Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Cuban Missile Crisis Recovered Memories: Los Angeles Fallout Shelter Options

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On October 24, 1962, at the height of the Cuban missile crisis, the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner reported that “hundreds of worried citizens were calling police today asking the location of public fall-out shelters, fearful of a Russian nuclear attack.” The very next day city officials obliged panicked Angelenos with a list of the 300 shelters that they could choose to die in should the opportunity arise.

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If CONELRAD (and the Internet) had been around during this watershed Cold War moment, we would have advised our readers to form a line outside the Desilu Studios fallout shelter at 780 N. Gower (capacity 61, so get there early). Who wouldn’t want to share the end of the world with Lucy? Even if Ms. Ball didn’t show up, a Hollywood studio shelter (with the possibility of a character actor or two showing up) would have to be better than the Lincoln Heights City Jail (capacity 15,436).

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But, in the end, fallout shelters (particularly L.A. fallout shelters) were less than ready for their brink-of-the-apocalypse close-up. Indeed, on October 28th, as the crisis was winding down, the Herald-Examiner reported that only two of the city’s 307 fallout shelters were stocked, albeit unevenly.

The two existing “stocked” shelters included the Eighth and Figueroa building and the Subway Terminal building at 417 S. Hill St.

Neither shelter had any provisions for sleeping accommodations, but enough tinned biscuits and sanitary kits were there to supply subsistence for 10,000 persons in the Subway Terminal building and 800 more in the Eighth and Figueroa building. But there was no water.

The ropes of 7-1/2 gallon water tanks in each shelter were impressive, but empty. Also, it was noted, the narrow street entrance to the Subway Terminal Shelter was padlocked.

Despite this rather dubious evidence of preparedness, Gov. Edmund G. Brown, State Disaster Director Alan Jonas, and Regional Disaster Administrator Charles Manfred all issued identical statements, apparently intended to reassure a jittery public. They said: “We have had no instructions from Washington to move beyond our present state of readiness, but we are prepared to do so if necessary.”

With quotes like these is it any wonder that “newsmen roared with laughter and derision” when Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara mentioned civil defense as a protection against nuclear missiles at a Pentagon press conference on October 25, 1962?[1]

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REFERENCES

“L.A. Excited Over Fall-Out Shelters,” Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, October 24, 1962.

“Fallout Shelter Locations Told By L.A. Officials,” Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, October 25, 1962.

“Civil Defense Lag Revealed,” Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, October 28, 1962.


[1] “Pentagon Issues Shelter Report,” New York Times, October 26, 1962

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