What to do about Silver Lake’s tunnel of trouble

The opening of a pedestrian tunnel underneath Sunset Boulevard at Golden Gate Avenue in 1924 was welcomed by Silver Lake residents, providing safe passage to children attending Micheltorena Elementary School. After several students were hit by cars while crossing Sunset, the city spent $10,400 to build a 75-foot-long tunnel, one of the first of  many such underground passages built near schools in the 1920s and 1930s.  But the eight-foot wide tunnel was fenced off and locked up years ago amid concerns about public safety. Instead of providing safe passage for children, the Micheltorena tunnel became a haven for drug users and the homeless, its trash-filled stairs easily viewed from school playground above. While some consider the tunnel as a piece of Los Angeles history, LAPD Senior Lead Officer Al Polehonki contends that it is now time to seal the tube.

“My biggest concern is the kids’ safety … or if someone is yanked in down there,” said Polehonki. “We need more of a permanent type of solution.”

Polehonki has grown more concerned about the Micheltorena tunnel after a new group of homeless persons have taken residence in the passage.

Not all pedestrian tunnels have turned into trouble spots. In other neighborhoods, school employees have the keys to tunnel gates to allow students to pass through when needed, Polehonki said. It’s not clear when the Micheltorena tunnel was last used by school kids, but a former school principal told the L.A. Times in 1987 that vandals would frequently break through the locked tunnel fence.

Polehonki said the chain link fence and locks on both sides of the tunnel entrance have failed to keep vandals and the homeless away. He himself has repaired the fence and replaced the locks multiple times.  “It’s always been a temporary fix,” said Polehonki.

On Tuesday, Polehonki took The Eastsider for a tour of the tunnel, filled with piles of soggy garbage, beer bottles and other debris. In the center of the tunnel,  mattress sat on wood pallets near a chest of drawers.  Sheets strung across the tunnel created small rooms.  The tunnel walls were decorated with a pair of posters, and the words “Mouse House” were scrawled in black spray paint. But no one was home.

A similar underground passage had been sealed up with concrete a few blocks east near Sunset and Myra, Polehonki said.   The 1987 Times story said it cost $13,000 to close a tunnel. It’s not clear what closing the tunnel would cost now.

Council District 13 has been aware of problems with the Micheltorena tunnel for several years, said district spokeswoman Julie Wong.  Right now, the city will focus on getting the homeless who currently live in the tunnel to move to a safer shelter.  Long term, “we are trying to see if there is another way we can secure the tunnel.”

But the most recent call to close the old tunnel has met with mixed reaction. Silver Lake resident Lisa Henschel, whose son attends Micheltorena, said it would be great to find a way to make what some consider a piece of  history into an active and safe alternative to crossing busy Sunset Boulevard. Henschel  suggested that maybe a heavy-duty barrier could be installed to close off the tunnel entrances until a solution could be found reopen the tunnels.

But, she concedes, there are many other parents who feel differently. “There is the other contingent that wants to fill it in with cement.”


  1. Personally sorry to see this, used them all the time growing up in old Los Angeles.

    They had a smell to them, nothing worse than your average NY subway platform, and yeah they save our hides from traffic.

  2. a cool walking bridge is in order. other city’s have many. we have like 3 that i can think of. los feliz blvd. ocean blvd. etc..

  3. Seal that bum abyss up. I remember as a kid walking out of Micheltorena and seeing bums drink and jacking off.

  4. It seems dangerous, druggy, smelly and among the homeless could be sexual offenders. Time to close it up before it is too late for one unfortunate child who will be scarred for life. The Micheltorena School PTA should be leading the charge to close it up instead of sitting on their thumbs.

  5. There used to be a tunnel that crossed Rowena right in front of Ivanhoe Elementary when I went to school there in the mid- to late-1970’s. There was also a bus stop on the corner of Silver Lake and Rowena where students from Marshall High would congregate, and sometimes they would paint graffiti in the tunnel. I remember that the tunnel filled with water once, either from a rainstorm or when someone turned on a faucet in the tunnel. It was always kind of spooky and cool to descend into the tunnel. Maybe one day someone will lead an effort to reopen the tunnels and give walking tours of them, similar to what people have done with the stairways of the area. However, I agree that in an urban setting, they’re not very safe.

  6. Libertard- the PTA is not sitting on its thumbs. Were did you get that? I read the article and no were was the PTA or other groups quoted. I don’t know if you are involved in the school or not, but if you are, please come talk to me or other active parents and we will tell you what we are doing for the school.

    So more history on the tunnel- as early as the 1930’s parents and school staff were noting issues with the tunnel (I had the opportunity to review 5 large boxes of school history a few years ago, and found this info in PTA and staff notes/ journals). The first entry complained of “hobo taking up residency” The problems were rencened up until the 1970’s when the tunnel was closed off for at least some of the time.

