Mystery, history and celebrity lore surround downtown Phoenix tunnels

PHOENIX - Imagine what it was like living in Phoenix in the roaring 20s. The small, farm based community was transforming into a sophisticated city.

"It had around 5,000 people. More in the winter times, just like today," said Arizona State Historian Marshall Trimble.

Business was booming downtown, with hotels popping up that you still see today.

"The Hotel San Carlos probably has the most storied history of downtown," said historical tour guide Joe Atredies.

But back then, most buildings didn't have air conditioning, and keeping them cool in the Arizona desert took creativity.

"So you would build a building, a rather large one, and you would also start making small little tunnels that would work their way out from there, and then place fans to pull air from there and cool the entire thing," Atredies said.

But those passageways weren't just used for practical reasons for long.

"Well every city has an underground," Trimble said.

"Phoenix was very good at keeping secrets," Atredies said.

"That's all part of the, I guess you'd call it, underground life," Trimble said.

Historians say saloons and speakeasies made their way beneath city streets.

"So some of the even more prominent hotels would have underground access to a gin joint or a speakeasy," Atredies said.

There was even a bowling alley built underground.

"Called The Gold Spot, which people can still see parts of up there on Central and Pierce," Atredies said.

It was lit by glass tiles in the sidewalk. You can still see them today right across the street from the Westward Ho.

The Westward Ho is an apartment building now, but back in the day it was a hopping hotel for all the big names in Hollywood.

"The only famous people that were movie stars that I met was Lee Marvin and Paul Newman," Reynaldo Torres said.

Torres worked at the Westward Ho in the 1960s as a maintenance worker.

"Oh yeah, I knew that place inside and out," he said.

Torres said he saw plenty of politicians, but never got the chance to meet John F. Kennedy. Kennedy stayed at the Westward Ho in 1961. A year earlier, he gave a speech in Phoenix just before he was elected president.

Kennedy's ties to the state will always be linked with another famous visitor. Marilyn Monroe frequently made trips to the Valley of the Sun. There's even a room named after her in the Hotel San Carlos.

"It was, along with the Westward Ho, the gathering point of many people," Atredies said.

That brings us to one of the more interesting stories we've heard, that JFK and Miss Monroe used those underground tunnels to meet.

"Hahaha, that's a good story," Trimble said.

"JFK probably never did use those tunnels. Marilyn probably did," Atredies said.

"We really do have a rather romantic past that we don't really know all about," Trimble said.

But what about the present? Historians say those tunnels still exist, and that many are still being used today.

Atredies pointed out the one underneath the jail.

"Because of some of the sensational trials of the time, getting witnesses in and out, it was just overflowing with press and audience members that wanted to get in on the action," he said.

"There's even one claim that's neither confirmed nor denied at the Mayor's office that there's a tunnel there that goes to some of the adjoining buildings," Trimble said.

 ABC 15 News reached out to Mayor Stanton's office to find out if he really does have a secret escape route underneath the city. City workers said as far as they know, they haven't been used in recent history.

As far as the JFK and Marilyn Monroe rendezvous goes, our research shows it's highly unlikely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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