BLAST FROM THE PAST
Building Eden Underground
How easy is it to construct a mega-luxury bomb shelter
How easy is it to construct a mega-luxury
bomb shelter? Once upon a time, the world scrambled to erect them
overnight. Renny Harlin recalls that nearly every neighborhood
in his native Finland had one. Sissy Spacek remembers that her
father paced off their backyard measuring out the space needed
to build one himself. It seems difficult to believe now, but back
in the early '60s many American households considered adding a
bomb shelter like just another addition to the home.
In 1961, Life magazine published a cover story entitled
How You Can Survive Fallout, with detailed plans for building
home bomb shelters. In the face of threatened atomic war, the
issue began with a special letter from President Kennedy extolling,
"the ability to survive coupled with the will to do so."
So it was that Americans stocked cream-cheese and celery, Jell-O,
macaroni and Parchesi boards in their radiation-safe bunkers,
ready to endure the worst.
Blast From The Past production designer Bob Ziembicki -
who previously captured the '70s so vividly in Boogie Nights
- found himself on a fascinating quest into the history of
the American bomb shelter. Ziembicki hoped to forge a shelter-extraordinaire,
filled with comic yet poignantly homey touches. To get a sense
of what was possible, and what had actually been attempted, Ziembicki
reviewed dozens of magazine articles, all the documentary footage
of the era he could find, and a German book entitled Subterranean
Places, the only volume he could locate dedicated to underground
architecture. He then compiled images of the most ambitious shelters,
including a "playboy's shelter" replete with a waterfall
and a butler serving cocktails.
With all this fuel for thought, Ziembicki next set out to consider
exactly what kind of shelter former Cal Tech professor, genius
engineer and all-around nutcase Calvin Webber would build for
his wife and future child. Hugh Wilson and Bill Kelly had determined
that Calvin would construct an eight-room, underground facsimile
of their actual San Fernando Valley tract house so that the family
could live exactly as they would have ordinarily - albeit with
the slight disruption of having no friends or neighbors.
"Calvin was the kind of person who would go to total extremes
in creating his bomb shelter. Most people didn't really take the
threat very seriously, or they didn't really understand so they
built simple shelters that might work for a few days, but he wanted
a place that would have all the comforts of home for three decades.
He understood that if it really happened they would be in there
for a very long time," explains Ziembicki. "Sure his
shelter is excessive, elaborate and huge but it was the obsession
of his life, the place that would save his family in his mind.
It's a little wacky, but then so is Calvin."
Ziembicki had a great deal of fun designing the shelter and its
attendant ultra-'60s furniture and accessories, many of which
have become retroactively trendy. "It's just a great era,
the early '60s" says Ziembecki, "a sort of liberation
era after the staid designs of the '40s and '50s, mixing space-age
optimism and vibrant shapes and structures. Of course the Webbers
are a little on the conservative side, so we didn't want to go
too far out. We went for a very middle-American but still actively
Kennedy-era look. We flipped through a lot of old magazine layouts
to get the color schemes exactly right, but when it came to finding
props and furniture we had enormous choices because there are
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