Going underground to buy a home… in a nuclear bunker
Ed Peden is a man with a nuclear base plan. Andy Round takes cover.
Now try and answer this question honestly. Do you often feel an overwhelming desire to live deep underground, safe from the trials and tribulations of the economic misery of the 21st century locked behind a blast-proof two-metre-thick concrete door? If the answer is yes, Ed Peden can help.
Forget credit crunch home bargains, when Peden talks about sub-prime property, he means subterranean and the sale of former nuclear missile bases. He’s very good at it. In the past 13 years he has sold 47 decommissioned underground military sites throughout North America.
Speaking from his own converted underground missile base home in Kansas, Peden’s sales pitch is seductive. “These are extremely rare structures the only ones of their kind on Earth and the supply is rapidly declining,” he says. “We are seeing more and more buyers looking for a safe haven property to hedge their options through this economic collapse.”
And you don’t get safer than a missile silo. Most of them were constructed when the Cold War was on the boil and Soviet missiles were trained on strategic targets across the States. The earlier American models such as the Atlas-E or Atlas-F were built at a cost of millions in the early 1960s but were decommissioned and replaced after just four years by more sophisticated shelters called Minutemen or Titans.
“After the Cold War these sites were imploded or just filled in as part of international peace treaty agreements,” says Peden. “But in the older structures the government would remove all the missile technology, the rockets, the warheads and sell the bases off at auction.”
In many cases salvage companies would strip the huge concrete caverns of their giant pumps, hydraulic systems and copper, others were simply forgotten and became flooded. When Peden came across an Atlas-E near Topeka in Kansas he knew it had to become his home. “It was just a flooded subterranean structure,” he says. “At the time I had to canoe through some of the chambers there was so much water.” Twelve months and US$40,000 later, the missile silo belonged to Peden. “It was good value for money. When it was built it would have cost the government US$3.3 million.” (Story continues)
In Peden’s underground silo a 100-foot corrugated steel tunnel connects the abandoned missile bay areas to the control building. And it is in this concrete bunker of a command centre six feet beneath the earth that the Peden family pumped in US$100,000 to create their home.
Cocooned by 18-inch cement walls that are reinforced by steel, a spiral staircase connects two storeys containing an office, four bedrooms, kitchen, lounge and lobby. The huge cavernous spaces are decorated with reclaimed wooden beams, stained glass windows, rescued church pews, a sign that reads ‘Love All’ and a brightly cleaned nuclear bomb control panel that in a previous life was programmed to destroy a Russian city.
“It took us about 12 years to fully renovate the structure,” says Peden. “We live in about 6,500 of 18,000 square feet of the base and have very high ceilings. To be honest we never imagined that we would live in such a large area.” But what of the base’s giant silos that once contained 70-foot weapons of mass destruction that had a range of 5,500 nautical miles and cruise speed of 16,000 mph? “The missiles are obviously gone, but the silos are very useful for storage.”
But clearly living underground has its challenges. Peden admits that the family has to “make time for the sun”, but compensation comes in the form that the missile base is insulated from noisy surface vibrations. “I think it was a mixed bag for the kids when they were growing up,” Peden says. “But there were real positives as well. They learned to ride their bikes on our private half-mile drive and ours was the biggest place in the area to have college parties. Plus we never have to clean windows.”
Such an idyllic underground lifestyle is Peden’s strongest marketing weapon when it comes to pitching the sale of his portfolio of nuclear bases. At the time of going to press he had eight for sale. The former teacher maintains that a decade ago an entry-level abandoned silo could cost around US$50,000. Today that price has doubled with renovated silos easily achieving up US$300,000 despite the downturn.
“With an old Atlas a lot of time and effort needs to be invested,” he says. “You have to drain them, repair walls, remove equipment, it’s very expensive and time consuming, but the value increases. We have an Atlas in upstate New York on the market for US$1.7 million and another in Denver for US$1.8 million.” (Story continues)
So who exactly buys these nuclear bases? Well, since 9/11 there has been demand from companies anxious to find places to store precious data. Other owners have been more imaginative. In Texas a 176-foot deep missile silo has been filled with water and its owner offers scuba lessons with the added attraction of underwater views of 1960s military hardware. Another owner decked out his forest-covered control centre with opulent marble fittings, built a ranch on top of the site and uses the silo for his private plane.
For the peace-loving Peden, converting such symbols of Cold War terror into diving schools or homes is a delicious irony. “I turned 61 last year so I can remember the late 1950s and ’60s very well,” he says. “All the time there was the threat of being snuffed out overnight and ‘duck and cover’ nuclear bomb attack drills were the norm. Today I prefer the symbolism of the Bible when it talks about swords being turned into ploughs. A missile silo is a massive sword and now it’s a place of peace. I like that.”