This Phoenix home comes with an underground surprise — an abandoned fallout shelter

By Nate Boyle
Published: Friday, March 8, 2024 - 12:19pm
Updated: Monday, March 11, 2024 - 11:47am

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The entrance to the fallout shelter
Nate Boyle/KJZZ
The entrance to the fallout shelter at the Phoenix home.

In midcentury Phoenix, Papago Park housed an underground bunker and Paddock Pools sold fallout shelter packages. The Papago shelter has been turned into offices and storage space, and these days Paddock is only designing pools. But if you’re in the market for your own personal fallout shelter, you’re in luck.

There's a modest red brick structure in the Roosevelt neighborhood that was built in 1913. Realtor Sherry Rampy says a lot of the original features remain.

“We have original woodwork, original built-ins. This fireplace had been painted white, but now you can see all the beautiful colors of the natural stone from 1913. Three-quarter oak, three-quarter inch oak wood floors were installed, because that's what would have been here in 1913. And then you can see here as well these original windows, you'll notice that some of the glass is wavy, because it's original glass and glass actually will have a tendency to fall in a wave," Rampy said.

And those aren’t the only parts of the house that date back to a different time in history. As Axios Phoenix reported late last year, the front yard holds a secret, hidden under concrete, that until recently had been lost to time.

The entrance to the fallout shelter at the Phoenix home.
Nate Boyle/KJZZ
The entrance to the fallout shelter at the Phoenix home.

“The two previous owners didn't know what it was. In fact, one of them, he was a realtor, and I had said, 'Well what is this?' And he said, 'I don't want to know, because if I know, I either have to fix it or disclose it.' So nobody knew what it was. So it became a very big conversation piece," Rampy said.

Rampy and a contractor decided to get rid of the mysterious concrete fixture, but soon discovered something even stranger.

“He started breaking up the concrete, and I was here, and I was like, 'Oh, my gosh, Brian!' He goes down and over. And so that's when he unearthed the bomb shelter," Rampy said.

Built in 1961, the shelter is quite rudimentary. Rampy installed a metal door and submarine stairs because there was no way to enter.

After touring the house, we carefully descend into the entryway, tightly gripping the handrails. The air is noticeably cooler, and damp. Daylight illuminates the entryway, but as we walk into the adjoining room, we’re forced to squint. Phone flashlights reveal a room about 10 by 9 feet. The concrete walls are stained with rust and water damage. There’s a light on the wall, but it’s clear that the electricity hasn’t worked for a long time. The space is empty, except for a couple boxes in the corner. The room had clearly been abandoned.

Nate Boyle/KJZZ
A fallout shelter hidden under a home in Phoenix.

“Because of the elements throughout the years, you end up with rust here. The sprinkler system, keeping the yard nice and green, you end up with some seepage into the concrete. So you'll notice it's a bit damp down here. But here it is concrete, and then these are some of the things that we found when it was opened up. So you have some bottles for water, some soda bottles, and I think, if I remember correctly, we had found a Vicks VapoRub jar down here as well," Rampy said.

Rampy found documentation that the shelter was built by Paddock Pools.

According to Robert Rowley, director of the Maricopa County Department of Emergency Management, shelters like this were built around the Valley. They were part of a larger national initiative started during the Cold War.

“And it was less along the lines of specifically building fallout shelters and more along the lines of identifying suitable structures that could serve as a fallout shelter," Rowley said. "So think of basements, concrete buildings, with not a lot of windows — cellars, public buildings, subways, other structures  — that were already constructed and met the definition that in a pinch could serve as a fallout shelter.”

Provided you survived the nuclear blast, what would you do after the fallout went away?

Paddock prepared for that as well, by placing a metal door in the wall. The door, square and set low in the wall, is about 3 feet across. You were supposed to open it, and proceed to dig your way up to the surface. The builders assumed you wouldn’t be able to get back up the way you came in.

But according to Rowley, there’s a difference between a fallout shelter and a bomb shelter.

Nate Boyle/KJZZ
A fallout shelter hidden underneath a home in Phoenix.

“A lot of people conflate a fallout shelter with a blast shelter, so Cheyenne Mountain NORAD, that's a blast shelter," Rowley said. "That's designed to survive a direct hit with nuclear weapons. A fallout shelter is not designed for that. It's designed to keep you from basically getting that radiological fallout, that dust that's radiologically contaminated from getting on you and in you. That's what a fallout shelter is for. It's not designed to protect you from the blast. It's designed to protect you post-blast.”

Modern nuclear weapons are a lot more powerful than the bomb Robert Oppenheimer built. A shelter like the one Rampy found might not protect you from a nuclear blast, but, according to Rowley, could serve as a fallout shelter. But he also says that as time has passed, and the odds of a nuclear attack have gotten smaller and smaller, the department has devoted less and less time to planning for such an event.

In the case of any disaster, including nuclear war, Rowley recommends one thing, above all else.

“I always go back to, really, you want to focus on the simplest things. Have your emergency supplies at home, at least three days of food and water. Have an emergency plan for your family, how you're going to contact each other in case of an emergency. Have your go-bags for everybody, and a plan of where you can go if something ... unsafe is about to happen in the area that you live," Rowley said.

Although he stresses that there are much more realistic things to worry about than a nuclear war.

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