- ABOUT US
Oklahoma Weird & Wonderful
The Tulsa Tunnel Tour downtown, which includes the Philtower tunnel, covers roughly seven blocks—three inside and four outdoors—and typically takes an hour to complete.
Photo by JIM BUTLER
Think you’ve traveled down every tourist trail in Oklahoma? Lived long enough in the Sooner State that museums and roadside attractions have become ho-hum, you’ve marked them off your to-do list so many times? Now that spring’s in sight, dust off those walking shoes and gas up the family car for a less conventional road trip through some of Oklahoma’s quirkier attractions.
By SHEILAH BRIGHT
Published March/April 2012
Tulsa Down Under
Tulsa’s art-deco wonders create an impressive downtown landscape, but what lies beneath is just as intriguing. Since 1987, Bandana Tours has offered a little tunnel vision on its history-steeped tour of the city’s architectural gems.
Oil man Waite Phillips’ “queen of the Tulsa skyline,” the Philtower building at 427 South Boston was completed in 1928. The ornate gothic revival building oozes art-deco charm, but the basement is strictly business. An eighty-foot tunnel links the Philtower to its sister, the Philcade Building at 511 South Boston.
Rumor had it that the kidnapping and death of Charles Lindbergh’s son in 1932 prompted the tunnel construction, according to tour guide Owen Froeschle. Phillips hired miners from southeast Oklahoma to dig the passageway. Since he lived in the Philcade building and worked in the Philtower, the underground tunnel allowed for a safe and convenient passageway.
“A lot of families were worried about kidnappings after that happened, so tunnels were built across the country linking offices to homes,” says Froeschle. “It’s interesting to stand here and think of all the business deals that might have been made on this walk through the tunnel.”
Today, the Philcade tunnel door is kept locked, so the only access is in the Philtower basement. Copper doors with weighted pulleys are opened to reveal the worn passageway. It’s the only real historic tunnel on the tour, although some of the commuter conveyances built between the 1960s and 1980s also are on the route.
The tour route is flexible, often starting in the basement of the 320 South Boston building, which now houses a Bank of Oklahoma branch.
“I like to show people this 1927 safe, which is opened at ten in the morning and closed at two in the afternoon,” says Froeschle. “The doors are twenty-seven inches thick and weigh thirty tons.”
Together, the door and frame weigh an estimated fifty-five tons. A bank employee uses sheer muscle power to start the slow-motion dance, and the weight of the safe doors do the rest.
Bandana Tours offers tours of underground Tulsa for $75 per group. (918) 760-7783. For more Oklahoma Weird and Wonderful destinations, pick up a copy of Oklahoma Today’s March/April issue.
Next Page: Alligators-in-Residence