Residential Bomb Shelters in Sacramento

I'd like to begin seriously by remembering the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who suffered horrific injuries and death at the detonations of Little Boy and Fat Man 66 years ago. May we never forget.

I've been gathering images of home fallout shelters and building materials from the 1950s and 1960s here in Sacramento. At first I found them an amusing curiosity. Later I found them ironic; and then, simply sad. There is no way I can do justice to the history of the Cold War culture in my short post. For a better overview please visit the links I've highlighted.

Undoubtedly this civil defense video produced in 1951 and first aired at the beginning of 1952 was reflective of a trend: people were genuinely frightened and felt they needed to do something to protect themselves. In hindsight, the recommendations and specs for these shelters and materials seem woefully inadequate and ridiculous. But they tried.

Drastic times called for drastic measures and Sacramento was no exception. Many thought that Sacramento -- as the capitol of California and home to two Air Force bases -- might be a prime target.

Here's what I've unearthed from microfilm digging and other research:

February 24, 1951: Fam-Shel Air Raid Shelter Ad in the Sacramento Bee

"Is There a Need for Air Raid Shelters? Your answer to that is as good as ours, but we all know preparedness before possible disaster from modern air borne weapons is of vital concern to every one of us."

"Survival Materials... after atomic bomb tests at Survival City, Nevada!... These two typical home structures withstood the 35 kilo ton (equivalent to 35,000 tons of TNT) nuclear blast... on Doomsday Drive, AT ONLY 4700 FEET FROM GROUND ZERO"
November 6, 1960 Sacramento Bee Ad: Fox Hole Family Fallout Shelter

"Sacramento, with only a half-dozen family bomb and fall-out shelters, may have considerably more before the year is out.... Technical advice was supplied by Sacramento civil defense officials, and, as a result, Ken Johnson, director of Sacramento City-County Civil Defense has termed the eight by 24-foot shelter one of the best and most effective family shelters he has ever seen.

The house under which the bomb shelter is built was the brainchild of Jerry Blomberg, and design was by a local architect....

One of the beauties of the bomb shelter is that it can be utilized for many things in day to day living. It could be a playroom for children, a wine cellar, used for limited storage, or could make a fine, soundproof den."
Earlier United Press articles dated August and September, 1955 from Texas, Oxnard, and Sarasota, state smaller dimensions for the innovative room (eight-foot-six by eight feet) -- and refer to it as a bathroom. To add insult to injury these articles have regrettable titles with the unfortunate pairing of the words "bathroom" and "bomb." These articles also refer the model home as the "Blomberg House" and lists the architect as Carter Sparks.

According to a Time Magazine article from September 1, 1961 entitled "Building: Shelter Skelter":
"Sacramento's Atlas Bomb Shelter is starting to merchandise a 35-ton prefab model for six that, depending on excavation costs, will sell for between $5,000 and $6,000. 'We haven't done any advertising yet,' crows Atlas' Boss Frank Ringer, 'but even so, there's so much demand we can hardly keep up with it.'"
I guess shortly after speaking with Time, Atlas had a change of heart about advertising; I found an ad dated only nine days later after the Time article:

September 10, 1961: Atlas Bomb Shelter Ad in the Sacramento Bee

"You wouldn't go to sea without a lifeboat aboard! Now danger of a nuclear war threatens us. Now you can have radiation and blast protection at your home."

October 5, 1961 - photos of a fallout shelter in Fair Oaks, CA (1, 2), are taken to accompany an October 11th article written by Austin Scott of Associated Press:

"Mrs. Hubert H. Miller of Fair Oaks, CA., and her children Cynthia 4 and David, 2½ make a practice run for their $5,000 concrete and steel backyard fallout shelter… Miller is a fallout shelter contractor....  In Sacramento, area shelters have been built for as little as $200 and as much as $10,000. (AP Photo)"

"Pretty Snug -- Mrs. Hubert H. Miller, of Fair Oaks, Calif., and her two children, David, 2 1/2, and Cynthia, 4, are fairly snug in their $5,000 concrete and steel fallout shelter. Mount-fixed bicycle provides exercise and is connected to an air filtering pump. Emergency water and food supplies are stored in cabinets and under wall cots. Storage batteries supply electricity for ceiling lights." (Source: hard print of an AP wirephoto stamped from the Examiner)
According to a Sacramento Bee article by Dixie Reid dated February 25, 1988, one of the first fallout shelters was sold to Paul and Florence Maxson in 1959:
"The price was $3,000, a lot of money in those days. But soon the Maxsons and their three children had what history recorded as Sacramento's first private underground bomb shelter.

It was a novelty for a while. Youngsters in the South Sacramento neighborhood begged to look at it. Reporters wrote about it. But the Maxsons never got around to stocking it with emergency rations, and before long Paul Maxson was storing his bookkeeping-business records in it."
In the end, it turned out that overall the home fallout shelter business in Sacramento sort of bombed. As a result, civil defense officials looked to large public buildings which, at that time, included the Pacific Bell Building at Watt and Marconi, Memorial Auditorium, the State Department of Transportation building downtown, and the Federal Building and Courthouse on Capitol Mall which, reportedly could hold 11,135 people. Other reports I've run across include a small shelter in the old Broadway Hardware site, a residence in Land Park, and a small shelter undeneath the Taggart building on Alhambra and J.

For further reading I recommend: 
The new (super-sized) doomsday shelter 
Baby Boomers: Life in the Freezer 
1962 Fallout Shelter Handbook from Wardomatic
Photographs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

I'd love to hear from you if you recall other sites or homes in Sacramento that had a bomb/fallout shelter!


jwoo said...

A very interesting and thought provoking article. Fascinating that they actually had an atomic testing center that you could expose your construction to..

Gretchen said...

Thanks jwoo! I find the parallels to recent events striking as well.

Modernesia said...

Very nostalgic post. I love to visit CONELRAD occasionally:

Gretchen said...

Thanks Modernesia - I have a link to it in the post but it's disguised as the words "Cold War culture" up at the top :) Love CONELRAD!

Margaret Duarte said...

Hi Gretchen. Nice to meet a fellow Sacramento Connect blogger. My friend's family built a bomb shelter in their back yard in the Franklin area when I was in grammar school. We played in it, but I felt terribly claustrophobic down there. Good thing they never had to use it.

Gretchen said...

What an interesting memory, Margaret! I agree, good thing they didn't have to use it. I'm not sure the shelters would have worked as well as they thought they would.

cmtigger said...

Growing up in Sacramento in the 70's and 80's, I remember a few fallout shelters in friends' yards. I specifically remember one on Bartley in Land Park. I think a lot of them have been taken out or converted to other uses now.

Gretchen said...

Thanks for sharing your memories, cmtigger. It would be wonderful to see one of the original shelters that was built back in the day!