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Here's What A Fully Stocked Mid-Century Fallout Shelter Under A San Fernando Valley Backyard Looks Like

A rusty wide square door opens to a concrete base. A man stands in a yard holding it open. There's green grass and garbage cans behind him.
John Rabe stands triumphant over the fallout shelter door.
(Mae Ryan
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About this story
  • For 11 years and over almost 600 episodes, Off-Ramp explored Southern California on the radio at 89.3 KPCC. The show explored the people, places, and ideas that make up this "imperfect paradise" we call home. Now, every week on the Off-Ramp podcast, from LAist Studios, host John Rabe is dipping into the archives to bring these stories to a new audience.

One of our most popular stories, published on this date in 2013, started with a simple email from my friend Chris Murray:

"Hey, John, my sister and brother in law just bought a house in the Valley with an intact fallout shelter. Wanna see it?"

I think I was there with my microphone the next day.

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Listen: Tour this pristine mid-century BOMB SHELTER!

Current events bring a quote from the end of the piece into sharper focus. Historian Charles Phoenix, giddy from seeing all the mid-century relics in the shelter, like pastel toilet paper, takes a breath and says,

We should take a moment to respect their fear, and be happy we don't live in a world where we're afraid we're going to get bombed every five minutes.

Here's the original story published on March 7, 2013:

A few weeks ago, my friend Chris Murray wrote:

Chris and Colleen recently closed on a Charles DuBois Ranch House and the bomb shelter is an absolute time capsule: still stocked with old magazines, bunks, sleeping bags and medications. I told them to keep it in case of imminent Zombie Apocalypse. You're more than welcome to visit...
Selections from the popular radio show available weekly

He didn't need to ask twice. Chris and Colleen Otcasek immediately agreed to let Off-Ramp into their time capsule, or time machine, and didn't flinch when I showed up with shop lights, a 100-foot extension cord, historian Charles Phoenix, and KPCC photographer Mae Ryan. Chris and Colleen even made a relish tray and served Arnold Palmers.

It's really not a bomb shelter; it would never withstand a blast directed at the Valley's aerospace industry. It's a fallout shelter, designed to keep the radiation away for a few weeks.

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And inside we found a Kresge's worth of items: Kleenex, sanitary napkins, canned food, sleeping bags, magazines — which delighted Med, Charles, Chris, and I — and pills and a writing tablet hanging on the wall with a 30-year calendar.

That made Chris Otcasek, the most somber of the group, ask:

"What would you write on this? A suicide note? Anyone who built a shelter in their backyard would have to be pretty optimistic."

Chris had just coincidentally seen a "Twilight Zone" episode in which a Cold War backyard fallout shelter doesn't do anything but drive neighbors apart when they think they're under nuclear attack.

Unlike many homeowners, Chris and Colleen don't plan to fill in their shelter. They say they'll leave it as it is, undisturbed for the next owners.