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Determination: Barely True
Analysis: Imagine working in a basement where sunlight filled the room. In some of the downtown’s older buildings, it used to be the case.
Stretches of downtown sidewalk were once scattered with green, purple and clear glass blocks. While pedestrians walked above, sunlight flowed through the glass and into basements that stretched toward the street.
To the unfamiliar pedestrian, a glimpse into the glass might have looked like an underground network of bustling workers — a network of connecting tunnels — but that wasn’t the case.
Over the last 20 years, the city slowly removed the glass blocks during redevelopment projects or for safety reasons (some glass would chip, creating a sharp edge). Today, sunlight no longer shines through the sidewalk into downtown basements.
Although the blocks became history, the extended basements and some tangible markers of their existence remain today. Outside the Spreckels Theatre, for example, darkened gray rectangles show where the glass blocks once lay.
While the glass blocks did, in fact, exist, we’ve knocked this urban legend down to barely true since the statement evokes a significantly different impression than reality. The glass didn’t illuminate underground tunnels — just basements.
If you disagree with our rating or analysis, or have other stories to share about the old glass blocks, please express your thoughts below. If you happen to own any pictures of the sidewalks or the bustling basements below, please shoot me an email. I’d love to post them with this story.