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Culture

A Peek Inside The Secret Graffiti Tunnels Of San Francisco

Ashlyn Davis Ashlyn Davis

underground graffiti tunnels san francisco

The subterranean graffiti galleries and the photographer hunting for them.

From World War II bunkers and bootlegger channels to sewers, cities are riddled with tunnel networks. But apart from possums, rodents, spiders and the odd gator, you’ll find a secret society of muralists wandering below the city’s surface. Of course, the Bay Area is no different. Groups such as the San Francisco Suicide Club have been hunting for abandoned locations to host their creative and recreational exploits since the 70s. This acted as a catalyst for a whole new breed of covert collectives.

 

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Artists such as Sierra Hartman, an SF underground maven and urban explorer at heart, have been sharing tales of their nighttime galivants through the city with the World Wide Web in recent years, akin to real-life scenes from The Goonies.

 

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Meanwhile, photographers like Scott Fin have been chasing the works of elusive artists such as the Night Owl in an attempt to immortalize the vivid beauty before it fades away or is covered by a “throw-up” (an uninspired, unnecessarily large graffiti tag).

 

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Although you can now take a tour of the city’s sewer system–which dates back to the 1800s, there are a vast number of underground passages that artists are desperately guarding against being “traded” or “blown up” (exposed) by “urbexors” (the social media folk who love to make mashup videos of themselves running through urban spaces, scored with racy electronic music) which could result in the masterpieces being painted over or the abandoned spots being closed up for good.

 

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The whole graffiti topic is a contentious one–on the one hand, it’s seen as vandalism, on the other, as a brilliant use of unseen, dilapidated spaces. On top of that, there is the debate on the cultural appropriation of it all and how that may detract from the whole essence of the subculture. Nonetheless, if you’re still set on seeking the intoxicating thrill of the undiscovered, then get your headlamps on and wait for the sun to go down and start hunting for the unofficial graffiti galleries.

[Featured image: Simon Zhu]

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