Are There Hidden Chinese Tunnels Under Downtown Boise?
Unless you’ve stopped to take a look into the red binoculars near the Grove Plaza (there's one right outside my gym so I got curious one day,) you may not realize that Boise was once home to a booming Chinatown. The Chinese presence in Downtown Boise in the late 1800s lead to a local mystery that some still debate in 2017.
A few months ago when I was trying to find out about the "Murder House" in our neighborhood, I started following a group called Boise & the Treasure Valley History on Facebook. One of the topics that recently popped up on the thread was a discussion about the “Chinese tunnels” under parts of Downtown Boise like the Egyptian Theater and Hannifin’s Cigar Shop.
According to a post on The Blue Review, the Chinese accounted for a huge 28.5% of Idaho’s population in 1870. They worked in the gold mining industry, opened laundries, restaurants and started working on the railroads. Most members of that population were men because a federal laws prevented Chinese women from entering the county. Idaho’s anti-miscegenation law also kept them from marrying caucasian women and having children with them. By 1910, many had moved to bigger cities, died or moved back to China to be with their wives. The Chinese weren’t welcome with open arms in Downtown Boise and anti-Asian propaganda was widespread.
Rumors about tunnels underneath Boise’s Old Chinatown are rampant. Some people believe that the Chinese built the tunnels to use as opium dens, a way to smuggle merchandise or a place to gamble. Others say if there were tunnels, they were actually drainage ditches to help Chinese launders get rid of the water from their store fronts. (Preservation Idaho does say that Bar Gernika may have been a Chinese Laundry at some point, but doesn’t say anything about tunnels underneath it.)
Many (my fiancé included) believe that the tunnels never existed and they’re just an urban legend. Others say that they’ve seen tunnels unearthed, visited them with their parents as children or explored them while working at The Egyptian in the 60s. People have also claimed to see entryways to the tunnels bricked up underneath the Masonic Temple on 10th and other parts of the city.
To the non-believers’ credit, no one seems to have a clear picture of the tunnels. (There are some really good ones out there of the tunnels under the Capitol though!) I'll be honest, I'm a nerd when it comes to this kind of stuff and want to hear ALL the stories out there about these mystery tunnels so post up your stories!