Secret underground passageways, kidnappers and oil-tycoon millionaires. It’s got all the makings of a Gothic thriller movie. But, instead, it’s right in our backyard.
Buried beneath downtown Tulsa, a system of underground tunnels was built to connect Tulsa’s early skyscrapers. According to history, the tunnel system was first designed for freight, but soon became a millionaire’s highway, keeping Tulsa’s wealthy and prominent citizens safe from harm.
Construction began on the Tulsa tunnels in 1929. The first was an 80-foot-long tunnel that connected the Philtower with the Philcade building. The tunnel was originally designed as a way to transport materials between the two buildings. However, due to a rash of kidnappings of wealthy businessmen in Chicago, oil tycoon and millionaire Waite Phillips used it as a way to move safely between the two buildings. This tunnel is no longer open to the public.
The rest of the tunnels were built later in Tulsa history. All in all, the tunnels connect eight buildings, three parking garages, a hotel and numerous restaurants and small businesses. There are other special finds in the tunnels, too. The office for the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture is located at the bottom of the Kennedy Building. They have several historic artifacts and displays in their window for the public to view. Some of the tunnels include historic photos of downtown Tulsa as well.
Today, the tunnels are used by the downtown crowd to get to and from buildings during inclement weather or just for a fun change of pace. It is possible through a combination of tunnels, sky bridges and building corridors to go from 5th and Boston to 1st and Main Street without ever venturing outside.
The tunnels that are still open to the public are well lit and easily accessible, but they can be confusing for first timers.
Andrea Myers, a public relations professional for the Bank of Oklahoma, is a huge fan of the tunnels.
“To me, it is a magical place in Tulsa history,” Myers says. “I use the tunnels regularly to take me from my office at BOK to other areas in the central business district.”
Myers loves to take people on informal tours of the Tulsa tun