Houston’s underground city: Houston Tunnel System
For being the 4th largest city in America, downtown Houston’s streets look almost empty during the week. If you look closely and pay attention, you will see business men and woman entering buildings and taking the elevators down.
People are still running to the bank, shopping, getting breakfast and lunch, and crossing the city but all underground using the over 6 mile tunnel system that crosses between 80 buildings.
Houston’s underground tunnel system is a mirror of Houston itself, independent and ungoverned, no one person or group owns the tunnels. All the tunnels are controlled by the individual business that sit above them. There are no set rules for the tunnels and they are consistently being changed and rebuilt all with by the individual owners.
The tunnels started when a Texas Governor, Ross Sterling, wanted to get back and forth between two of his buildings around the 1930s. It’s said that he was inspired by the Rockefeller Plaza in New York City. Soon after Will Horwitz decided to connect a few of his theaters in an effort to save money on air conditioning. And the rest is history from there, tunnel construction took off in the 1960’s and is still continuing today.
Some people refer to the city tunnels as a tourist destination or that of a hidden gem. The reality of the tunnels is the fact that they are very utilitarian. The tunnels developed out of necessity and usefulness and that’s how they still are today.
Houston heat is no joke, the tunnels offer a place where you can get back and forth in an air conditioned place. There are numerous places to eat, meeting spots, shoe shiners, dry cleaners, gift shops, and a mix of everything. These are the type of things you would see on the streets of an average large city, but Houston’s unique style found a way around it.
This isn’t really a place I would bring tourist. Like I said, the tunnels are built for functionality not ascetics or with tourist in mind. Some areas of the tunnels are very boring designs, while other areas are decorated from top to bottom. Most of the areas with a better look or feel are community areas where most people go to eat or have meetings. The tunnels are most a way to get around and beat the heat, a cool thing to mention to people or use to get back and forth between different spots in downtown.
HOW TO GET AROUND
There are several ways to get into the tunnels, most are going into buildings and taking an elevator down or stairs down to the tunnel system. The main street access is only accessed on Main street on Wells Fargo plaza and the McKinney garage.
Inside the tunnels there are color coded maps showing where you are and where you can go. Its easy to get turned around, outside of many of the shopping sections and restaurants, the tunnels are just that, Tunnels. They are get you back and forth between point A and B.
1. There are not many public bathrooms. They have a lot of bathrooms spread throughout the tunnels, but almost all have locks on them that you need a code to get into. The codes are given to the employees of the building the tunnel sits under, so either go to the restroom before entering or head back up to the street level.
2. If you get lost just look for the RED tunnel loop. Once you are on the loop, marked by red signs, it’s easy to find your way around from there.
3. Get out of the way. These tunnels are like Houston traffic, if you walk slow stay on the far right or have people stepping on your heels. People have places to be, so be aware of that and get out of the way.
4. Peak hours for the tunnels are usually between 11:30-1:30 and after 4:00 till they close up at about 6:00. If you are new and want to wander the tunnels without the big crowds try to avoid these times.
5. The tunnels have been designed with Hurricanes in mind. In 2001, tropical storm Alison flooded a good part of the tunnels having the installation of safety doors that have inflatable rubber installation that creates an airtight seal around the door.
Sources and other information: