In the early 1960s, faced with the imagined scenario of total nuclear annihilation during the Cuban Missile Crisis, a dozen intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos were constructed in the Adirondacks in upstate New York near the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base. The crisis lasted less than two weeks, and because the silos didn’t work very well anyway and had a lifespan of around three years, most were decommissioned by 1964.
The military didn’t know what to do with the silos, which were vast, cavernous underground structures that went 185 feet down and housed Air Force squadrons. They donated the silos to different counties, who didn’t know what to do with them either. So they remained abandoned for more than 50 years.
Eventually, people like Australian architect Alexander Michael came along. He snatched one up near the Plattsburgh base in 1996 for $160,000 and has spent the years ever since plunking down more than $300,000 and restoring his silo to its original glory, while making it a part-time home along the way. He’s got a full kitchen, sleeping quarters and even the original launch control console to tinker with.
He’s spent more than 15 years restoring the silo, financed by his work as an architect and the sale of a one-bedroom apartment in Sydney. “I didn’t like that apartment, so I thought I’d buy a nuclear missile silo instead,” he says. “I can’t tell you how much joy it’s given me.”
The front door, seen here, is known as the entrance portal. It leads to a stairway that immediately descends underground about 30 feet to the control center. The entrance portal was built with reinforced concrete designed to be expendable, Michael says.
If the silo were ever destroyed in a nuke blast, the entrance would deliberately collapse, and the only exit would be through an emergency escape hatch, a concrete tube filled with sand that leads from the control center to the surface. You’d open the hatch, release all the sand, put a big ladder up there and hightail it out. “Though I’m not sure why anyone would want to get out if there’s been a nuke blast,” Michael says.