Downtown Tulsa Underground Tunnels

Updated on December 12, 2017

Buried beneath downtown Tulsa, a system of secret underground tunnels was built to connect many of Tulsa's early skyscrapers. The tunnel system was designed at first for freight, but soon became a millionaires' highway, protecting the wealthy and elite from danger. This is a story of Tulsa's secret tunnels.

Tulsa Tunnels: A Guide

He stood at the window, clutching his brown fedora in his hands, admiring the "queen of the Tulsa skyline."  Waite Phillips was proud of his creation.  The Philtower was completed in 1927, and the building he now stood in, the Philcade, was completed just two years later.  He felt as if he owned the city, and still, he was humble enough to know that if it weren’t for his elder brothers and the support of the community, he wouldn't be where he is today.

Still, as with all wealthy businessmen of the day, Waite Phillips had to remain vigilant.  The lawlessness that centered in Chicago during the 1920s and 30’s spread fear across the country, especially among many prominent and powerful citizens.  Many millionaires began taking precautions, especially after the son of Charles Lindbergh was abducted in 1932.

From this fear of crime and chaos in a distant part of the country, the Tulsa underground tunnels were born.

Construction of the Tulsa tunnels began in 1929 with an 80-foot underground tunnel running between the Philtower and the Philcade.  The tunnel was originally designed as a way to transport materials between the two buildings, however due to the rash of kidnappings of wealthy businessmen in Chicago at the time, Waite Phillips felt secure in being able to move freely between the two buildings.

The Philtower, one of Tulsa’s most prominent skyscrapers, was completed in 1927.  The “queen of the Tulsa skyline” is a great example of neo-gothic and art deco architecture.  It was designed by Edward Buehler Delk and financed by renowned oilman, and dedicated philanthropist Waite Phillips.  The Philtower is easily recognizable by its green and red polychrome tile roof.

The Philcade, also financed by Waite Phillips to compliment the Philtower, was completed in 1929, two years after the Philtower was completed.  The building housed plenty of commercial space on the ground floor, mezzanine, and the second floors, serving as headquarters for many developing oil companies and individuals connected with the oil industry.  When the Philcade opened, it offered 259 office suits and 28 shops, making the fifth and Boston Avenue area the most popular business location in town.

In all, the Tulsa tunnels connect eight buildings, three parking garages, a world-class hotel, and numerous café’s and small businesses.  It’s possible to go from Fifth and Boston to First and Main while staying indoors the entire time.

Map of Tulsa Tunnels

Note: Map is not centered due north.  It has been rotated for clarity.  Click for full size image.
Note: Map is not centered due north. It has been rotated for clarity. Click for full size image.

Tulsa Tunnel Notes: Entrances and Interesting Information

  • The Tulsa Tunnels were said to be used during prohibition to discreetly supply the oil barons plenty of booze.
  • The tunnel that connects the Philcade to the Philtower once housed a local radio station. This tunnel is apparently no longer open to the public. The entrance is hidden in the basement and has a large vault door system.
  • The First Place Tower (BankOne) and the Main Park Plaza (The Mayo Building) are connected by an interior concourse. This underground route is not connected to the rest of underground system.
  • Williams Complex (Formerly known as The Forum) - The parking garage under the Williams Complex exit onto Samson Plaza next to the Crowne Plaza. From there, you can walk through the hotel and the parking garage into the tunnel.
  • Adam's Mark Hotel - The North tunnel entrance is inside the lower parking garage of the Adam’s Mark Hotel.

A view within the Waite Phillips tunnel.  Photo Credit Kai from OK Shooters Association Forums (Link Below)
A view within the Waite Phillips tunnel. Photo Credit Kai from OK Shooters Association Forums (Link Below)

The history of the tunnels under Tulsa is both fascinating and enlightening. Most people who travel the streets of downtown are unaware that the tunnels even exist. Next time you're in downtown Tulsa, ask around. Visit the buildings and ask the people that work inside; most of the time, you'll find quite a few people who are willing to offer great stories of the tunnels, as well as direct you on where to find their entrances.

Buildings Linked by Tunnels in Tulsa

Building Name
Address
Date Building Erected
Notes
Philcade
511 S. Boston
1929
Lobby built in the shape of a "T" for Tulsa
Philtower
427 S. Boston
1927
Second skyscaper in Tulsa
Atlas Building
409 S. Boston
1922
Built in the shape of an inverted "T"
Mid-Continent Building
401 S. Boston
1916
Tulsa's first skyscraper
Kennedy Building
321 S. Boston
1915
Lobby offers a 10 story atrium
Exchange Tower
320 S. Boston
1917
 
Exchange Tower
320 S. Boston
1923
12 Floor Addition added
Exchange Tower
320 S. Boston
1927
21 Story Tower was Added making this Tulsa's tallest building.
Adam's Mark Hotel (Crowne Plaza)
100 E. 2nd Street
 
 
Tulsa Performing Arts Center (TPAC)
 
 
 
Williams Complex
 
 
 
Williams Tower (BOK Tower)
 
 
 
Tulsa City Hall
 
 
 
Main Park Plaza
 
 
 
This table lists all of the buildings linked by tunnels, interior concourses, or pedestrian bridges in Tulsa

Join in the Conversation..

Since writing this article, I have found a great resource for all things Tulsa Tunnel related. Visit AbandonedOK.com to learn more. Currently, we are looking for information on the (possible) old subway system that was proposed for Tulsa.

