Secret Rooms, Hidden Passages

The other day my team and I stumbled across an interesting article (I may have found it originally on about a couple who had their builder design a secret room in their home at the behest of their tween and teen children.

I’ve always loved the idea of a secret room/passage way in a home.  Ever since I watched “Webster” where he’d crawl down the laundry chute to get to the kitchen and the grandfather clock in the living-room gave him access to the downstairs duplex I wanted a home with secret passages.  People Under the Stairs, is a craptastic horror movie, that also had hidden passageways between the plaster walls and the framing of the home, but I don’t want my house to have disfigured cannibal children in the basement. Panic Room with Jodi Foster of course pretty much revolves completely in and around the panic room.

Chad, in our department, described how he and a couple of friends helped build a secret passage down into the home’s basement for another friend complete with false wall that slid on gliders.  I think that is über awesome. That is also when Chad mentioned there are probably some secret rooms in these High Value homes we underwrite when the client INSISTS that it cost way more to rebuild then what the agent or we think based on what we can see on photos. Good thought there Chad!

Keeping with that theme I decided to highlight some interesting designs and homes that have secret passages, rooms, and other novelties that I could glean off of the ever wonderful internet.

To start I found (big surprise it was my first link hit on GOOGLE search).

Ever been embarrassed to admit you have a broom closet? Worry no more!

Remember this from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade?

Dad! What? Dad?! WHAT?!?!

This would be more awesome if you had to step in specific sequence to open the door.

This is nice, combines functional closet with doorway to a hidden set of stairs.

From some interesting stories of hidden rooms and tunnels.  Here is one really creepy story followed by something more ‘pedestrian’.

Pictured: Room of Terror and Murder

In early 2008, a horrifying story hit the media from Jersey, an island off the coast of Normandy. A former children’s home was found to contain several secret below-ground chambers that had been used to discreetly torture resident children from the 1960s to the late 80s. Excavation of the partially buried chambers uncovered evidence of torture implements and juvenile human remains.

Too bad he didn't have his Maurader's Map to identify the tricks!

In 2002, an engineering student name Stanislas Gosse was arrested for stealing priceless books from the 8th-century Mont Sainte-Odile convent library. His crimes were facilitated by the use of a centuries-old secret passage which was previously known only to a handful of people. Gosse would enter the convent during the day with tourists, slip into an unused corridor, and enter the library through a door concealed behind a shelf of books. He was only caught when police discovered the secret passage by chance and installed a security camera in the library.

I suppose, with all of the above listed goodies I’d be remiss in not mentioning the Winchester Home.  I’ll keep this story short because you can read it on a 1,000 other sites if you wish, but here’s the skinny:  The Widow Sarah Winchester visited a fortune-teller or psychic or some other absurdity that told her she’d be haunted by all the ghosts that had died from her husband’s creation of the Winchester rifle.  Her only recourse, to satisfy or confuse the ghosts (depends where you read), was to build endlessly to her home/mansion.

The results are pretty awesome regardless of the reasoning or motivation behind it.

Seems not-so-insane really.

Stairs are only 2-inches high.

One of many stairs to nowhere.

Okay, pretty insane after all.

Here is a beauty, found on called The Frick Collection in NY City that houses fine arts and other amazing collections.

… The Frick Collection, which, if you don’t already know, contains steel magnate Henry Clay Frick’s art collection, all housed inside of his East 70th Street mansion (inspiration for the Avengers mansion!). The home was designed by Thomas Hastings and was constructed in 1913, though in the 1930s was altered by John Russell Pope to ready it for use as a public institution. While the public spaces of the mansion are enough to give anyone real estate envy… what we were interested in was what was behind closed doors.

The above images are obviously a tiny sampling, I recommend going to The Gothamist or The Frick website for more views of the generally awesome architecture.

Interesting note: According to the article Mr. and Mrs. Frick were originally destined to sail on The Titanic for NY, but Mrs. Frick twisted her ankle causing them delay their departure and stay abroad a while longer, ergo likely evading a watery fate.

