Wo/Men at Work in the 3rd Street Tunnel, ca. 1900

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

As Los Angeles expanded dramatically during the Boom of the 1880s and development moved westward, the Bunker Hill area was a barrier between downtown and those new areas.  By the end of that decade, the city council was looking to dig a tunnel beneath the hill to connect the two areas.

The end of the boom and the financial depression that followed in the Nineties delayed action until a contract was signed and work commenced on a tunnel along 3rd Street.  The photo shown recently in another No Place Like Home entry on this blog shows the street steeply climbing the hill before the tunnel was approved and constructed.

Construction began early in 1899 and the project was marred by battles between the contractor and subcontractors, poor equipment used in the construction, problems at the western end with water seepage, and a series of cave-ins.  One of the latter took place in January 1900, killing several men, including a few who were trapped with some survivors for a period.

3rd Street tunnel construction 2 1900
This photo shows workers on the 3rd Street tunnel project, circa 1900.  From the Homestead Museum collection.

Finally, in late November, the two ends were joined and in March 1901 the 1,240-foot long tunnel opened to the public, though it was unpaved and not lighted.  After complaints that the tunnel was unsanitary and unsightly, the city paved the street and installed sidewalks alongside to significantly improve conditions.  Soon, it was heavily used as the westside continued to grow.

In fact, by the 1920s, the city moved to have a second tunnel constructed, with the new one along 2nd Street completed in 1924, but the latest development boom from the end of World War I, kept the commuters coming with the automobile forming a growing number of the vehicles using the twin tunnels.

Decades later, in the late 1960s, as the Bunker Hill redevelopment project transformed the area, the 3rd Street tunnel was lengthened and later work was done to extend the tunnel east to Flower.  The last major reworking of the tunnel took place in 1983-84, leaving the current apperance, though a far cry from the original tunnel completed almost 120 years ago.

Third St Angels Flight SV 1900s
This circa 1904 detail from a stereoscopic photograph takes in the 3rd Street tunnel, the Angels Flight Railway and other details.  From the Homestead Museum collection.

The main photo here shows a trio of workers employed in the original tunnel project, circa 1900.  Note that the fellow on the left holds one of the the lighting apparatuses utilized:  candles.  The gent on the right has the eternally trusty tool: the shovel.  Finally, the guy at the center is employing a hand-cranked drill to break through the rock.

The other photo, from 1904, shows the tunnel not long after its completion, probably about 1904.  Note the Angels Flight funicular railway running up the hill at the left of the tunnel and the mansion at the top seen in the photo from the recent No Place Like Home series still stood at the time.

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