You may not know it’s there even as you drive right past it.

Buried deep underground in Othello, Washington is a rare vestige of the Cold War era: a cluster of decommissioned missile silos that sit 160 feet deep, connected by a system of tunnels. And this summer, the site is open to private tours.

Built in a rush between 1959 and 1963 “to cause mass death and destruction in Russia” as realtor Kelvin Wallin put it, the hidden bunker below the 60-acre site now lies dormant—vacant, dark, and cool.

“It’s 55 degrees year-round, without heating or cooling,” said Wallin, whose brother-in-law owns the property.

“It’s kind of like being in a hollow dam,” added Bari Hotchkiss, the owner.

Walk in the hatch, which serves as the front door, and you’re greeted by countless flights of stairs that lead underground. Six floors down, says Wallin, and you realize you’ve left the outside world behind.

“You turn off all your lights, and you can slap yourself and you can’t see your hand,” he said. “Then you say, ‘OK. You’re six floors down, and you have another 10 floors down to the bottom.’”

At the bottom awaits the labyrinth: three missile silos, two antenna silos, three four-story equipment buildings, a power dome, and a control dome. Echoing tunnels that measure 15 feet high and 20 feet wide connect the structures.

“If you can get a vehicle down there, you can drive it,” said Wallin.

The site’s buildings are insulated by walls 14 feet thick, says Hotchkiss, and their various domes and curvatures make for interesting sound chambers.

“In the power dome, you can be having a conversation in one space … and someone on the opposite end of it can hear it and think you’re standing right next to them,” he said.

The Titan I missile site was decommissioned in 1964 when the missile was made obsolete by its successor, the Titan II, which could launch faster and carry a heavier load.

Credit: Bari Hotchkiss

Credit: Bari Hotchkiss

The U.S. government then stripped the 18 Titan I sites of valuables and auctioned off the surplus property to private individuals.

“And this is the only one of them that has not been flooded out or has had significant damage to it,” said Wallin, adding the site has its own well and septic system.

Hotchkiss inherited the property from his father’s trust in the 1990s.

“It’s kind of like a shopping mall underground, except they’re all spread out,” said Hotchkiss. “When our kids were young, we used it as a private summer camp.”

Hotchkiss and his wife had originally planned to turn the property into an adventure youth camp for the public, complete with a 160-foot climbing wall, a saltwater training tank, and a museum showcasing the site’s past.

“The power dome was going to have hardwood floors and a gymnasium,” said Wallin. “Above ground, there was going to be a trout pond and go carts, and all kinds of things.”

But when they couldn’t raise the capital needed for the project, they decided to sell the property. Their asking price in 2010: $3.5 million.

“We did have a couple of offers that came in, but they were from entities that we decided were not for the benefit of our country,” said Wallin. “One was from Russia, one was from China. So we said, ‘Thank you, no.”’

The property is still for sale, but not listed as such. Ideally, Hotchkiss would like to enter into a joint venture into someone with an original idea for the space.

“It is one of the most well-constructed facilities I have ever been in, and I have been a builder and in construction since I was old enough to hold a hammer,” said Hotchkiss. “It could be there in thousands of years.”

In the meantime, he is opening up the site for various uses. A film crew recently spent several months shooting for a soon-to-be-released feature titled “Deep Burial”. Hotchkiss is taking reservations for private tours this summer. He is also offering the space for lease by the square foot.

email

2 Responses