October 20, 2008

Atlas missile silo gains industrial elegance

LEWIS -- The four-megaton Atlas nuclear missile was removed in 1964, leaving a hole 168 feet deep.

Two floors below the wide-open blast doors, hunks of twisted steel lurk like metallic monsters in the shadows.

The floor is steel mesh stretched halfway across the hole.

Peering over the edge, you can see a few stories dropping into the silo abyss.

A sporadic dripping sound echoes up from the bottom.

Nobody has climbed down a narrow spiral staircase to see what's there for at least 40 years.

The blast doors have never been closed. They let in what there is of light, framing on this visit blue skies.

A newly painted, bright yellow-and-black-striped pneumatic cylinder holds one thick cement wing open.

Another rebuilt cylinder lies "above ground," awaiting installation.

"They just walked away and left the doors open," said Alexander Michael, an Australian industrial architect and interior designer who bought the decommissioned Atlas missile silo in 1996.

He spent $160,000 for the industrial guts in the giant hole, including adjoining bunker quarters.

The new hinge is a signature, really, of Michael's work.

"It was just a nightmare," he said of his first impression of the place. "I still can't believe I bought it."


Of the 12 missile silos built surrounding the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base, the one in Lewis retained most of the interior furnishings intact.

An air conditioner hums now from the underground bunker once home to four airmen.

The living quarters are an iron and cement cylinder suspended in a hole, connecting to the missile silo through blast doors by a long tunnel.

A cement column some five feet thick holds up the entire bunker.

"They were designed to be reused," Michael said of the launch quarters. "As if they would reload another Atlas nuclear missile."

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