    A number of years ago, a group of neighbors (myself and my husband included) asked the city to clean the tunnel up to have it reopened for crossing and on special occasions as an “art gallery” (it was when every weekend you could find an art show in Silver Lake and Echo Park). CD13 said they thought it was a great idea but it never went farther then that (the community members never got it together enough to make anything come of it).

    A couple of years ago, I heard, at a school meeting, that the roof of the tunnel was crumbling and now unsafe. By that time, the city was out of any money to fill it in.

    I love history and would love if we could have the tunnel like other schools have (ALLESANDRO and ROSEMONT) but resources, location and culture will not let that happen.


  7. As a child I used the tunnel under Glendale Blvd. For Clifford St. School. It was so scary, gang bangers, empty 40’s and smelledf like urine. Pretty much the same as now

  8. I notice, not a single complaint reported about the homeless in the tunnel doing anything wrong. But if they are to be ousted, I think they should be moved to a housing facility, not merely kicked back onto the street. Unfortunately, if they don’t have children and are not disabled, there is not much of any housing programs for them. Make some.

    I suggest these people might be there because our local City Councilmembers, Garcetti and LaBonge, kicked the homeless out of the Riverside Drive area where homeless have lived in campers and cars for many, many, many decades — generally in the desolate area away from homes and businesses. So, where did you expect them to go? Now you know.

    Alternately, there quite possibly are homeless now being kicked out of Skid Row in downtown. They either get out of there, or they can face serious police harassment, or even jailing for minor offense or mere accusation, a policy our mayor and City Council brought to Skid Row a few years ago. Again, where do you expect those people from Skid Row to go? Now you know.

    As for Libertad’s worry that sex offenders might be there, well, if you are going to pass laws that make most all sex offenders homeless, then where do you think they are going to go? Now you know. Eliminate those cruel laws and sex offenders won’t have to live in tunnels.

  9. Bah! They should re-open it with a sign above that says ‘Where You Go If You Don’t Graduate.’

  10. @Dodoreet,

    If I were a parent at Mcheltorena I would make it a priority to close down the tunnel for the reasons I outlined above. Your post underscores that parents such as yourself are indeed sitting on their thumbs and not taking action regarding the tunnel. The rest of your post is a history lesson and irrelevant to the current situation described in the article. As a Micheltorena parent I would think you would want to keep the tunnel element away from your kid(s). I also wonder what sort of PTA has parents who so blithely call people retards. I suppose it is the sort who asks the city to make the tunnel an art gallery, but admits that they didn’t want to do the work themselves and sat on their thumbs instead.

  11. @Leopold-


  12. I say make it an apartment.

    The neighborhood, the square footage, the natural light, the private entrance.

    $1950 a month, plus utilities.

  13. The PTA for Micheltorena does not sit on its thumbs. They are very active and do a lot to support our kids. I have to wonder why you would single out this particular group, or person for that matter. That being said, the PTA was advised that a solution was already in the works, and they have been focusing their efforts toward other ways to enrich our children’s lives. I do find it odd, Libertad, that you consider it the PTA’s responsibility to address what is really public safety issue. Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t notice any name calling on Doreet’s part in the comments posted here. Either way, I think bickering is counter productive.

  14. Score one for Alexis. DING!

  15. I used to live just a couple of blocks from this tunnel – I don’t think I’d want to go down there as an adult or a kid. Well intentioned in its day, I’m sure, but not really practical. I’m sure a bridge is out of the question because of cost, but maybe it’s time for another traffic light?

    By the way, a few years ago the Auto Club magazine “Westways” ran a photo of this tunnel when it was new.

  16. I attended the neighboring St. Francis of Assisi School during the 90s and I remember using this tunnel once. I rememeber it smelling like piss but being so amazed at being able to use the tunnel. Shame it can’t be used for its intended purpose anymore.

  17. There was one of those things in front of the elementary school I went to (it went under 3rd St. at Las Palmas), and we kids were encouraged not to use it. It has been sealed up for about two decades now.

  18. @Alias
    I think Libertad was referring to the extra “r” that Doreet added to his name thus creating a political epithet for Libertarians.

  19. Most of these tunnels were built under streets where the Pacific Electric tracks ran (less related to the danger of automobiles, and more related to track and streetcar danger), although I do not know if the P.E. ran tracks along this portion of Sunset or not.

  20. Libertad- I am sorry that my poor spelling lead you to believe I called you names. I would never use the slang “retard” as an insult (I perffer cursing over insulting people with developmental disabilities). But I must ask, why are you so bitter? And why do you keep attacking the parents at Micheltorena? Personally the tunnel is not that big of an issue to me and if you didn’t want to read about the history of early issues with the tunnel way did you read the rest of my post?

