USC Campus Legend: Secret tunnels to the Coliseum


EL: “The Olympics were here, long ago, and there’s the Olympic Village, which is housing where the Olympians stayed. Supposedly, there are underground tunnels from the Olympic village to the Coliseum that people used to party in, and apparently there was a party drug problem down there in the eighties so they sealed them all up and you can’t get into them anymore. But no one knows where the entrances are. And they’re spooky.”


The informant is a 20-year-old college student from New Jersey. She learned this legend while exchanging lore with other students who rushed a sorority with her. One of her peers, who is now a friend, told EL that these tunnels, which were supposedly intended to provide athletes with discrete transportation to the stadiums, was co-opted by students as a secret party space in the 1980s.

         USC’s Coliseum, which was first constructed in 1923 and now seats approximately 80,000 individuals, hosted the Summer Olympics in 1932 and again in 1984. Many USC students and alumni have competed at the Olympics, which is a source of school pride for some. School folklore around the Olympics includes the legend there is a tree on campus which was donated to the university by Hitler in celebration of the USC athletes who participated in the 1936 Olympics in Munich.


This legend pieces together interesting parts of USC’s culture and history and creates a compelling mystery. Members of the school community can take pride in the Olympics, a globally and historically significant event which garners attention from around the world, took place at the Coliseum. Moreover, USC has a longstanding reputation for partying, and the 1980s is notorious for its culture of drug use around LA and around the country. To some students, the idea that these tunnels were sealed makes the legend of the secret underground tunnel both believable and exciting, since they can cite it as evidence of the intensity of the school’s party culture. 

While this legend has the elements of mystery and seediness which tends to make stories universally compelling, I think that it provides a mode of social bonding particularly for USC students. Because the legend is so specific to the school, it takes on more significance to members of the community because it is more relevant to their lives. This shared interest gives USC students something to bond over. People can connect with one another through telling the story, through arguing or sharing conspiracies about its existence.

I have never heard of students actually trying to find the sealed off entrances to the underground tunnels, but if people have, I imagine that they were motivated by a sense of connection to the school and a desire to access this epic part of the school’s history. However, I think the main intrigue of this legend is its social function and the fun of talking about it.