Blast from the past: Inside a Cold War-era fallout shelter in Austin

Food from a 1960s-era fallout shelter is still on the shelves. (KXAN Photo)
Food from a 1960s-era fallout shelter is still on the shelves. (KXAN Photo)

WEST LAKE HILLS, Texas (KXAN) — Underneath West Lake Hills is a relic from a distant era.

As students head back to school, we found a real-life lesson in history. A fallout shelter built more than 6 decades ago rests in the backyard of Jason Hunter’s home.

Austin has changed a lot since the 1960s, but the shelter preserves a rare, authentic view of the past. Everything in the bomb shelter has been in place since the 1960s. There are supplies: food — all of it expired; beds — still made; and a map of the area with a nearby radio to keep tabs on what may be happening above.

“I do remember finding this map and it had the cross hairs right on San Antonio,” Craig Denham said.

He sold the home and bunker to its current owner. Denham discovered the bunker years ago. It had been sealed for roughly six decades before Denham opened the hatch and took a trip down the steps.

“To have that much fear, to be that scared to go to these lengths to build something not cheap to build,” Dehnam reflected.

The West Lake Hills shelter isn’t the only one in Austin. Photos at the Austin History Center show a demo fallout shelter at Zilker Park back in 1960. It was built with help from federal money by the Austin’s department of civil defense (KXAN was unable to find if this department still exists or if its name was changed).

Terrell Blodgett was Austin’s assistant city manager from 1955 to 1960. He was the Austin Civil Defense Director during that time and spoke with KXAN this week.

Blodgett said while the city built a fallout shelter as a model for the public, Austinites weren’t overly worried about the Soviet threat during the Cold War.

He sees many parallels between that era and today, only with much more aggressive rhetoric among leaders of several countries. Blodgett hopes Americans don’t panic about conflict as some may have during the ’60s, but he hopes people are mindful of the realities we face.

“I’m sort of surprised that there is not more concern over the possibility of real trouble when there is,” Blodgett said.

Denham doesn’t fear nuclear conflict, believing it won’t happen and Texas is safe.

“I think we’re just removed from it. I don’t know. I mean, it doesn’t seem like that big a threat,” he said.

Jorge Rodas is on KXAN News Today with a tour of the shelter.

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