Questions & Answers

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      • profile image

        Teresa 

        6 weeks ago

        There is a group tulsa foundation for architecture that do tours of the tunnels twice a year! I think once in winter/spring and once in summer (august maybe?) - their website or fb should say. I went last year, so worth it!

      • profile image

        Mary McCauley 

        5 months ago

        There were also tunnels under 11th street that connected to a parking lot, a medical building, and Hillcrest on 11th and Utica.

      • Urbane Chaos profile imageAUTHOR

        Eric Standridge 

        8 months ago from Wister, Oklahoma

        Many people still don't know about the Tulsa underground tunnels.. even those people that live in Tulsa. It's always fascinated me! There's a lot of different cool things in Oklahoma that people don't know about.

      • pstraubie48 profile image

        Patricia Scott 

        8 months ago from sunny Florida

        This is a revelation to me for sure....such an interesting article. Who would have thought such a passageway existed. I would love to have a tour if the tunnels were still open. thanks for sharing. Angels are on the way to you today ps

      • profile image

        Lana 

        22 months ago

        Are you able to go see it without a tour?

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        4 years ago from USA

        This is so interesting! I had no idea a place like Tulsa would have underground tunnels. You'd expect it from Chicago maybe or DC. I don't know why. Voted up and more.

      • botipton profile image

        Bo Tipton 

        5 years ago from Cecilia, KY

        Yep I found it at https://www.facebook.com/oklahoma.traveler. Yes there is ton of good pictures in there that you have posted. Sounds to me like you still have several hubs to write about castles and tunnels in Oklahoma. I look forward to reading them.

      • Urbane Chaos profile imageAUTHOR

        Eric Standridge 

        5 years ago from Wister, Oklahoma

        I've read about those, but have never had the opportunity to visit them. I bet that was a fascinating tour! The one that I would like to go through is the massive tunnels over in Europe (the name has escaped me!) They say those are some of the most fascinating in the world.

        There's a lot of hidden architectural gems like that in Oklahoma. Under the Parkinson Hotel in Okmulgee (the tallest building there), there's an olympic-sized swimming pool. It was still there back in 2004, but someone said that it's all been closed off since then.

        In Tulsa, there's a lot of tunnels and caves, many of them just rumored to exist. I've seen parts of the tunnels that lead from the Cave House. At one time, that building was a bootleggers hideout and had a secret room at the back that led to the tunnels. Closer to downtown, there were plans to build a subway system. Many have claimed that it was started, but all I've ever seen was the proposed plans. There's no evidence that it was built beyond a few stories. Rumor also has it that there are mass burial graves and tunnels in Tulsa that relate to the Tulsa race riots, but again, that's just rumor.

        One of the more fascinating places in Tulsa is where the airport is. During WWII, it was heavily involved in the military. It's said that there was a secret bunker located under the airport. I haven't found any real documentation, but I would imagine that that's still classified. It was also said that that same bunker also housed some of the top prisoners of war. Knowing how involved the area was with the military, I believe that this one existed/exists. Eventually, I would like to get proof of it and get that published as well.

        You may know this already; Oklahoma had a lot of POW camps, and the only POW hospital in the country. The hospital was located where the OSU campus is in Okmulgee. Parts of the original camp can still be seen. Somewhere, I have photos of that as well.

        If you're on Facebook, look up "Oklahoma Traveler". If I remember right, I posted quite a few of these photos under that name in the past.

      • botipton profile image

        Bo Tipton 

        5 years ago from Cecilia, KY

        That is interesting I had no idea that there were tunnels under small towns. May favorite ones are under Seattle. I took that tour and it was astonishing what was down there. Although Moose Jaw, SK, Canada is not a big city and it has tunnels that you can take tours through.

      • Urbane Chaos profile imageAUTHOR

        Eric Standridge 

        5 years ago from Wister, Oklahoma

        Surprising, there's quite a few towns in Oklahoma that have tunnels under them. Most people expect tunnels to exist in the bigger cities, such as Chicago and New York, but it just amazes me that they're in places like Bartlesville and Okmulgee. It seems to have been a big fad back then.

      • botipton profile image

        Bo Tipton 

        5 years ago from Cecilia, KY

        I have always been interested in the tunnels under cities. Most big cities that I know of have them.

      • profile image

        martinnitsim 

        6 years ago

        hello there steven if your still knoking around here is there site

        and some info ,ring them for advice ,tell them mart put you on

      • profile image

        Cary 

        6 years ago

        I made a video of the tunnels. Feel free to view it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vLRIlABLKfE&fea...

      • Urbane Chaos profile imageAUTHOR

        Eric Standridge 

        6 years ago from Wister, Oklahoma

        Malachi, yes, many of the tunnels under Tulsa are still used. Tours of the Tulsa tunnels are conducted by Bandana Tours. I believe that they are the only ones that still offer the Tulsa tunnels. Their website should tell you all the information you need: www.bandanatours.com

      • profile image

        malachi mcsherry 

        6 years ago

        I live in Bixby and was wandering do they still use these tunnels and do they have tours ?

      • brakel2 profile image

        Audrey Selig 

        8 years ago from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

        Great hub about Tulsa underground tunnels. Tunnels in cities are fascinating. Thanks for the history lesson. From a fellow Oklahoman.

      • profile image

        Little Pebbles Academy 

        8 years ago

        These are still here but have you seen the ones under the Tulsa International airport? Every large major city supposedly has these & its rumored that they all connect from a time during world war 2

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