any information on "panic rooms" or "hidden rooms" in buildings in San Francisco? : LUSENET : San Francisco History : One Thread

I am doing research on "panic rooms" or "hidden rooms" inside buildings here in San Francisco.

I am the Northern California representative for Columbia Pictures Publcity and Promotions. We have a new film coming out on March 29th called PANIC ROOM, starring Jodie Foster.

The story centers around a mother and daughter who end up being trapped inside the "panic room" of the New York Brownstone during a home invasion.

I have been trying to do some research on these so-called "panic rooms"or hidden rooms and was wondering if you might point me in the right direction..any ideas??

any private homes here in SF that might have these types of rooms?? I would love to pitch a story idea to the San Francisco Chronicle in regards to these types of rooms and the film...

any information would be greatly appreciated.


John Weaver Columbia Pictures Publicity and Promotions

-- John Weaver (, February 25, 2002


A few years ago (maybe even 10) here in SF, some work was being done on an older buiding, multi storied as I remember. They ended up finding a whole "secret floor" in between the properly designated floors. Very low ceiling but usable if seated !

When they came into it thru the walls and ceilings they had removed, they found furniture, tables and chairs, and a whole room full of old style telephones !

Turns out it was a long forgotten betting room, aka: A Bookie's Room. A search of old newspaper accounts might turn up something. I might "google" it myself just to see if I can find any data.

-- Rich Ruef (, February 27, 2002.

First of all if you are looking for private home life saving security Panic Rooms or Hidden Rooms from a historical persepective rather than say a current one of the last 20 or 30 years then you are really not going to find all that much in San Francisco. The point being that if someone in Old San Francisco was going to be robbed, they were not going to be hiding in any kind of room. They were going to come out with guns blazing as as so many people did. Take a look at the old Police Gazette Newspaper of the 1850s a copy which I read at a library many years ago and you will see what I mean. You could not move around this city safely unless you were armed. Secondly, many of the criminals were not just going to walk in and rob your home.They were going to burn it to cover their robbery as they did in the great fires of the 1850s where a large part of the entire city went up in blaze.-- Next, certain buildings and rooms you might even call the beginning of panic rooms were created in order to be safe from the fires. They made them in Iron or maybe Steel, I don't remember which. So when there was another arson attack and the town was set ablaze, a number of people ran in panic from the fire into these supposedly safe buildings or rooms. Well things started getting a little too hot and the metal doors melted shut and no one could get out and so they were roasted alive. So the original birth of what might have been the beginning of such rooms had its light snuffed out right away. Plus, the people who came out here in those days were tough sons of bitches who considered fighting good sport and would never go hiding in rooms. When too many people were robbed and murdered, they got together to give those criminals a taste of their own medicine and formed their own vigilante committee and began hanging them. Now as the years went on and the city began settling down and a stronger police department became established and crime went down, their still didn't seem to be any need for having secret rooms and a lot of it had to do with the fear of being burned out as well.-- However, there was one thing San Franciscans were in fear of more than anything else and that was having their wives discover their floozies. It was not enough for most man to share the happiness of success with just one woman especially when after a number of years, he could through his money, fame or influence, obtain many more younger women. So the French were called in because they had a bettering understanding of these sensitive issues more then any civilized country in the world and they created womderful restaurants which included private secret rooms for such rendavoirs like at the Poodledog and sometimes included sound proof rooms and secret escape hallways where you could exit in the building next door like at I think it was at the old Delmonico's. So you can see how what might have been called a panic rooms or hidden rooms at these French Restaurants came in handy.-- Now the Chinese also had what you might call hidden or panic rooms. Only those were found in deep basements and were better known as Opium Dens that were also later used for gambling.-- For personal residences I don't remember any such rooms and again it would have to do with their desire to protect the property with their guns if necessary and also to keep someone from burning it down. That doesn't mean that some of the extravagant millionairs like William Ralston, Hopkins, Stanford, Huntington or Crocker might not have put in such rooms but I have never heard of them. If such secret rooms ever existed in San Francisco buildings most of them probably burned down anyway with the Earthquake and fire of 1906.-- This doesn't mean that there were no panic rooms installed. There certainly would have been motivation to install security panic rooms for some of the fueding families of San Francisco. For example, you mentioned the Chronicle, the three De Young brothers of the early Chronicle were involved in constant gun fights. Charles was killed in such a gunfight and his brother Michael was shot twice in yet another gunfight when someone ran into the office and shot him. Michael survived, but he did something strange to the entrance of his private office in his new building on Kearney and Market Street like made it super narrow or something like that for security reasons. Along this line of precaution, he may have taken some other precautions and possibly even put in a secret room. It would have made sense. In any case, that building was burned down with the Earthquake and fire so unless there are some recorded records on it, we'll never know.-- When prohibition came along, secret or hidden rooms were used for contraband and gambling as mentioned in the other post. And you'd think that there would have been a great need for secret panic or hidden rooms for security. But the people of San Francisco including mayor Rolf I think it was and the police chief did not agree with prohibition and so deals were cut. The mayor and police chief would get a certain percentage and business could go on doing their dirty business except for a couple of raids a year at the right moments to keep Elliet Ness and the FEDs happy and to make it look like the city was cracking down. Strange as it may seem, this may have turned out to be an advantage because when Al Capone's boys tried to muscle their way in to San Francisco, they were stopped point blank since those gambling booz businesses were getting a better deal from the city as well as protection. Why go against the law when you can work with it. San Francisco was not a lucky place for Capone.-- During the last 30 years or so, there have been moments of great panic that might have spurred on those with big money to put in secret panic room bomb shelters. Also, we had a strong military presence in the Presidio and the officers might have had secret panic rooms put in for security. Others who could afford it may have put in panic rooms for their own sense of security but on the whole, all such panic rooms would have been an exception rather than the rule.-- Remove * to email

