ORLANDO, Fla. – Did you know there is a tunnel under Orange Avenue that local lore suggests connects the historic Beacham Theater to the Angebilt Hotel?
According to the city of Orlando, Braxton Beacham Sr. built Orlando’s first theater – The Beacham Theatre – in 1921. In the early days, the theater featured vaudeville acts before it was turned into a movie house. It has since been a concert and music hall, a laser and light show called Laser World, and it’s now a nightclub and music venue.
But back to the tunnel – legend has it that the tunnel allowed vaudeville performers at the Beacham Theater an easy way to get to the Angebilt Hotel to escape the crowds.
The Beacham hosted vaudeville acts from 1921 to 1936, when it switched to showing first-run movies. The tunnel has since been blocked after about 30 feet, but we take you to the access point, which is directly under The Beacham.
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I figured I’d take a look and, thanks to the folks at The Beacham, I went underground.
About 10-15 feet into the dank tunnel, it turns 90 degrees into darkness. I decided I went as far as I needed to go. It didn’t smell great – it was dark, but it was glorious. I’m 6 feet, 1 inch tall and had to crawl just to get into the tunnel, so it’s hard to imagine actors scurrying through tunnels on their knees like rats.
Orlando author and historian Joy Wallace Dickinson said when the tunnel rumors started to circulate years ago, she asked Bill Milligan, whose family once owned the Angebilt, about the tunnel. Milligan, who died in 2017, said he had never heard of it.
It’s possible that the tunnel entrance at the Angebilt has since been covered during remodeling, and recent attempts at finding the entrance on that side of the road have failed.
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In a 2012 magazine article, Dickinson pointed out that buildings in Tampa had subterranean spaces about the same size of Orlando’s Orange Avenue tunnel that were used to hide hooch. Could our tunnel have a naughty past – a hole of ill-gotten gains?
The Beacham opened in 1921, but the Angebilt didn’t open until 1923. It’s unsure exactly when the tunnel was constructed.
“My sense is that stories of people using a tunnel to go back and forth between the two are VERY unlikely, but that’s the kind of stuff that people love,” Dickinson said.
I reached out to the city of Orlando to check if any blueprints or plans exist from when the tunnel was constructed but, unfortunately, the records don’t go back that far.
The tunnel is not open to the public, so of course, don’t try this at home.
As for the exact purpose of the tunnel – the mystery continues.
Is there a hidden gem, mysterious historical feature or unique landmark you’d like us to check out? You can contact our News 6 Insider Guide Crystal Moyer at email@example.com or PinIt! by posting a photo of the location with a brief description. You may feature your story pitch on News 6.
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