Underground Hendersonville. The name is filled with intrigue.AC = -->
If you’ve lived in Hendersonville a long time, you may have heard about the shops and teen club once located under the sidewalk on Main Street.
On Saturday, May 16, a tour organized by the Hendersonville Historic Preservation Commission will offer a glimpse into Underground Hendersonville, a subterranean area that at different times housed a barbershop and beauty salon, a gentlemen’s club and a 1950s teenage hangout.
“We’re hoping to get people out here who remember this,” says Sue Anderson, the City of Hendersonville’s planning director. “There are probably a whole bunch of stories to be told.”
Shadows of the Underground
Traces of the main access to Underground Hendersonville are still visible on the sidewalk outside the entrance to Flight restaurant, at the corner of Main Street and Fourth Avenue W. The outlines of a staircase and 12 glass-block skylights that once illuminated the underground shops and teen center can be detected if you know where to look.
The openings to the staircase and the glass blocks were sealed over with concrete in the early 1960s when the underground area closed to the public.
Built along with the First Bank & Trust Co. building in 1922, the original stairs — flanked by concrete walls akin to a subway entrance — descended from the sidewalk to Tom’s Barber Shop, the Blue Bonnet Salon and a shoe-shine parlor.
It’s unclear when the businesses actually started. By all accounts, the Underground was thriving into the 1930s, says Lu Ann Welter, administrative assistant at the city’s planning department.
A number of American cities had underground areas for shopping, built in the same era, Welter says. Some of these have been restored, like those in Atlanta and Seattle.
To get to Hendersonville’s Underground area, tours will enter through the back entrance to Flight (also the Community Foundation entrance) at 401 N. Main St., and take the elevator down to the basement.
After walking through a long corridor — past one of the old bank’s vaults — tour groups will enter through the back of what was originally a shoe-shine parlor.
Three storefronts surround a lobby area measuring a few hundred square feet. The doorways and windows of the stores are still in place, with coats of vintage light green paint peeling — filled with decades of grime.
Only one of the original storefront windows is still intact, but the original gray and black tile in the entry-lobby area is in fairly good condition.
Underground Hendersonville has a neglected feel, and is a bit damp and dirty, but it’s easy to envision the space in its prime.
Everything is well preserved enough to serve as a time capsule back to the early and mid-20th century.
These days the former barbershop and salon are used for document storage by TJF Enterprises, the current owners of the fourth floor (above Flight) and underground area of the basement.
“For us it’s great below-ground storage,” says David Adams, manager and CFO of TJF Enterprises. “It’s interesting and has lots of history, so we had no problem letting the City give tours.”
Shortly following World War II, the Underground was converted to a private poker club called the Eagle’s Club, according to Hendersonville native Jimmy Edney, owner of Land of Sky Realty in downtown Hendersonville.
The club was frequented by prominent local businessmen, who would cash personal checks at the Hot Spot, a restaurant owned by Edney’s father, before heading under the sidewalk for some Five Card Stud or other poker games.
“They wouldn’t cash each other’s checks, so they’d walk three doors down to cash checks at the restaurant,” says Edney. “Most were customers of the restaurant.”
The Teen Canteen
Edney was a student at Hendersonville High School when the most remembered incarnation of the underground area had its heyday — the Teen Canteen.
From about 1948 to 1957, the Teen Canteen was the cool place where local teens could listen to the jukebox and dance, play ping-pong and pool, or simply hang out after school and on the weekends.
“It was simple, but then the ‘50s were simple,” says Jayne Miller, a 1958 graduate of Hendersonville High School. “There are a lot of good memories.”
Although everybody called it the Teen Canteen, its official name was the Hendersonville Youth Center, Miller says. She remembers presenting a “Canteen Card” in order to enter.
Each room had a different activity — one had sofas, chairs and a jukebox — that she recalls being the most popular room, where kids would dance.
Another room had a ping-pong table where games would be happening whenever the place was open, as well as a pool table or two.
“We all hung out down there, since we were too young to go into pool rooms,” says Edney.
Chaperones, or “sponsors,” including a tiny woman named Mrs. Lee, would be there to make sure the kids behaved.
Even with the constant supervision, Miller recalls one friend who was not allowed to visit the Teen Canteen, simply because it was underground. Miller and her friends would sneak the girl in, without her parents finding out.
“Sometimes it was open on Friday nights after football games,” she says.
The Teen Canteen moved to a pavilion in Boyd Park in 1958, where the fire station at Five Points near Hendersonville High School is now.
There’s been talk of restoring Underground Hendersonville, Adams says, but nothing has come of it, mainly because it would be extremely expensive to renovate.
Proceeds from the tour ticket sales will go toward creating more historic bronze building plaques downtown. There currently are 21 plaques on buildings downtown, with plans to add the historic markers to all of Main Street’s historic buildings.
Tickets for the Underground Tour on Saturday, May 16, are $5 and can be purchased in advance at the Visitor’s Center, 201 S. Main St., or on the day of the tour at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Main Street. Tours will begin at 10 a.m. and run through the day until 5 p.m. Call (828) 697-3088 for information.