-- Harry Murphy (*), March 02, 2002.

my family and i live the old govenor's mansion of minnesota and we have a panic room, its actually suppost to be a vault, but it was transformed for us into a "safe room" it is has a vault door, and cement and steel walls, the door is made of 5 inches of solid steel, we have 2 phone lines, seperale air ducts, and electricity, also a state of the art camera system. so panic rooms do exist

-- michael Libra (, April 19, 2002.

this sort of thing of course all started in 17th cent. Reformation England when elaborate "priest holes" were constructed to permit escape of Catholics from persecution

-- Don McDiarmid (, April 22, 2002.

i live in Brisbane Australia and we have a panic room. we have a closed circuit television system wired throughout the house and yard and the room has a water supply, food and two phone lines as well as a fiber optic connection for the computer. cant say were you typical family in the sen my father owns the 40th(roughly) biggest company in Australia and my brother works for a certain embassy which i will not name. Our room was only built last year immediately after sept11, we had to get an american company out to do it.i use the room as a study as it is fitted out as one except for the reinforced concrete walls which you cant see. the computer specifically designed for the purpose is basically a slow super computer. the outlay for the room cost nearly half a million for the room and a further (AUD)$200'000 for the computer.

i only hope we never have to use it for what its built for

-- Crocodile Dundee (, October 13, 2002.

I and my parents live in Notting Hill, London. We had a Panic room installed two years ago, intended for protection due to my Farthers job. It contains two phone lines, one private and the other connected to the home line, own elec supply, venting system and the usual provisions. Thank god we have never used it yet, although it is a great place to get away from everyone. so they do exist.

-- Gavyn Milton (, November 09, 2002.

i live in gold coast australia. I have a panic room with four phone lines, one satelite, one private, one home line and the other connected to emergency services only. Water and electrcity are both on independent connections. Best surveilance cameras inside bullet proof cases money can buy around every corner of house, computer especially for panic room, steel reinforced walls that are 10 inches thick, independent ventilation, intercom around entire property, enough food to last two years in case of long stays, cable tv connection, bedding for up to five people and toilets,guns and ammuntion for wepoans. Door leading to room closes in .03 seconds or 230km/h. so no one can get in at all. This type of room costs around $1.2 million to install but you can get cheaper.

-- rich guy (, November 27, 2002.

I'm designing a house with several "hidden rooms" and different architectural "tricks" that I have tracked down on the web. I'm incorportating several different ideas or legitimate reasons for these rooms into the master plan. One hidden room will lead to a door to an underground storm shelter. The shelters I'm looking at can be found at I'll get to the hidden doors to these hidden rooms in a moment... Another hidden room will be a private library/study. It's entrance is actually an L-shaped hidden passageway again accessed through a hidden door. There is a stairway on the plan leading up to what the blueprints call a "bonus room." I am going to seal off the entrance to the stairway with a magnetic latch "pop-open" type mechanism and the outside facing of this door will be wood panelling done to blend in with the rest of the wood paneling of the wall it's in. So, the staircase itself will be a hidden room. The other hidden doors I'm using in the house will be bought by a company that can be found at The doors look like 'built into the wall' bookcases with lower cabinets. But the most grandiose thing I'm doing is on the second floor in the "bonus room." I'm going to have a 4x4 room there also using one of the hidden doors. But the trick is, this room is 18 feet tall with a corresponding hidden room on the first floor also with a hidden door. AND BEST OF ALL... Inside this 18 foot tall 4x4 room I'm going to have a FIREPOLE! Yep. Just like Batman. As I'm designing and making desired changes to the blueprints, I'm incorporating every hidden room/haunted house trick I can find on the net into the design. I also have a mirror-door trick. And I'm not through yet. My friends all think I'm nuts. They may be right. But I'm going to do it anyway.......Later from Houston, Texas.

