Underground discovery in Fresno's historic Chinatown

Old-timers have long talked of the existence of underground tunnels in Fresno's historic Chinatown.
October 23, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Old-timers have long talked of the existence of underground tunnels in Fresno's historic Chinatown.

Up this point the tunnels haven't been proven to be anything more than urban myth. But an excavation crew thought for a moment it had uncovered proof the tunnels existed.

Crews must first dig into Fresno's past before the planned high speed rail project can move forward. They excavated dirt at a site in Chinatown. Deep trenches were dug where the backlots of buildings faced China Alley back in 1890.

When the backhoe unearthed a brick wall, excitement grew among the crew. They thought they had come across evidence of an often talked about tunnel.

"When we first revealed the two columns it almost looked like there was an archway there and there was quite a bit of excitement," said Archaeologist Dana McGowan. "Unfortunately turned out to be probably the back wall of a fireplace.

The dig drew several onlookers. People like Robert Florez grew up hearing stories of a tunnel system which was part of an underground Fresno scene.

Robert Florez said, "I heard about a lot of people that were living underneath here in Chinatown."

The city of Fresno says historically several buildings downtown and in Chinatown were linked by inter-connected basements.

McGowan explained, "However, a lot of people feel and it's very widely believed that there are lots of lots of tunnels underneath Chinatown so we're prepared if we are to encounter them."

The dig site isn't far from where high speed rail is expected to someday pass through. Eventually crews will tunnel under this area at Tulare and G.

Public Outreach Specialist Benjamin Camarena said, "We are about 150, maybe 100 yards from where the train's going to come through but what we're doing is Tulare Avenue is going to under so we need to excavate a little bit."

Camarena of the high speed rail project says it's important to dig beyond the footprint of the site to see what lies underneath. An old jug was among the items found at this site.

Excavation crews will continue their work all this week in various parts of Chinatown and the downtown area.


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