2012 articles About Offbeat Oregon 2012 articles 2011 articles 2010 articles 2008-2009 articles About me Store (the Finn J.D. John Centre for Crass Commercialism and Filthy Lucre)
Links to Offbeat Oregon History podcast page on iTunes Daily RSS feed (text/images) info Offbeat Oregon History page on Facebook. New historic photographs are frequently posted. Offbeat Oregon on Twitter. This is where you'll find most of the "pop history" community. Daily RSS audio edition (podcast) and iTunes feed Links to Offbeat Oregon History podcast page on iTunes
Link to Web site for Wicked Portland: The Wild and Lusty Underworld of a Frontier Seaport Town z

you just might ALSO
enjoy ...


Whale explodes: Details at 11.

The highway department guy didn't know how much dynamite to use, and said so on camera. But he still thinks the operation was a success. Check out the story of Florence's famous exploding whale ...


Far-out guru "enlightens" Central Oregon.

What happens when a colony of acolytes of an East Indian guru move in, then try to take over Wasco County? Check out the four-part story of the rise and fall of Rajneeshpuram ...


this oregon youth went on to save half a billion lives...guess who?

A local Willamette Valley teen-ager named Bert Hoover, an orphan sent from Iowa to live with his uncle, went on to save millions of lives and become a singularly ill-starred U.S. president.


oregon's most spectacular shipwreck ever.

The steam schooner J. Marhoffer was almost brand-new when, burning fiercely from stem to stern, it piled onto the rocks near Depoe Bay. It's the remains of this fiery shipwreck that gave Boiler Bay its name ...


the gallant rescue of portland's floating brothel.

Maritime madam Nancy Boggs kept her bordello on a barge floating in the river, until a police raid cut it loose. But the captain and crew of a sternwheeler came to save the day. Here's the story.


take off to the province of oregon, eh?

Few people know how close Oregon came to officially becoming a British possession under the treaty that ended the War of 1812. Only the presence of a handful of scattered, starving survivors from Astor's fur enterprise prevented it. Here's how.


timberline lodge could have been a glass skyscraper

Calling the plan a "profit-making eyesore," a Forest Service manager nixed 1920s plan for a modern steel-and-glass structure with an aerial tramway. You can read about it right here.


pixieland: an edgy, vanished amusement park

Built in the late 1960s as a "fairy-tale history of Oregon," the amusement park lasted just a few years before slipping into receivership. Today, all that's left of this odd and uniquely Oregonian story is a dilapidated guardshack.

Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Underground city found in Pendleton potholes

Tunnels contained entire businesses and residences, once used by Chinese residents to avoid contact with liquored-up cowboys; today they are a popular tourist attraction for the city.

The Willamette Meteorite in 1911, a few years after it was found.
A postcard image of downtown Pendleton in the early 1940s. When this
image was made, few if any residents had any idea there was a long-
abandoned underground city beneath these streets.

Sometime in the 1980s, the first mysterious pothole appeared in a street in Pendleton. More soon followed.

They weren’t like other potholes, as the city crews discovered when they arrived to fix them. In fact, at the bottom of them was an underground city — complete with businesses both legal and illegal — all connected by tunnels.

Two Pendletons

For several decades around the turn of the 20th century, there were two towns in Pendleton: One above the soil line for all to see, and one below it known only to the chosen few.

The underground town got its start in the late 1800s. At that time, the hard work of building the railroads was mostly finished — the transcontinental railroad linked Portland to the East Coast in 1883. So the country no longer needed the thousands of Chinese workers who had helped build them. They had gone from providing a valuable service to a new nation, to competing with “native sons” for jobs and depressing the wages.

The Willamette Meteorite in 1911, a few years after it was found.
The Pendleton fairgrounds, all decked out for the Pendleton Round-Up, in
the 1920s or 1930s. Note the Indian village in the foreground.

The climate in the U.S., never warm and friendly for them, was becoming downright hostile. Crimes against Chinese people were not prosecuted. The Chinese Exclusion Act and other laws like it were promulgated, prohibiting them from becoming citizens or owning land and blocking further immigration. Residents of West Coast cities such as Tacoma and Sacramento started forming mobs and running them out of town. It wasn’t a full-blown pogrom, but it could easily have become one at any time — and only an idiot would just sit back and wait for that to happen.

The message: Be invisible, or be a victim

The Chinese in America were not idiots. In various cities, they responded to this official and unofficial persecution by forming self-sufficient ghettos — Chinatowns — and keeping such a low profile that today, the official estimate of how many Chinese there were in Oregon — 150,000 — is nothing but a wild guess. No one really knows.

In Pendleton, the Chinese had an additional challenge: Cowboys. They tended to get liquored up and commit crimes after sunset. Chinese people made very appealing victims for this — one could do all sorts of things to them, up to and including murder in many circumstances, without fear of punishment — and they were easily identifiable. It soon became an unofficial rule that Chinese people must be off the streets by sundown. (In some places in Oregon, that rule actually was made official.)

A real "underground economy"

So, to facilitate after-dark movement from one Chinese-owned business to another, access tunnels were dug. And added on to. And expanded.

The tunnels became very useful for illegal businesses such as opium dens and brothels, which were built either entirely underground or with a concealed entrance to the tunnels through which personnel might flee in the event of a police raid. After the Volstead Act kicked off Prohibition in 1919, tunnels became even more useful for this — especially the tunnel that led to the airport.

Yet the tunnels remained, for the most part, a Chinese community secret — until those potholes started to appear.

Today, you can take a tour of these tunnels, guided by an actual historian. It includes both legal and illegal businesses operated entirely underground — opium dens, laundries, apothecary shops, everything a Chinese fellow might need after dark in a hostile, foreign land.

(Sources: Gulick, Bill. Roadside History of Oregon. Missoula: Mountain Press, 1991; www.chineseamericanheroes.org; www.pendletonundergroundtours.org)