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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 so


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