“I live in a 15,000 square foot underground nuclear fallout bunker with a swimming pool”

When I first walked into the underground house in Las Vegas in March 2014, it immediately reminded me of the movie Blast from the past. The vibe of the underground space is very similar to what you see in this movie. Perhaps the producers visited this underground house before creating the sets for the film, because that was certainly my impression: it is the Blast from the past lodge.

The house was built in the mid-70s by businessman Girard “Jerry” Henderson as a fallout shelter for him and his family, and it definitely brings back memories of that time. I remember cowering under my desk while nuclear exercises were happening. About once a month the air raid siren would go off and the teacher would tell us kids to get under the desk and put our heads in our hands.

But living in an underground bunker was not something I ever imagined doing. My life took me to Las Vegas. I’m actually trained as an optician and an engineer, but I had been caring for my parents in their 90s for three years and it was getting tough, so we moved them to San Jose in Northern California. I had nothing to do then and nowhere to live, but I had an ex-girlfriend living in Las Vegas, so I came to crash on her couch, looking for work.

A good friend of ours participated in the purchase of this underground house and he suggested that I move in and manage it. I agreed. The house is owned by a non-profit organization that used to be the Society for the Preservation of Nearly Extinct Species, but is now the Stasis Foundation. It is a non-profit organization headquartered in central Texas, with another huge property there. These two properties belong to the association. Whenever there is an event at either property, all money earned is invested in medical research on anti-aging and self-preservation.

Few of the original Las Vegas buildings still exist, but this place is a time capsule of that 70s era. It was originally built so that the Hendersons could, if they needed to, stay in the house until a year without having to come to the surface. But it’s a fallout shelter rather than a nuke shelter. A bomb shelter will protect you if that bomb lands right next to the shelter. But after a nuclear explosion there would be a period of high radiation in the environment, and if you wanted to avoid getting sick you would need to isolate yourself from that radiation for a while, which is what this fallout bunker is for was built. It does, however, have some explosion protection. Above the house there is a concrete slab with rebar, and in addition there is perhaps a meter of earth.

In terms of survival, the underground house has a backup diesel generator for electricity. While fresh water is supplied by the city water district and sewage is pumped into the city sewer with a lift station, if needed the emergency diesel electric generator would power the house including sewage pumps. And we have 1,000 gallons of water set aside in tanks.

Plus, having a pool means there’s another 12,000 gallons of water that could be used for cleaning and bathing. In terms of airflow, because it’s like a cavern, you could actually turn off the ventilation system, for example during any heavy nuclear fallout and a few people would have enough air to breathe for a few weeks.

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The land under which the property sits sits just between a commercial and residential area. On the surface, there is a normal-looking Spanish-style tile-roofed house. But you walk into this house and instead of a living room you see a hallway and at the end of it to the left there is an elevator downstairs. You travel 26 feet down and when the doors open again you enter this huge underground space. The house on the surface is approximately 2,500 square feet, but the underground space is almost 15,000 square feet.

If you imagine a one-story ranch-style home, this is what the property looks like. There’s even a one-bedroom guest house on one side and a swimming pool in the backyard. The main underground house actually has front, side and back yards. It’s not a warren, it’s a house with an “outdoor” space. The main house has a living room, bar, dining room, two en-suite bedrooms and an additional guest bathroom. Then to the side in the courtyard is the guest house which is approximately 700 square feet; it is a small separate one bedroom apartment with a bathroom.

When purchased, the property was in foreclosure and had no furniture in the underground space, so it took approximately 18 months to properly renovate the space. We have kept all the curtains, most of the carpets and the wall coverings. But we brought new furniture. The original owners liked French provincial furniture, which was not to my taste. Instead, we took each room and created something that was compatible with the 70s era. We had a little fun with it, and each room has a different vibe.

You can forget you are underground in the property, as it is built to make you feel like you are not in an underground space. The walls and ceiling are covered in murals, so when the lighting is set correctly and you’re inside the underground house, with a little suspension of disbelief, you can easily imagine you’re sitting in a suburban home overlooking the Hollywood Hills. . The architect and artist who designed the underground house did a great job of opening up the space and not making it look like an underground concrete bunker.

Over the years we’ve had fashion shoots, movie shoots, and even music videos shot in the underground space. And it has been rented out for private corporate events and parties.

Fashion brand Miu Miu contacted us several years ago as they were shooting a series of short films called Women’s Tales. One of them was filmed in the underground house, it had a sort of apocalyptic theme. It was fun. An interesting aspect is that I was able to meet Miuccia Prada because she came to the house during the shooting.

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Recently a major indie band filmed a music video here and British photographer Juno Calypso also filmed here. We’ve had a few birthday parties, but haven’t had a wedding or wedding reception yet. If COVID hadn’t happened, we probably would have by now because Las Vegas is obviously a great wedding destination.

Although I don’t sleep in the underground house for weeks, I spend a lot of time there and often go down with my friends for a party; swim in the pool, play billiards and barbecue there. The underground property also has a four-hole putting green, Swedish sauna, dance floor with mirrored disco ball, and two stripping poles. Plus, there’s a full bar so I can make cocktails for everyone. But I often sleep in the upstairs house because I like being tied to the solar cycle.

I never thought I would live in Vegas until I moved here, but I meet new people and it’s really interesting that way. The underground house is currently for sale, so if and when it sells, I don’t know where I will live. I’m not really tied to anything, although a friend and I are building an astronomical observatory on his land in Utah. We’ve been working on it for about four years and expect it to go live in 2022.

I often point out that this underground house is really a modern castle. If you go to Europe, you see all these beautiful romantic castles all over the landscape. But they weren’t built to look good, they were built as military installations to protect against the attacks that would occur during this time. This underground house was built as a protection against an enemy’s military attack, so to me it’s the 20th century version of a castle.

Throughout my life, I have been interested in space colonization, such as colonies on Mars. If you want to live in a place like that, you’re going to be in an enclosed space. I think my experience of living in this underground house is similar to what life on a lunar colony will be like. You can be in an indoor space so big that you can forget you’re not outside.

It’s an interesting aspect of life here; maybe I’m getting a taste of the future?

Mark Voelker is caretaker and manager of the Las Vegas Underground House. For more details on the house, please visit undergroundhouse.vegas.

All opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

As said to Jenny Harvard.

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