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Underground Cold War Relics As Doomsday Castles?

Larry Hall shows off the old vents and 9-foot-thick walls of a missile silo he's developing into condominiums. (Frank Morris)

One clear threat once menaced civilization: nuclear war with the Soviet Union. The Cold War is over, but decades later, some of the fortifications built to fight that war still dot the American landscape.

Four years ago, Larry Hall bought a nuclear missile silo out on the open rolling land north of Salina, Kan. Hall paid $300,000 and spent much more to clean out all the scrap metal and stagnant water.

The missile and four-megaton thermonuclear warhead are long gone, but the thick subterranean concrete and steel walls — built to weather a nuclear blast — aren't going anywhere, Hall says.

"I mean, wow. This thing will protect us against everything. I don't care what your particular threat is. We've pretty much got you covered," he says.

A Condo Tower — Underground

There has been lots of interest, lots of emails, lots of phone calls. [But] the actual purchase is more difficult.
Ed Peden, seller of defunct missle sites

Hall didn't buy this place just for himself. He's built the steel skeleton for a 14-story condo tower here. But this tower doesn't rise up from the prairie. Instead, it descends — almost 200 feet down.

And down in the old missile silo, work on the first single-floor unit is coming along. Hall will market the completed unit for $2 million.

"You're standing right where the Jacuzzi whirlpool tub [goes]," Hall gestures on a walk through the unit. "And you can see the roughed-in plumbing for the two sinks."

Hall also promises to stockpile five years of food rations for each tenant. He says there will be nice stainless steel appliances and a store of sorts, distributing the fresh fish and organic produce he plans to grow here underground.

Hall says this place will be high end, high tech and, he vows, very secure.

"We don't even have to put our people into harm's way," he says. "They're essentially like a video game. We've got remote control guns, we've got infrared motion detectors ... audio detectors."

Big Dreams And Financing Woes

Little of the cutting-edge technology Hall envisions is in place now. He says his dream is currently a pay-as-you-go project.

"One banker was really funny," Hall says. "He put it this way ... 'Let me get this right. You're essentially wanting a mortgage that you're essentially betting that you won't have to repay, because the world's going to hell in a handbasket.'

"I said, 'Yeah, that doesn't sound good, does it?'"

Hall says the lack of financing has toppled hundreds of potential sales.

Ed Peden is co-owner of the firm 21st Century Castles, which specializes in this type of real estate. He estimates that there are about 120 so-called "first generation" missile sites still around, all built in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Peden says financing troubles like Hall's are common across the market for those underground compounds these days.

"Things have not been selling so well in the last year or two," he says. "There has been lots of interest, lots of emails, lots of phone calls. [But] the actual purchase is more difficult. And it's unfortunately become mostly for the wealthy."

'Just A Life Choice'

Peden got into the market early. He paid $40,000 for his ballistic missile compound near Topeka, Kan., where he has lived with his wife, Dianna, for nearly two decades.

"I know for others who see this — they often will jump immediately to the conclusion that we are preppies," Dianna Peden says. "But it really is just a life choice."

She's talking not about that familiar subculture of the young, wealthy and fashionable, but the group often referred to as "preppers," as in, doomsday preppers.

The Pedens choose to be self-sufficient. They grow some of their food and produce a lot of their own electricity. They like to use their cavernous underground lair not so much for protection, as for parties.

"What's fun is when there's about 20 people sitting around in the circle, and they are all drumming together, and there are dancers in the middle. It's a very exciting environment at that time," Ed Peden says.

The Pedens' place smells of incense and is lavishly decorated with mystical art and artifacts from world religions.

The Pedens says they've transformed a weapon of mass destruction into a shrine to world peace and spiritual development.

Ed Peden says he's not interested in doomsday or Mayan calendar talk. His prediction for 2012 and beyond? Not that the world will end but that the credit crunch eases — making moving into in an old nuclear missile compound just a little more affordable.

Copyright 2014 KCUR-FM. To see more, visit http://www.kcur.org/.

