OKC Underground: Check out the downtown tunnel system kids will love! - MetroFamily Magazine
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OKC Underground: Check out the downtown tunnel system kids will love!

by Erin Page

Reading Time: 5 minutes 

Did you know downtown OKC is home to a secret tunnel system?! OK, maybe it’s not exactly a secret, but it’s definitely a unique and lesser-known attraction in the city I’ve called home since birth. The tunnel system has been in operation for 50 years, providing downtown foot traffic an out-of-the-weather alternative route between many of the buildings. I recently introduced my three kids to the underground system, which I have fond memories of traipsing through as a kid with my parents.

My mom served as a U.S. probation officer from 1985 to 2003 (the fifth female U.S. probation officer in the Western District of Oklahoma). She worked in the Old Post Office Building and used the tunnels to traverse the downtown area, particularly during inclement or stifling weather. As a child, I loved going to visit her at work, especially when a trip through the tunnels was included.

On our recent adventure, the tunnels looked quite a bit different than those from my childhood. They had fallen into disrepair in the 1980s, but I was still enthralled with the idea of the underground passageways with walls lined with shag carpeting in definitively 70s styles and colors. Now OKC Underground feels like walked through a modern work of art and history museum rolled into one. All three generations had a great time!

About OKC Underground

The tunnel system opened in 1974, although the original tunnel dates back to the 1930s when the owner of the Skirvin and Skirvin Tower hotels wanted to connect his two properties via an underground passageway. The rest of the system was developed in the late 60s and early 70s and named the Conncourse (a nod to local banker Jack Conn) to provide the rapidly-growing downtown community a way to get from place to place out of Oklahoma’s unpredictable weather.

The final portion of the tunnel system was added in 1984 to Leadership Square. Not long after, the tunnels sat neglected until a renovation project brought them back to life in 2006, adding photo galleries, art installations, historical photos and rainbow-hued lighting in unique patterns.

Today, OKC Underground is about a mile long, covers 20 square blocks and connects downtown employees, curious tourists and exuberant kids to many downtown buildings, parking garages, retail stores and restaurants. The system is managed by Downtown Business Improvement District and Downtown Oklahoma City Partnership.

How to visit & don’t-miss moments

OKC Underground can be accessed in a myriad of places around downtown, many open to the public but some requiring card access. Double check the map to find public access points here, and plan where to park accordingly. Also note that some entrances are accessed via stairs, escalators or elevators, also noted on the map, and important for those traveling with strollers or who need specific accessibility options.

We entered OKC Underground via The National as we realized the kids haven’t been inside the building since its refurbishment and reopening. Walk through the main doors on Robinson Avenue for a “wow” moment as you gaze up to see the gorgeous architecture of the 1931-built bank. Head up the escalators into the Great Hall and Teller’s restaurant to point out the original teller booths. (Bonus: fabulous bathrooms on this floor are open to the public!) Head back down the second set of escalators near the restrooms to the ground floor, where a wall of grand photos tells the story of the historic building. Just past the exhibit is the sign and stairway to the underground.

We traveled northwest through the majority of the tunnel system, all the way to the exit to the federal courthouse, reliving memories of the much-different system the adults recalled from previous trips. We then doubled back to Leadership Square, where we went up the escalators to see where Grammie enjoyed eating her lunch during her time as a U.S. probation officer. And then traveled up the second escalator to walk across the skybridge to the Oklahoma Tower.

Our favorite parts of our visit were:

  • Exploring The National, particularly learning about the history of the building. The kids loved comparing the old photos of the bank to the teller windows still there today, as well as images of employees carrying in a huge Christmas tree early in the bank’s history (and we promised to return this holiday season so they can see the huge Christmas tree in The Great Hall of today!)
  • Around each corner, the uniquely colorful lights and patterns seemed to change, and in addition to being fun to look at, they help provide way finding. Each section of the tunnel has a different color light and coordinating theme.
  • Several sections featured artwork, from huge brightly colored murals to a beautiful display by local photographer MJ Alexander of Oklahoma centenarians.
  • The adults especially loved all the historical exhibits, with photos of downtown OKC from the year of statehood until now. Sections include federal government history, county government history, OKC commerce history, oil exploration history, downtown OKC history and banking history.
  • My kids were simply intrigued by the idea of traveling underground, much like I remember being at their ages. They also enjoyed reading the signage to learn about the various buildings on the route and to discuss what kinds of careers people in the buildings might have.

We visited around 2 p.m. on a weekday and we saw very few people on our trek. The nice thing about that was that full-of-energy kids could race down the tunnels at will, especially perfect on a hot summer day!

OKC Underground is open Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

We hope you’ll add a trip to your summer bucket list and enjoy your adventure as much as we did!

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