A demolition crew working to clear space in downtown Fresno for California’s high-speed rail inadvertently uncovered a more than 100-year old tunnel once used to move raisins underground between two factories.
According to the Fresno Bee, crews were dismantling the old Del Monte plant on G Street when they came across the tunnel, believed to have been built around 1906 by the Pacific Coast Seeded Raisin Co. According to century-old fire insurance maps, the tunnel was most likely used to shuttle raisins back and forth between the two outposts of the factory, across the street from each other.
The tunnel’s discovery has also reportedly set off a battle between the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) and Chinatown Revitalization Inc., who want to see the tunnel documented as historically significant.
Chinatown Revitalization board member Kathy Omachi put it this way to the Bee: “There hasn’t been a lot of movement for our organization to actually trust the group representing high-speed rail.” Omachi added that the CHSRA “is inadequately gauging the effect of construction on important Central Valley historical structures and artifacts.”
For its part, the rail authority believes that the while the tunnel is certainly old enough to be included on the list of state and national historic landmarks, it lacks other features necessary for the designation, like distinctive physical characteristics or involvement in historical events.
Fresno’s historic project preservation manager, Karana Hattersley-Drayton, told the Bee that it was not uncommon for area businesses to use tunnels to move products, but there is on evidence that the tunnel was part of a broader network of “connected basements.”
“We do know there was red-light activity down there, and there was gambling, but they were also used by families and businesses,” she said. “If we’re really interested in history, we want the historical truth.”