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Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Economic collapse, terrorism, earthquakes - threats real and imagined are driving up demand for an unusual kind of real estate: Cold War missile silos. While most would-be buyers want an old missile silo as an escape from impending societal breakdown, others see them as havens for positive social change. Frank Morris from member station KCUR in Kansas City sent us this report.

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: Use to be one clear threat menaced civilization: nuclear war with the Soviet Union. And 50 years later, some of the fortifications built to fight that war still survive. There's one near the very center of the country.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR CLOSING)

LARRY HALL: The wind's not going to blow that door open.

MORRIS: And that's one of the smaller doors. Larry Hall bought this nuclear missile silo out on the open rolling land north of Salina, Kansas four years ago. He paid 300 grand and spent much more to clean out all the scrap metal and stagnant water. Of course the missile and four-megaton thermonuclear warhead are long gone. But the thick, subterranean concrete and steel walls, built to weather a nuclear blast, they aren't going anywhere.

HALL: I mean wow, this thing will protect us against everything. So I really don't care what your particular threat is. We've pretty much got you covered.

MORRIS: Hall didn't get this place just for himself. He's built the steel skeleton for a 14 story condo tower here, but it doesn't rise up from the prairie, it descends down almost 200 feet into it.

(SOUNDBITE OF POWER TOOL)

MORRIS: And down in the old missile silo, work on first $2 million single floor unit is coming along.

HALL: Now, you're standing right where the Jacuzzi whirlpool tub that goes there. And there's a – you can see the two – the roughed-in(ph) plumbing for the two sinks.

MORRIS: I mean, who wants to survive Doomsday only to share a bathroom sink? Or eat poorly, for that matter. Hall promises to lay away five years of food rations for each tenant. He says there'll be nice stainless steel appliances and a store distributing the fresh fish and organic produce to be grown here underground. You see, this place is high end, high tech, and Hall vows very secure.

HALL: We don't even have to put our people in harm's way. They're essentially like a video game. We've got remote controlled guns, we've got infrared motion detectors.

MORRIS: There's little of this bleeding edge technology is in place now. This is a pay as you go project.

HALL: One banker was really funny, he put it this way, he goes, let me get this right. You're essentially wanting a mortgage that you're essentially betting you won't have to repay because the world's going to hell in a handbasket. I said, yeah, that doesn't sound good, does it?

MORRIS: Hall says the lack of financing has toppled hundreds of potential sales. And that's true across the market for underground nuclear missile compounds these days.

ED PEDEN: Things have not been selling so well in the last year or two.

MORRIS: Ed Peden specializes in this type of real estate.

E. PEDEN: There has been lots of interest, lots of emails, lots of phone calls. The actual purchase is more difficult. And it's unfortunately become mostly for the wealthy.

MORRIS: Paden got in early. He paid 40 grand for this ballistic missile compound near Topeka, Kansas, where he and his wife Dianna Peden have lived nearly two decades.

DIANNA PEDEN: I know for others who see this, they often will jump immediately to the conclusion that we are preppies.

MORRIS: She's talking about what most people call preppers, Doomsday preppers.

D. PEDEN: But it really is just a life choice.

MORRIS: The Pedens choose to be self-sufficient. They grow some of their own food and produce a lot of their own electricity. They like to use their cavernous underground lair not for protection, so much as for parties.

E. PEDEN: What's fun is when there's about 20 people sitting around in the circle, and they are all drumming together, and there are dancers in the middle. It's a very exciting environment at that time.

MORRIS: The place is lavishly decorated with mystical art and artifacts of world religions. It smells of incense. The Pedens say they've transformed a weapon of mass destruction into a shrine to world peace and spiritual development.

E. PEDEN: We like to play the flutes in the tunnel because the vibration is very interesting.

MORRIS: Less interesting to Peden is all this cataclysm, Doomsday, Mayan calendar talk. His prediction for 2012 and beyond? The credit crunch eases, and moving into in an old nuclear missile compound becomes just a little more affordable.

For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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