham said.
"We're crossing our fingers."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press