Two pedestrian tunnels were constructed during or after the urban renewal period of the 1960s and 1970s. When the Hall of Justice was located on the west side of Monroe next to the Police Station at the corner of Michigan St., a tunnel ran beneath Monroe connecting the Hall of Justice to City Hall.
“Just walk south from the 61st District Court counter and take the stairs or elevator to the basement. There you will see a door with a sign reading ‘Tunnel Entrance to City Hall.’ Enter and proceed.
You will find the tunnel a striking place. It is brightly lit with fluorescent bulbs. It has walls covered almost to the ceiling with beige tiles. It has a tile floor covered with brown, yellow, and orange checked carpet. It feels not unlike a very long rest room.
Near the end of the tunnel you will see a sign that says ‘Elevator to Monroe Ave. & Plaza Levels.’ ”
The second tunnel was constructed under Ottawa Ave. connecting the City-County parking ramp with Union Bank. On the east side of Level B of the parking ramp, “You’ll find a door marked ‘Green Level/Ottawa Ave./Union Bank.’
Beyond this door you’ll find a vestibule. You can recognize the vestibule by color: it’s pink, orange, red, gray, light blue, dark blue, light green, dark green, browns and yellow. All at once.
The vestibule leads into another tunnel. This tunnel is much like the other one except not nearly as nice. It’s colder. It’s dirtier. The ceiling’s chipped. There are no wall tiles, and the carpet has only brown and orange checks. But this tunnel is much shorter, and it still looks better than slush.
When you emerge from the tunnel, you will find yourself in the Union Bank Building next to the Union Bank cafeteria.” The City-County/Union Bank tunnel under Ottawa still exists.
The tunnel under Monroe was filled in with the Monroe Ave. Reconstruction project when the East Side Sanitary Trunk Sewer was relocated, in 2000, from the old power canal into Monroe Ave. in connection with DeVos Place convention center.
This is a good place to mention one of those mythical tunnels. The old East Side Power Canal, mentioned in the prior paragraph and pictured here, ran almost parallel to Canal St. (Monroe Ave). The east end of the Bridge St. bridge crossed the canal.
The 1893 Sanborn Insurance map at the right shows the Clarendon Hotel at the corner of Canal St. and E. Bridge St. (Michigan St.). By 1916 the Hotel Charlevoix occupied the site, in 1923 the Rowe Hotel was built in that location; later the name was changed to the Olds Manor.
In its day the power canal was the sole source of power for many of the city’s early industries, and it was still in use by the Bissells, Leitelts, and several other owners when it was closed in 1925.
In February of that year the city highway department placed a charge of 25 sticks of dynamite under a portion of the head gates creating a gaping hole, which drained the east-side canal forever. The reclaimed property furnished the location for a major link of the city’s new sewer system, and prevented the tearing up of busy Monroe Ave., the alternative site. Click here to view a larger image of the map
One of the city engineers provided the following, “At Olds Manor, you could enter the basement, then go through a hole in the basement wall, and you would be under Bridge St (Michigan St.) in an arched tunnel. This was the old East Side Power Canal. They eventually put the canal in a pipe. You had to step over the pipe when walking in the basement of the Olds Manor (it’s still there)."
To add to the confusion there was also an areaway (see the Article on Areaways) that ran under the sidewalk on Monroe Ave., on the east side of the Rowe Hotel, which could also be confused with a tunnel.
Bottom line—there was never a pedestrian tunnel beneath Michigan St. at Monroe Ave.
Thank you to Ms. Barfuss and Mr. Hitch of the Grand Rapids City Engineer’s Office for their valuable help in clarifying the tunnel questions.
The information quoted about the Monroe and Ottawa pedestrian tunnels was excerpted from the March 4, 1982 Grand Rapids Press, page 1 Sec. D.