Underground Mall?

If you’ve ever happened by the declining cement pathway that leads down to an entry way closed off with a barred gate and chains then you have probably heard of Corpus’ alleged underground mall. Actually, the entryway, located between People and Schatzel  streets, leads through a 500-foot underground passage way, 20 feet below the surface, that the city opened in the spring of 1929 in hopes of linking the downtown businesses with the uptown area.  The tunnel, which is 7 feet wide and 8 feet high, was never officially named and was referred to as the “bluff tunnel”.  City Hall used to be located directly in front of the bluff tunnel with the Retama Library moving into the building after the new City Hall location  was built.  There were two other openings up the bluff, one off North Broadway and the other off Leopard.  The tunnel was home to various shops such as a barber shop that  had an old time barber pole.  Soon, however, like most new attractions, the tunnel lost its luster to Corpus residents and was used less and less.  Eventually the tunnel was only used as a breeding ground for crime or a shelter for the homeless.   In 1966 the city, considering the tunnel an eyesore, raised the issue of cementing all the entrances shut.  However, plans fell through.     In 1977, Bill Sweetland, a developer from New York who had worked on downtown began a campaign to fix up the tunnel and add a 14 tank salt water aquarium, as well as other shops.  Sweetland was never able to finalize the plan.  Eventually, later that year,  the city decided they were not getting their money’s worth of the $200 a month tunnel lease, and cemented the two openings up the bluff but closed the Peoples Street entrance with only an iron gate to allow the possibility of reopening it in the future.  Sweetland agreed with the closing with the expectations of following through on his proposed tunnel plans.  In the late 80s the tunnel was reopened for a short time for the public to visit.  In 1991 preservation groups tried to have the tunnel reopened but to no avail.    Today, the “underground mall”, still stands, dressed in graffiti and scattered with empty beer cans and other trash, locked and lonely, only allowing us to peer in from behind the iron gate.

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