  21. Good Day Neighbors and Los Angeles Residents. I join this subject of discussion for a chance to have a resolution, part of my input comes from understanding what can be done, and why it should be done. I live in the 90032 zip code and following up on what was said by ‘Stephen’, the tunnel by my home goes under Huntington Drive, which once was used by the Pacific Electric Railway. Yes the tunnel is still in use today because the parents and community did something about it. We didn’t just close it so that it is forgotten and ignored, so that a part of Los Angeles history will be lost. The leaders of the community and Neighbors said, “If this is what it’s intent was for, we can still utilize it today, lets make it happen”.
    Our tunnel had all the same concerns that the Police Officer claims and the issues of the parents posting here, and more so it had all the complaints not posted here. (Smell of urine, Drugs, Grafitti, Dirty, Dangerous, Negelcted, Gang Members, Broken Bottles/Glass, and used condoms and much more). The solution was to clean-up the tunnel and make it usable for the Students at Huntington Drive Elementary School and not let a part of history be unused and forgotten, even abandoned and runned by 18 street Gang Members which will only make for a location that promotes every negetive element described above. The commmunity of Rose Hills will not tolerate running down our streets and scaring our kids to take action in this fashion, rather we decided to promote, use, clean and secure a safe passage for the children in the heart of the City’s oldest and County’s most prominent and historic community. If you sit back and do nothing, look at what you get. (Photo is example of neglect) Closing up is not doing something about it……. lol. You think in less than a month after a chain and fence go up, that it will send the ‘Negative Element’ away. WRONG ANSWER. Make it your own, fix it up, clean the tunnel, use it, bring ownership to the parents and then you will not lose it. You will also give the childeren that safe passage to school as it was intended. Use Neighborhood Council funds to enhance this place, have the PTA organize a clean-up, steam wash the walls and floor, kick out the people you don’t want there and invite the people you do want there.
    It is that simple, yes I said simple, some one has to take leadership of your community and not let it be taken away from you. The community of Rose Hills may not be the most upcale community in Los Angeles, but we will not allow for it to be run down either. Rose Hills has evidance and documentation of being around for well over 1000 years, yes One-Thousand, back to the era of the Tongva Indians with the same name, reffering to the “ROSE” = “OTSUNGNA” We pride ourselves in taking measures and actions into our own hands and improving where we live the way we want it. The reason is we have found the City has not done it, and will not do it because of it’s financial situation. The Neighbors step up and do what we want here and don’t wait for anyone to do it for us.
    That is just an idea for the tunnel described above, what you do with it in your community is up to you. I would hope that some one takes action to do something about this horrible feature in the area and make it better, closing it up is not the right answer any way you look at it. Actually do something to improve the community or be happy losing it to the HOBO’S & GANGS…….

    Rose Hills Review,
    Anthony Manzano

  22. Silver Laker’s, Council President Garcetti will be coming to Silver Lake http://cd13land.blogspot.com/ has the dates for all of the neighborhoods in Council District 13 that are hosting visioning summits. May 7th, save the date and RSVP on our Blog, or email ryan.carpio@lacity.org subject LAND

  23. Come to the Echo Park Community Visioning Summit with Council President Garcetti with solutions in hand to improve your community! http://cd13land.blogspot.com/ for dates and times and to RSVP for the Summit. “Every problem should have a solution or we should have a really good answer as to why not” Eric Garcetti

  24. Mr. Manzano,

    What a great message. I hope your wonderful message was heard by the community surrounding this classic Silver Lake neighborhood. Hopefully they can build on your great example and reclaim their community as opposed to surrendering it and filling it with concrete. I salute you, and the wonderful community of Rose Hills!

  25. Three Cheers for contributor ANTHONY MANZANO! I agree wholeheartedly with his sentiments. With everything positive that has been happening along Silver Lake’s portion of Sunset Boulevard (hip shops, Farmer’s Market, Triange Park, etc.we need to re-imagine the possible. Working with the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council, Friends of Micheltorena Elementary School, The Silver Lake Chamber of Commerce and perhaps, some leadership from Los Angeles City Council Member (and President) Eric Garcetti’s office, something very positive is conceivable.

  26. Someone tipped me off to the interesting history of these tunnels. If you go through the LA Times archive you’ll see that they were built, essentially, to speed up traffic. They were built for the convenience of drivers (those damned peds are in my way!) not the safety of children crossing the street. The tunnels, all of them, were an instant failure and have always been a bum magnet even in the 1930s. By the 1950s groups of parents were lobbying to have them closed. The tunnel under the civic center, which became an informal homeless shelter, became a perfect example of LA’s failure to do good pedestrian oriented design.

