Tuesday, 26 April 2016 17:33

Santa Fe Plaza Tunnels Myth

Contributed by
Rate this item
(4 votes)

Santa Fe Plaza Tunnels Myth

In the early1980's, I worked at Los Llanos Bookstore in the Spitz Building (72 E. San Francisco St.) on the south side of the Plaza.

It is a late 19th century building with a full basement of stone walls. In the wall abutting the Plaza was a bricked up doorway.  The story was that this opening led to a series of tunnels that connected the Spitz Building and others on the Plaza to the First National Bank and the Palace of the Governors, La Fonda Hotel, Catron Building, etc.

Why?  No one really knew but many had their theories, all supposition.  To this day you still hear people ("tour guides") repeating this yarn. 

So as usual I headed off to the Chaves Library to see if I could find any documentation.  After an hour of looking through files (archaeological, historical & architectural), I found not one mention.

One of the ever helpful staff suggested I call Cordelia Snow, an archaeologist with the Dept. of Cultural Affairs.  I phoned her, introduced myself, and told her what I was up to.  Her initial response was a laugh.  She too had heard these stories and told me that she and her husband, David, had done numerous excavations on the Plaza over the years and never once found evidence of tunnels.

The Palace of the Governors doesn't even have a basement and so a tunnel to it would be superfluous.  I doubt the bank would have wanted a tunnel into its basement for security reasons.

Snow said that she too was familiar with these sealed doorways and went on to explain what they were for.  These basement doors led to chambers under the sidewalks in front of many commercial businesses on the Plaza and were used to access freight elevators to bring goods down to the basement level instead of through the front doors.  Anyone who has been to NY, Chicago or any other big city has seen this type of freight elevator still in use today.

End of story.  End of myth.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

p.s. When I originally posted this article I immediately deleted it.  Within an hour an alert reader notified me to the following:  a website called Legends of America has an article, "NM Legends: Haunted La Fonda Hotel of Santa Fe".  I had seen this article when surfing the Internet but ignored it as just another ubiquitous tale of Santa Fe ghosts.  But buried in this article is the following line in reference to the Exchange Hotel, the former name of the La Fonda in the late 19th, early 20th centuries before it became a Harvey House in the early 1920's.

"Sometime during this period several tunnels were constructed underneath the hotel that lead to the courthouse."  Vague, but interesting.  I emailed the author as to her source but never heard back.

I again called Cordelia Snow and asked her for her opinion.  Her response, and I quote with permission, was "Hogwash".

I went down to the La Fonda and talked to John Nuanez, the head maintenance man of 37 years for his knowledge of said tunnels.  He, most obligingly, took the time to show me the basements of the hotel as they now exist.  He in all of his years of crawling about every nook and cranny of the hotel had never seen any sign of tunnels, or doorways leading to them. 

Would anyone with any hard documentation of these tunnels please post them in response.  Otherwise I am assuming that Plaza tunnels are just another Santa Fe myth.


Read 7885 times Last modified on Sunday, 01 May 2016 00:26


  • Comment Link William Mee Friday, 13 November 2020 22:24 posted by William Mee

    Phil Bove, the Mayordomo of the Acequia Madre, worked for Mountain Bell for years and knows how they ran the utility lines of the various downtown buildings. On many an occasion he was contacted by utility companies to find trenches and tunnels underground where metal detectors could not find where their lines went.

    Years ago at the N.M. Taxation and Revenue Department (2013) at their Montoya Building a series of large brick tunnels (possibly 4'x8') collapsed. These were used for steam heating, were discovered under the parking lot when the pavement caved in. The tunnels had an arch in them that prevented them from caving in when the heavy paving machines did the paving dozens of years previously. https://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/local_news/parking-lot-work-unearths-old-tunnels-to-territorial-prison/article_334c937c-9d20-50f1-8155-c05b057c1d20.html

  • Comment Link William Mee Friday, 13 November 2020 22:04 posted by William Mee

    Former State Historian Robert Torres wrote an article on the 1919 Bond Drive to pay off the World War One debt. People could drive a surplus tank for $1 to knock down the adobes of the old Exchange Hotel. So any tunnels might have been collapsed then.

    Another point is that Governor Don Pedro de Peralta had to get approval from the Spanish Crown to build his Plaza since it was 1/4 size of an official Plaza.

  • Comment Link William Mee Friday, 13 November 2020 21:59 posted by William Mee

    Woolworth's had a "crawling" access to a tunnel that went at least 200 feet north. A friend of mine let me see it sometime in the 1980's. It may be blocked off when Gerald Peters bought it and opened the 5 & 10.

    In front of the Museum of N.M. on the west side a 4' x 4' tunnel caved in under the sidewalk and it went across Palace Avenue.

    The sketches of a tunnel from the Plaza area going to Fort Marcy or maybe more specifically the Officer's Quarters, i have seen on the Internet.

    In the 1680 Pueblo Revolt, the Spanish were surrounded and either had or dug a tunnel to the Santa Fe River to get water. This tunnel was found and breeched and that is when the Governor ordered evacuation.

Login to post comments

Additional information