lgbtq tunnel 1

Photo: Courtesy of Nate Allbee

The alleged existence of a secret network of LGBTQ tunnels threatened to throw a wrench in plans for a new hospitality, housing and retail development in San Francisco, but the city’s Planning Commission has voted 4-3 to allow it to move forward.

Called 950-974 Market, the project has long been under fire from local activists concerned that a study by a preservation architecture firm did not adequately address the significance of historic LGBTQ sites in the area. The Planning Commission was to discuss their request to delay its approval at a recent meeting when former Board of Supervisors aide Nate Allbee came forward with photos of what he said were tunnels located underneath the project site.

lgbtq tunnel 3

Photo: Courtesy of Nate Allbee

Speaking to SFist prior to the meeting, Allbee, who did not take the photos, said the tunnels connected several bars and a hotel in the area. “The discovery of the intact tunnels is huge and really deserves further research. So many gay bars faced raids and were shut down in the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s, and it’s never been clear how places like the Old Crow managed to stay in business so long. The tunnels may be the answer,” he said.

Previously nicknamed the Meat Market, the place where 950-974 Market will be located was an epicenter for gay male and trans prostitution in the first half of the 20th century, long before Harvey Milk became a household San Francisco icon for gay rights. According to Allbee, it is home to 12 potential historic sites, including Compton’s Cafeteria, where one of the country’s first recorded transgender riots took place. 

lgbtq tunnel 2

Photo: Courtesy of Nate Allbee

In response to concerns from Allbee and other activists, developer Group i has argued that “although three of the storefronts at the property had at certain times in the past been occupied by gay bars, none of the three storefronts retains physical features associated with those long-closed establishments (they lack ‘integrity’) and thus are not able to convey historic significance.”

Joy Ou, president of Group i, also told KPIX5, “[a]s far as we’re concerned, there is no tunnel.” To prove it, Group i allowed KPIX5 to enter the 950-974 Market site to look for the tunnels — while an “extensive basement” was found, the tunnels were nowhere to be seen.

Confronted with that information, Allbee said that he still believes further investigation is needed. He and the other activists have said they will continue to work on establishing the area as a historic LGBTQ district.

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