Subterranean Renovations
The Unique Architectural Spaces of Show Caves

1136 Thirty color photographs of some of the most compelling architectural spaces within show caves were featured in the CLUI exhibit. CLUI photoLIKE AN ELABORATE STAGE FOR an audienceless performance, spectacular natural caves formed and transformed over the ages in the unseen world of the underground. When modern humans came into this subterranean world, first as explorers, then as tourists, they brought with them elements from their surficial realm, from cement and electricity to postcards and fried chicken. From the first lantern-led tours through Mammoth Cave in the early 1800's to the drive-through caves of today, the two hundred or so caves in the country that have been opened to the public (out of over 30,000 caves discovered in the United States so far) have been transformed by the interests of tourism and the fancy of cave owners and promoters.

1132 The Great Stalacpipe Organ, of Luray Caverns, Virginia, actually plays the cave itself: automatic rubber-tipped mallets, activated by the keys of the organ, strike the resinous, drapery formations within a three acre portion of the cave. "Rock music," played by "the largest musical instrument in the world." Photo courtesy of Luray Caverns

1133 One of the several linoleum-tiled rooms within Meramec Caverns, Missouri. CLUI photo
Most modifications to the natural cave are of a practical nature, made in order to accommodate visitors. New cave entrances are blasted to allow more convenient access, pathways are installed to allow visitors to move easily along the otherwise uneven cave floor, and lighting of some type is installed to make the formations and pathways visible.

The cave developers that go beyond these basic alterations begin a sort of architectural discourse between the strange natural underground features with sometimes stranger-still man-made forms. The effect is the creation of unprecedented, and even sublime spaces, reflecting the complex relationship between humans and the non-human natural world.

The Center's exhibit, Subterranean Renovations: The Unique Architectural Spaces of Show Caves, displayed in Los Angeles October 2 to November 29, 1998, featured color photographs of twelve of the most compelling examples of this unique form of underground architecture. Represented were the lunchrooms at Carlsbad Caverns and Mammoth Cave, light show theaters at DeSoto and Meramec Caverns, the reception room at Truitt Cave, with its working fireplace, and the the abandoned bandstand and dance floor, deep within Wonderland Cave and Club in Bella Vista, Arkansas.

A booklet published by The Center explores this phenomena in greater detail.