youtubeTired of the hot weather we have been experiencing in the Pacific Northwest this summer? Looking for someplace to cool off during your RV travels? Then be sure to stop in Pendleton, Oregon and descend into the depths of the Pendleton Underground Tours (PUT).

PUT LogoPendleton Underground Tours in downtown Pendleton takes visitors back to another time and place to see the city's history. The tour tells the story of the fringe elements of the frontier society: The Chinese, who were discriminated against and forced to live underground to survive, the speakeasies that flourished during prohibition, and the brothels and other less desirable establishments that operated in the shadows. How did the tour get started? In the 1960s and '70's, a group of young people heard stories of their city's past. They heard there were tunnels under Pendleton and they would sneak in to explore them on the weekends, traveling through secret doors to the remains of past establishments. Over the years, they began to piece together the history that lay beneath their city. As old-timers related their stories of their younger days, the founders of PUT realized there was a lot of history the tunnels could reveal that should be preserved and shared with others. In 1987 after countless volunteer hours, historical listings, and fights with those who wanted to keep Pendleton's shady past a secret, PUT was born.

Going Underground

During the first leg of your underground tour, you will visit a saloon, ice cream parlor, butcher shop, Chinese laundry, high-stakes card room, speakeasy, duckpin bowling alley and billiard hall. RVers will really appreciate the compressed ammonia freezer in the ice cream shop and butcher shop. In many ways it was the forerunner of today's RV absorption refrigerator. Be sure and ask your tour guide to point out the bullet holes in the roof of the speakeasy, where a customer expressed his dissatisfaction for being denied access. If you are taller than the average Chinese person of the 1890’s, be sure and watch your head when you visit the Chinese laundry, and if you think the bathtub in your RV is small, be thankful you weren't the fourth or fifth person in line for a bath in the tiny tin washtub of the laundry. In the high-stakes card room you will travel through the escape tunnel that was used when the sheriff showed up. The billiard hall still sports its original tin-plate ceiling and you can appreciate a modern bowling alley when your guide tells you the bowling pins were set by hand.

Back to the '50s

The middle leg of the tour takes you above ground to the Cozy Rooms, Stella Darby's brothel, which was closed in 1953. In 1990, after 37 years of being bricked over and shuttered by order of the mayor, access to the Cozy Rooms was reopened by PUT and added to the tour. Here you will see the parlor, working rooms for the girls, Stella's apartment, the bouncer's room, kitchen, laundry, and the personal bedrooms for the girls when they weren't working. Everything is just as it was in 1953. The working girls’ rooms featured a double-hung window that opened onto a central hallway. If the window was up, the girl was available, window down, the girl was entertaining a customer. If a customer exceeded his allotted 15 minutes, the bouncer would come by and rap on the window, letting the customer know his time was up. Stella's apartment contains a special escape route through the closet which allowed a certain city official being entertained by Stella to slip out when the law showed up. The kitchen and laundry take you straight back to the 1950s with their old-time appliances and furnishings.

Hard Life

The third and last part of the tour takes you back underground to the Chinese jail and opium dens. The life of the Chinese in Pendleton at the beginning of the 20th Century was not easy. Laws dictated jobs and wages, discrimination occurred on the street, and if a Chinese person was assaulted or killed, odds were that nothing would happen to the perpetrator. Needless to say, the Chinese kept a low profile by living underground and out of sight as much as possible. They policed themselves for fear of the laws against them. Therefore, they needed their own jail, which you will see on this part of the tour. Living underground required a source of water, and on this part of the tour, you will see their underground well. Then, there was the other end of the equation, and let's just say that the holding tank on your RV never emitted the odors that would have been trapped down here. That's probably why they resorted to smoking opium! Of course, a guided tour would not be complete without a stop in the gift shop. Here you can view some of the artifacts discovered in the restoration of the underground.

When you go:

The tour starts at the Empire building in downtown Pendleton at the corner of SW 1st (Garden) and Emigrant.

RV Parking: There is a large parking lot suitable for RVs at the corner of SE Frazer Ave and S. Main St. just a block southwest of where the tour starts.

Camping: The Wildhorse Resort & Casino east of Pendleton offers a full-service RV park or free overnight parking in designated RV spaces on the west side of the resort.

Tours take approximately 90 minutes.

Participants must be 6 or older.

Reservations are required. Call 541-276-0730 to reserve your tour.

Visit Pendleton Underground Tours for hours and days of operation, current admission prices and a list of special events.

Questions, Comments? Please leave your thoughts below.

Dave Helgeson
Author: Dave HelgesonEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Dave Helgeson is the MHRV Show Director. He and his wife love to travel across the west in their RV. Dave writes about all things RVing but loves to share destinations and boondocking advice.

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