It’s very likely that everyone else who has lived in the Greater Los Angeles area for the same amount of time that I have knows this place better than I do (granted, I don’t drive much), but digging around in a mile-long sealed underground railroad tunnel around midnight is not something I imagine a lot of other Angelenos have had the opportunity to do. I was sitting around on Wednesday night, when a friend called me up about exploring an old railway tunnel located in the armpit of Los Angeles. (I was going to come up with another post about my heartwarming experience teaching life lessons to Korean students, but I figured a late-night excursion was better fodder for the new blog.)
According to Wikipedia, the Belmont Tunnel is what remains of the Pacific Railway’s line (started by Henry Huntington), which was built back in the 1920s to alleviate the congestion in downtown LA. Since ceasing operation in 1955 due to the rise in popularity of environmental negligence, it became a hangout for a wide variety of the riffraff: the homeless, drug dealers, drug addicts, graffiti artists, and then us, vaguely employed students from the Valley.
Jumping into the interesting part of this post, the following is a picture of one of us crawling into the otherwise-sealed entrance to the tunnel, which was also used as the entrance to Toontown in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?:
Dark. Smelly. Dank. Sulfury. And both drippy and rusty. To sum it all up, it was pretty disgusting and creepy. The graffiti, which I romantically assume to have been created in a frenzy of drug-induced creativity, was worthwhile, though I was the idiot trying to examine things with a glowstick while my companions had the forethought to bring Maglites and machetes (in case there was a bum who still called the place home). It was pitch black down there, so I actually didn’t have a very good idea of what I was photographing before the shutter clicked.
Here, it wasn’t very clear where the water leaking down the walls was coming from, and I think everyone was hoping the red streaks were just a very serious and developed case of rust:
This is clearly the head and torso of something growing out of the wall:
The tunnel was repeatedly compared to The Descent, a film about several young women trapped in an underground cave with cannibalistic bat-people-things. The continuous dripping, the echoes, the strange pounding from the tunnel end (which apparently terminates at the Bonaventure Hotel), and the abundance of paraphernalia from decades of human activity make this the perfect scene for a horror film (or an 80s music video):
One of the stranger things we found was a nurse’s note to leave Belmont High School, and it’s kind of hard to imagine this as the choice hangout for someone ditching school. Examining the trash was kind of similar to the feeling I get from walking through Goodwill stores: it’s hard to avoid speculating about the history of that VHS copy of St. Elmo’s Fire (who owned it and . . . why?).
By the time we hit the end of the tunnel, a couple of us were in a hurry to get back out. The Belmont tunnel and actual caves in Oregon are probably the only times I have ever experienced complete darkness, and that, in addition to the methane and sulfur, became pretty unnerving. I’m not in a hurry to head back there anytime soon, but I’d say it was definitely worth one visit. After all, it’s rare that we Angelenos are ever reminded of the halcyon days of a competent transportation system.