Urban Spelunking at the Belmont Tunnel

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?:

Crawling into the Hole

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:

Bleeding Walls

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.

18 Responses to “Urban Spelunking at the Belmont Tunnel”

  1. 1 Becky March 29, 2009 at 11:10 pm

    I found your blog quite by accident while searching for recent articles on the Belmont Tunnel. As I read through it I went “this sounds very familiar to the trip that I took.” Then I clicked your “about” page and realized the reason it sounded familiar is that… it was the same trip.

    I think you should also know that you are quoted in an LA Times article. http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-then8-2009feb08,0,902393.column

    Pretty cool, huh? [being quoted, not the article. The article is mediocre :-p]

  2. 2 pac August 8, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    yo the belmont tunnel is more than a shitty smelling dark hole in L.A. it is rich with history of graffiti and lots of other stuff

    • 3 linm September 2, 2009 at 4:57 pm

      agreed. unfortunately, i only smelled the hole. do you know anything about the history?

      • 4 michael February 7, 2011 at 1:21 am

        went to to the “bridge under town”, found many examples of stalactites and stalagmites about halfway from entrance. Also, found totally blind helmanith in a pool about 5 feet fron back wall. helmanith was 2 inches long, 6 pair legs, oversized jaws (as compared to local centipedes of similar length) and was the only one we could find within entire cave. there is a trickle of water that trickles from the walls and ceiling of the cave, and then to the end which has it’s own source: a section of the wall has been broken to allow

  3. 5 LL October 12, 2012 at 10:25 am

    I lived right on Lucas until 1973. I was three and remember how much the neighborhood sucked. Looks like its changing though.

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