-- Rick Miller (, January 07, 2003.

Does anyone have links to other websites with info on secret passages/rooms? Historic secret passages/rooms would be good also. The History Channel does have good shows on this also but I want to know more. Links to companies that currently build rooms like this would be great too.

-- Quentin Lervino (, February 09, 2003.

When I was a kid, I lived in a house that had a secret escape hatch which led to the sub-basement (yes, the house had two basements). The house also had several hidden cabinets, which made for one great house to be a kid in. There was evidence that the house (which was huge) was an Inn at one time. Among other things. we found an old wooden sign that said "Peep Inn". Our "playroom" had an old-fashioned bar in it, complete with a working sink and taps with old beer labels on them (no, I don't remember any brand names). The escape hatch was in a small store-room behind the bar. It was so cleverly concealed that it could only be found by someone who knew it was there. The house was also built before the 1906 earthquake, and during the quake the ground shifted. This all but obliterated the staircase leading from the hatch to the sub-basement. But a brave kid could still manage the few remaining steps without getting hurt. I say brave because there were rumors that someone had died on that staircase during the quake. My brothers claimed to have found human bones there. But they liked to tell scary stories, so this may not be true. There was also evidence that two rooms were being built in the sub- basement. The framework for the walls was still intact. Whether or not these were to be "panic rooms" is not known. All I know is that there were several rows of Mason jars along one wall. Maybe someone was making home-made hooch. Hope all this is helpful.

-- Elaine Briggs (, June 30, 2003.

I am very interested in having a panic room installed in my home. If anyone can assist me by pointing mre in the right direction it would be most appreciated. Thanks for your assistantance. Links to online demos are much appreciated.

-- Reivax (, December 04, 2003.

I am going to be building a house in the north os scotland, where I will have three hidden rooms which will be hidden behind secret doors. The rooms will be a panic room which is hidden behind a mirror with a 7 inch steel door it will have full suvalince around the house, 2 phone lines (main line and a seprate line), full intercome, tv, water, eletricity, full toilet facilities and 5-inch steel walls with touthened concrete on either sides of the steel. A secret bedroom which will be located on the second floor but to access it you have to go through a secret bookcase on the bottom floor in the office then up a secret stair case. A hidden bathroom which will be hidden behind a secret mirror door in one of the bedrooms. I cant wait for it to be built, if you have any questions about the rooms please e-mail me.

-- Scott G McLean (, January 09, 2004.

well, i got a house plan i want to build with 3 hidden rooms and i was wondering if anybody wanted to look at it that knows anything about some general rules for house building and safety. just a few pointers on it nothing very in depth and time consuming. if you want to look at it i will email it you. :)

-- erin something (, April 23, 2004.

I live in albion park AUSTRALIA and have just biult a new house witch has a safe room. When i biult i took advantage of the natural hillside so i've dug out the room put in a concrete bunker(with escape tunnel) then back filled the hole area it's about 20ft" deep. From the outside you'd never even now about it so it's very privite. The access point is in my bed room and second bedroom. The cameras & mic's(i feel sound is important so as you now what's happening) are all wireless so no cable's. all the door's in the house are solid with dead lock's so i'll be able to lock intruders in the room's while help is on it's way. I'm still finishing it of the main purpase was just as a safe room for just in case i hope i never have to use it.


Friend of mine had a dream about a hidden room that he first described as deadspace. Just looking into what they are etc... I am also looking up how someone would build or have built a basement square under the some what modern foundation. If anyone would like to hear the dream because you have a gift of interp please send an email. thanks

-- Daniel Winch (, July 26, 2004.

I have always been intersted in having hidden rooms and compartments. I found a book, Built-In Furniture by Jim Tolpin, that has some information on hidden doors. I also looked on Amazon which brought up this book and a sight for hidden doors was attached.

-- (, August 07, 2004.

Your house sounds great! Panofsky Brothers Concealed Architecture boasts the world's authority on concealed architecture. We are available for consulting services on construction and retro fitting concealed architecture into any structure or landscape, including doors, passages, staircases, safe rooms etc. PBCA features creative design, discreet confidential sevices, knowledge and expertise.

We are currently compiling information and photos of secret passages, doors, and other concealed architecture for our upcoming photo journal. If you have any information, available photos, or a schedule open for interview / photo time, please reply. Thank you very much.

Best Regards,

E. Randolph Panofsky P. Wolfgang Panofsky

-- E Randolph and P Wolfgang Panofsky (, November 17, 2004.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