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Gold-Filled Tunnel Legend Didn’t Pan Out

Beneath the busy streets of the City of Angels lies a labyrinthine network of 270 tunnels, most of which, though now fenced shut, were dedicated to the safe street crossings of horses and people.

Other passageways, some much older and all now abandoned, burrow under UCLA, a Bel-Air estate and El Pueblo de Los Angeles State Historic Park near Olvera Street--a tunnel rumored to have been used by Chinese residents to escape the notorious Chinese Massacre of 1871.

But the tunnels have legendary predecessors, complete with fabled stories of a maze beneath the surface that dates back nearly 5,000 years in Hopi Indian lore.

It was those that mining engineer G. Warren Shufelt said he was looking for.

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In 1934, Shufelt began discovering caverns beneath downtown by means of his newly invented “radio X-ray,” a sort of advanced dowsing rod.

To understand his find, Shufelt said he took his secret to Arizona, to a famous Hopi Indian leader known as Little Chief Greenleaf.

The Hopi tale the chief told him begins about 3,000 BC with a highly advanced race known as the Lizard People. According to legend, after a fire or meteor shower nearly destroyed their culture, the mysterious race built three underground cities along the Pacific Coast.

The capital of this underground world was said to be beneath downtown Los Angeles. (Another city was under Mt. Shasta, and no one knows where the third city was.) Caverns and tunnels housing a thousand families supposedly were created with an unknown chemical solution that melted bedrock. Tunnels and rooms were said to be filled with gold--then a symbol of long life rather than wealth--and lined with a cement superior to any known to modern man.

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The legendary lost city of tunnels was built in the shape of a lizard, also a Hopi symbol of longevity. Its head was supposed to be under what is now Dodger Stadium and its tail under the Central Library.

Shufelt never made it clear whether the Lizard People were said to have reptilian or human features. But the book “Mysterious California” recounts a 1972 incident of a San Jose man hiking on Mt. Shasta who swore he saw a “reptilian” humanoid in shirt and trousers walking along the slopes.

On Shufelt’s return from Arizona, he began mapping and plotting to find this golden underground world. He theorized that the greatest trove of all was a “key room” under Times Mirror Square housing a map to 37 golden tablets, each 4 feet long and 14 inches wide, which chronicled the race’s history.

“My radio X-ray pictures of the tunnels and rooms, which are subsurface voids, and of gold tablets with perfect corners, sides and ends, are scientific proof of [the gold’s] existence,” Shufelt told The Times in an article on Jan. 29, 1934.

“However, the legendary story must remain speculative until unearthed by excavation.”

He soon had his chance. After one last survey with his radio X-ray, Shufelt believed he had found a “treasure room” on Ft. Moore Hill, where the Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters is now. (The hill had already captured treasure-hunters’ imaginations. Spaniards reportedly buried their riches there in the mid-19th century when the Americans took over. But a year before Shufelt’s excavation, gold-diggers who attacked the hill with shovels had nothing to show for it but sweat.)

The city gave Shufelt permission to drill down to 1,000 feet, but after reaching only 350 feet, drilling stopped for fear of a cave-in. Breathless newspaper accounts were never followed up, and Shufelt disappeared.

But he wasn’t the only one who believed that an ancient city lay beneath Los Angeles.

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Five weeks before Shufelt started drilling, Edith Elden Robinson of Pico Rivera had a vision that was later recounted by the American Society of Psychical Research. She envisioned “a vast city . . . in mammoth tunnels extending to the seashore.” The tunnels had been constructed by a vanished race to protect themselves, she said, and to provide access to the sea.

(A Hopi expert says the Hopis did have a tribal social division known as the lizard clan. However, Chapman University professor Paul Apodaca finds Shufelt’s version of the history to be “exaggerated and corrupted.”)

Still, it’s too bad no gold was found on Ft. Moore Hill. These days, the school district could use all the gold it could get.


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