    Separating pedestrians and cars seems like a good idea, but it doesn’t work. It saps life from the street and when that happens you get derelict spaces that attract crime both on the surface and underground. What we need is better pedestrian oriented design. LADOT needs to change their metrics from moving cars to creating livable streets.

    Thankfully, the Micheltorena/Sunset intersection is the recipient of a safe routes to school grant that will provide funds for pedestrian improvements that will make the at-grade crossing of this intersection safer.

    I agree with officer Polehonki that something needs to be done. That being said, I wonder if some creative re-use of this tunnel could be developed. Perhaps a secure, locked portal at either end for an “underground” art gallery/community space?

  27. I agree with those that think the time has come to fill in the tunnel. For years the
    tunnel has been a magnet for taggers and the homeless. The tunnel and its’ “cage” are an eyesore and a receptacle for trash, leaves and debris. Our modern crossing buttons and lights seem to be doing an adequate job of allowing the students and
    pedestrians to cross safely. So my vote is fill it in!

  28. I agree with both Mr. Manzano and Mr. Knutzen : if improvements are to be made, it is up to us to make them and since this tunnel has failed to promote saftey for pedestrians, or contribute to the vitality of the street, its time to consider an adaptive reuse of this tunnel.
    First, let’s view it as an urban amenity. We went to the trouble and expense to build it, so let’s not waste the investment. Next, let’s look at the immediate needs of the community – there is a new community garden project right next to it on the corner at Micheltorena School – what could they need? Probably, they need water – sure they can drag garden hoses from the school and use the city drinking water (an expensive solution that will continue to become more expensive), but what if we could capture and store rainwater in big tanks in that tunnel then pump it out using a small solar-powered pump to irrigate the vegetable garden?
    From years of experience and from doing the math, I can state that LA does not lack for water – we get copious amounts of it from the sky – what we lack is storage for the water for use during the dry months. This tunnel looks like both a great storage and an educational opportunity to me.

  29. For the folks you are not a school stakeholders of neighbors who believe the tunnel should be kept open: Should it stay open even if none of the neighbors or stakeholders what it to stay open?

  30. Jenna–rain water storage in the tunnel is a brilliant idea!

  31. Comissioned murals, material improvements, as well as bright, all-night LED lighting and security cameras could go a long way to making these sorts of spaces work. I wish the impulse in current (Silver Lake?!) culture, evidenced above, was not so strongly toward the paving over of public space. It is the same impulse that wants to prevent access to the Reservoir Meadow. All fear, no love, no hope, no possibility of improvement– except in the privacy of a gated home or controlled space of private commerce. When you see nothing but ugliness in the tunnel, you are only looking into a mirror.


    The value of enhancing ‘public right of ways’ is a treasure, that many Neighbors rarely experience. Being able to love where you live is the inspiration of creativity, acting on it is the next level. Those of you that respond here need to do just a little more than comment on this thread and attend your NC meeting and seek guidance on the vision, to claim this as an accomplishment.
    As noted above, I am not the only individual probing the minds and offering creative solutions. If you can find the solutions that others agree with, you have the answer to the problem. Stay clear of the narrow minded, and push for greatness. Remember, that the proposal should be both ‘LOGICAL’ and ‘PRACTICAL’. If you can not affirm either of the two, it is a NO DEAL. You must be able to make sure that it makes sense, and also meets financial criteria.

    Rose Hills Review,
    Anthony Manzano

  33. An eyesore, the smell of urine. Empty beer bottles, oh my!!! Sex offenders might live there? Pure conjecture. For those who may have recently moved to Silverlake with suburban dreams, I might remind you that you live in a city. We have city problems. The people living “under the stairs” are looking for the same things that you are. Shelter. A place to eat. A place to sleep. Safety. Why do you think they chose the tunnel? They set up rooms with sheets. They have a dresser. They’re just trying to make a home for themselves. And they drink beer. How dare they. Look at your own recycling bin full of empty wine bottles of “Cotes du Rhone” and you may see that you’re not that different. The problem is not the tunnel. The problem is that we discard humans like trash. “Clean it up”. Fine. Then the “hobos” will have to find another dwelling. And it may be the abandoned, foreclosed house that’s across the street from you.

  34. Thanks for the thumbs up – Erik!
    The rainwater tunnel idea is from our own Danny Beaulieu, on the team here at Materials & Applications. We’ve got a lot of great ideas for the city!
    I especially like this one because its feasible, its quick and easy to install the tanks, its inexpensive – and it solves multiple problems.
    What a great thing it could be for the kids of Micheltorena and their garden.

  35. $13,000? I’ll close it up and only charge the city $10,000.

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