Downtown Underground



Video courtesy of CBS4


Year Listed: 2018
County: Statewide
Construction Date: Varies, Typically late 19th and early 20th century
Threat When Listed: Demolition by Neglect, Building Code Issues, Flooding, Abandonment


A once common, but rapidly disappearing, feature of many downtowns across the state of Colorado are the underground entrances to the lower levels of historic commercial buildings. Some of these below sidewalk-grade entrances are accessible by stairwells as well as from doors in the lower or basement level of buildings themselves. These once ubiquitous features were often service entries or the entryways to businesses on the lower level. Most are located below the front main facades and have relatively ornate metal hand railings and balusters, but some are located along the sides or back alleyways of the structures. Many have been creatively adapted for patio seating or for other uses that complement the businesses next to and above them.

Unfortunately, the uniqueness and significance of the underground entrances and tunnels are not well understood or appreciated today, and many have been filled in, covered up, or simply sealed off. Several underground entrances and tunnels in Pueblo, for example, were silted in during the great flood in the 1920s and sealed up. Others have been lost to streetscaping projects that simply didn’t appreciate their uniqueness or viewed them as obstacles to a more unified aesthetic and the introduction of new pedestrian amenities. In many places, the store owner does not own the areas directly under the sidewalk and cannot preserve them even if they want to.

“The people who have chosen to restore and preserve their historic underground areas set a wonderful example of how history needs to be protected.”-Tracy Beach- Author of The Tunnels Under our Feet

Through placement on the Endangered Places List, preservationists hope to highlight the uniqueness of the underground entrances and tunnels and to heighten awareness of their existence and potential for creative use. A historic survey of representative underground downtown entrances and tunnels in Colorado will be undertaken to document their existence and serve as the basis for preservation efforts in concert with a few key interested property owners. By doing so, the “hidden history” of these unique features of our downtowns can be brought to the light and preserved. One such advancement has been a design charette and workshop held in Lake City, with Colorado Main Street architect Larry Lucas, featuring the Lake City Arts Council Building and its Art Cave studio and classrooms, including verifying possible elevator access and street level improvements.