Pendleton Underground Tour
We spent a day or two in Pendleton, Oregon about 3 years ago. But we realized after we had left, that we missed a very cool thing. The Pendleton underground tour.
So when we knew we were going to be going to Seattle, we decided to stop in Pendleton, spend a day or two, and go to the underground tour. Both times in Pendleton we have stayed at pretty much the only place there is to stay, The Wild Horse casino on the reservation. There is a large hotel, a nice RV park, and of course the casino. We have eaten at the buffet twice now, very delicious food.
I reserved a spot for us on the Saturday 1:00 tour, you do need to reserve a spot if you go. The Pendleton underground tour takes you, well, underground. There were speak easy’s, opium dens, Chinese laundry, and even an ice cream shop.
This is one of the living areas for the Chinese workers. The beds were tiny, and according to our tour guide, very crammed in there. The Chinese immigrants were not treated very fair, and they worked very hard. Mining, railroads, and other labor jobs were all they could do. The business owners in the town used the Chinese to build all the tunnels that are under the city. Part of the purpose for the tunnels was to safely transport merchandise, or money, from the train station to their stores. If you took all the tunnels and laid them end to end, there would be 6 miles.
This was part of Hopsings Chinese laundry and bath house. He had quite the operation going on down there. Baths started out at 10 cents and got cheaper throughout the day as more people used the water. Can you imagine being the last one to bathe? Yuck, these guys didn’t bathe very often, and must have been filthy. Hopsings laundry service was also a hit with the women in town because he could get all the wrinkles out of their clothes.
Oddly, there was an ice cream and candy shop. They had a big walk in freezer were the ice cream was kept, and you could purchase it 1 pint at a time. I’m sure it was a fabulous treat at the time.
The Empire meat Co. had a big store in the middle of town, and also had a big cold storage, and a freezer underground. They were the best place to buy your meat, because they could keep it so fresh.
The speak easy was quite large, especially when you think it was underground. When prohibition hit, they were ready. There was the “regular” club where men could play pool, and they even had a small bowling alley. Small, pins, balls, and a wood lane.
Behind all that was the card playing, moonshine drinking area. They paid a small boy to be on the street above as a look out for the cops. If he saw one, he would pull a rope that went underground and rang a bell. They would then hide the booze, and the drunks behind a false wall.
There were also opium dens that the Chinese ran. These looked pretty basic, which I suppose the users didn’t really care about.
To bring light into the underground they installed glass grates in the sidewalk. The last time we were in Pendleton, we walked over this one and wondered what it was.
I of course was fascinated with the fact that its purple glass.
On the tour, we got to see it from the underneath, and learn what they were for.
When they were installed, the glass was clear. Just like the purple glass I love to find in the desert, the magnesium in the glass turns it purple in the sun. See the ridges in the glass?
Those actually directed the light into a certain spot underground. Generally where there was a window.
The whole underground was lit this way. The tragic thing about this is, when the city replaced sidewalks in 1987, the contractor didn’t do what he was supposed to do. The city wanted all the glass grates reinstalled, but he took them to the dump. All except two of them. If I had been in charge, he would have taken his butt to the dump and brought them all back.
The last part of the tour was actually above ground. Since this area was on the Oregon trail, and people were mining near by, there were a lot of lonely men. Brothels were big business for years. It was actually 1953 when prostitution was made illegal. This brothel was ran by the same woman for years, and you had to know, or be somebody to even get in.
This building has a fascinating history though. This brothel actually operated until 1963, then the building was closed. I can’t remember the exact time line, but after it was closed someone inherited the building. She apparently was not happy about this, and just locked it up. With everything still inside. In 1989 the Pendleton underground bought it from her, and did some tidying up. The wall paper is original, as are the floors, and the furnishings.
This is the entrance from the inside. You walked in the door, and straight up the stairs. Apparently they called it the 37 stairs to heaven.
This was a great peak into the history of the town. The Pendleton underground tours are a non profit business, and a tour is only $15. We were there 1 1/2 hours.
The town of Pendleton itself, is not very big and they are mostly known of course for the woolen mill, and the round up. We have been to the woolen mill a couple of times, and looked around in the store. We can’t afford to buy anything though. There are a few antique stores downtown that are pretty fun to peruse, and we obviously had to do that.
If you had a day to be in Pendleton I would recommend the tour, it was interesting, and fun.