Surviving the A-bomb

Photos by Danny Fulgencio

Photos by Danny Fulgencio

Kessler fallout shelter is a Cold War throwback

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The dentist who built Don Sanders’ Kessler Park home in 1955 spared no expense when it came to keeping his family safe. He installed an early burglar alarm and had a custom gun rack built into the linen closet. When it came to surviving the bomb, homeowner J.G. Mullhollan went top-of-the-line. He blasted a hole in his rocky backyard and installed a grade-one shelter, the very best. The shelter is still intact, about 12 feet by 6 feet, constructed of solid concrete and insulated using molten lead. “It’s designed for three people to survive for seven days,” says Sanders, who bought the house in August 2012. Preserved underground since 1961 are three canvas bunks, clothing hooks, two pantry cabinets, a water tank, an aluminum garbage can and a chemical toilet. There are even uncapped glass jugs filled with some kind of chemical, unevaporated after all these years, for the emergency commode. The shelter is equipped with two blast doors and crank-operated air intake and ventilation systems. Sanders says several of his neighbors have fallout shelters too, but none is on par with the dentist’s. The Eisenhower administration encouraged the public to prepare for nuclear attacks, and Americans were paranoid after the wholesale death and destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The propaganda reel “Living in a Fallout Shelter,” easy to find on YouTube, portrays life in a public fallout shelter versus a home shelter. In a public shelter, you would get a 700-calorie biscuit, maybe some fruit and one quart of drinking water per day, according to the video. Back at the home shelter, the reel’s A-bomb victims are partying with canned hams, fruit juice and two quarts of water per day. “This had to be very expensive to build,” Sanders says. Sanders, who owns a marketing 13.02.28-OC-QA-Don-Sa_opt2company, is a longtime collector of atomic-era artifacts. Hanging from his dining-room wall is the restored three-speed Columbia bicycle his parents bought him in ’61, when he was 10. By the front door is a mint-condition fiberglass “big boy” from Kip’s. On a shelf is the metal lunch box he used as a child, featuring Roy Rogers’ horse Trigger. There is the hound-dog stuffed animal his mother received at an Elvis concert and toy tractors, actually Caterpillar farm-equipment samples his salesman dad used as visual aids when calling on farmers. Did Sanders buy the house because of the shelter? Well, it is a really pretty house on an interesting block, he says. But yes, he admits, the fallout shelter’s time-warp intrigue drove the sale home. Ironically, his real estate agent, Susan Melnick, refused to climb down into the shelter when she showed him the house. And even though the two have become friends since, Melnick still refuses to go down there. Sanders says most of his neighbors knew about the shelter, and they all wanted to see it after he moved in, an easy ice-breaker for the new guy on the block. “I’ve taken about 400 people down here,” he says.

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