NO LONGER THERE A 1948 map of the downtown (right) shows a bowling alley where the Portland Museum of Art is today.
•For years, many people have heard rumors about secret spaces beneath our feet on the Portland peninsula. Now the Portland Phoenix can reveal the truth about several of these. We have three categories: places I've been and seen myself; places that exist as confirmed by historical records or accounts of people I've spoken with; and places whose existence is third-hand at best (even if the details are startlingly specific) and must therefore remain somehow in question. This is obviously in addition to the tunnels, such as those related to liquor-smuggling during Prohibition or helping slaves escape to Canada, that once existed in Portland, but whose locations have been lost to time, development, or Commercial Street's construction.
"There are a lot of tunnels in Portland's history," says local historian Michelle Souliere. "The question is how many of those still exist in some form or another." If you have any information about any of these things, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know!
PLACES I'VE BEEN
The first place I've actually been is also the most commonly known, and least interesting: the TUNNEL UNDER CONGRESS STREET built in 1966 between the former Portland Press Herald building at 390 Congress Street and the paper's former printing plant across the street, next to City Hall. I've been in it, as have many Press Herald staffers over the years. It looks exactly like the hallways in your junior high school classroom, and is about as exciting. The tunnel allowed workers to go from one building to the other without going outside or dodging traffic; also, a conveyor belt carried heavy lead printing plates from the stereotype room in the main building to the printing plant across the street. As built, it was 154 feet long, 13 feet wide, and 10 feet high, according to a Press Herald report of its construction. "The tunnel, with its average five to seven feet of gravel, the concrete slab and the paving overhead, makes an ideal bomb shelter," says the report, now available on the Press Herald's website (see above). It will be sealed off, according to plans for renovating the main building into a hotel.
I have also been to the SPACE UNDERNEATH THE PORTLAND STAR MATCH BUILDING on West Commercial Street; formerly the bunkers for the sulfur and other chemicals used to make the matches (and you thought Waterville had the monopoly on making trees into tiny bits of wood!), the cellars are very tunnel-like, and have several caves with thick brick walls, and a climate that might be excellent for storing wine.
LOCATIONS THAT EXIST (OR DID)
The old BOWLODROME BOWLING ALLEY underneath the Forest Avenue parking lot next to Portland Stage Company and behind the old Strand Theater building on Congress Street. Vin Veroneau, president of JB Brown and Company, a major downtown property owner, recalls bowling there as a child. Harold Pachios, one of the owners of the building, believes something is still there: "I understand that there's the remains of a bowling alley," though he was unsure what might be left after more than 50 years of disuse. (Gerv says the bowling alley is "real and quite beautiful.")