The Waldorf-Astoria in New York City also has a secret tunnel and passage that connects to the subway line called Track 61.  This underground network was featured in the thrilling sequel to the best-selling novel The Relic, called Reliquary. Now, don’t be hasty to judge it against the dim-witted movie(s), the books are actually quit scary and well written by Douglas J. Preston and Lincoln Child. I recommend them.


"Alllllll ABOARD!"

From they describe the reasoning behind this secret train tunnel entrance to the glamorous NY hotel above.

Built in 1913, Grand Central Terminal, in New York City, is the largest train station in the world, in terms of number of platforms. Therefore, it’s only natural that there be various hidden nooks, corners and spaces, such as the network of underground tracks, storage areas and tunnels. Weaved amidst them all is an unlisted train platform, known as Track 61, with a secret entrance and passageway leading to an elevator going straight up to the world-famous Waldorf-Astoria hotel. This furtive passage was what President Franklin D. Roosevelt used as his private entrance into Manhattan. It was a way of avoiding the pesky questions and flashbulbs of reporters and of going straight from his train to his hotel. In addition, it shielded the public from witnessing, in plain view, his polio affliction.

The East Coast doesn’t have a monopoly on secret tunnels and hidden passages for dubious means.  Portland, Oregon has their own bit of mischievous history; the Shanghai Tunnels, used to extract able-bodied men, and in some cases women and children, into a life of forced labor and human trafficking.

I hear dead people.

Okay, I’m going to be honest as always, because I’d hate for you to spend your hard-earned money in today’s economy and feel like I led you astray.  There is a tour, called The Portland Underground or Shanghai Tunnel Tours and it’s not so awesome, which is a cryin’ shame because I wanted it to be fantastic.  A group of us from work (a few years back) was coordinated by one of our colleagues, with input from others, and chose the “Ghost Stories” tour.  We spent a pretty penny, $20/person I believe, and we were told because of the size of our group we’d have the tour to ourselves.  Which was bogus, we ended being packed under some bars in Portland with another large group listening to the meat-market thrive upstairs while the Dude who was our tour guide (and in my memory looks like a short version of Jeff Bridges from the Big Lebowski, coincidentally also referred to as “The Dude”) rambled on downstairs describing to us a whole different kind of meat-market that used to go on.  The ‘spooky’ ambiance that our guide tried to create was stretched a little thin given that we were smashed under there with another group, I would say there was easily 30 people crammed together.

Just saying, do your research before you reserve your spot and get something in writing before you go, eh?

Stairs to the Shanghai Tunnels to one of the clubs/bars above.

Where men were imprisoned until ~their ship came in~ (ha, ha).

From our pal,

The Shanghai Tunnels, otherwise known as the Portland Underground were built to move goods from the ships docked on the Willamette to the basement storage areas, which allowed businesses to avoid streetcar and train traffic on the streets when delivering their goods.

According to a popular, but historically questionable legend, from the 1850s to the early 20th century, they were used to kidnap or “shanghai” unsuspecting laborers and sell them as slaves to waiting ships at the waterfront. Allegedly, victims were drugged or knocked out, taken through one of the trap doors (or deadfalls), and held in a prison cell while they waited to be shipped off.

From the Wikipedia site linked this interesting article by Helen Jung of “The Oregonian” who wrote in 2007 about Portland’s Buried Truth. That, in her research, the Shanghai tunnels in Portland are a myth, that while Shanghaiing did exist, they didn’t go to the elaborate means to drop men through trap doors into under-ground tunnels, but simply loaded them onto carts then onto boats after they had drank too much or had been drugged from local saloons and boarding houses.

I hope if you stopped by for this little article you enjoyed yourself, it was fun putting it together.  Now please excuse me while I go fantasize about my mansion with secret passages, rail-ways, and hidden broom closets. 🙂


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