[Marxism] A Boom Time for the Bunker Business and Doomsday Capitalists

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Aug 14 08:47:22 MDT 2019

NY Times, Aug. 14, 2019
A Boom Time for the Bunker Business and Doomsday Capitalists
By Julie Turkewitz

201 FEET UNDERGROUND, Kan. — In his pitch to potential buyers, Larry 
Hall touts his condominium’s high ceilings and spacious living rooms. 
Then there are the swimming pool, saunas and movie theater. But what 
really sets the development apart, in his view, is its ability to 
survive the apocalypse.

Mr. Hall has converted a former military nuclear missile vault into a 
luxury condominium built 15 stories into the Earth’s crust. He is a 
leader among a new group of real estate developers investing in the 
nation’s central prairies and Western foothills: doomsday capitalists.

Americans have, for generations, prepared themselves for society’s 
collapse. They built fallout shelters during the Cold War and basement 
supply caches ahead of Y2K. But in recent years, personalized disaster 
prep has grown into a multimillion-dollar business, fueled by a 
seemingly endless stream of new and revamped threats, from climate 
change to terrorism, cyberattacks and civil unrest.

Bunker builders and brokers have emerged as key players in this field. 
And they see the interior of the country, with its wide-open spaces, as 
a prime place to build. Aiding them is history. During the Cold War, the 
military spent billions of dollars constructing nuclear warheads and 
hiding them in underground lairs around the nation, often in Kansas, 
Nebraska, Oklahoma and New Mexico. Those hideaways, emptied of their 
bombs, are now on the market and enterprising civilians are buying them 
(relatively) cheap and flipping the properties. Eager customers abound.

The 12 apartments in Mr. Hall’s Survival Condo, as he calls it, begin at 
$1.3 million. When he started selling the condos around 2011, he said, 
all the units sold within months.

To Mr. Hall, and to many in his field, this is a calling, not just a 
business. “I’m saving lives,” he said during a recent visit to his 
bunker, the exact location of which he insisted be kept under wraps. He 
entered the building’s elevator as it began its long descent into the 
earth. “To me, this is something to feel good about.”

These projects have plenty of skeptics, among them John W. Hoopes, a 
professor of anthropology at the University of Kansas who spent years 
studying the myth that the world would end in 2012. He accused doomsday 
investors of hawking “survival porn,” which he described as a 
“hypermasculine fantasy” that danger is near and a select few will be 
able to save themselves and their families — if they are prepared.

“Fear sells even better than sex,” Professor Hoopes said. “If you can 
make people afraid, you can sell them all kinds of stuff,” he added, 
“and that includes bunkers.”

But survival homes now dot America’s interior, pulling in clients who 
are part of a larger movement of people who are choosing to retreat from 
society, or at least ready themselves for escape.

Kiki Bandilla, 52, a health insurance agent in Castle Rock, Colo., 
distanced herself from people she called “Chicken Littles,” who think 
“the sky is falling.” She characterized her membership at a survival 
community called Fortitude Ranch as a reasonable insurance policy.

“I don’t like to be dependent on anything, be it big government, big 
food sources or big pharma,” she said. “My interest isn’t from a place 
of fear. My interest is from a place of freedom.”

In recent years, Prepper Camp, a three-day disaster-preparedness and 
homesteading expo in North Carolina, has turned into a survivalist’s 
Burning Man. PrepperCon, outside Salt Lake City, has drawn thousands of 
visitors. Bunker-in-a-box companies have proliferated, sending 
ready-made shelters to suburban doorsteps. High-end real estate agents 
now track down hideaways for California techies and Texas oil executives.

In Las Vegas, an underground bunker built by the Avon Cosmetics 
executive Girard Henderson, featuring a midcentury chef’s kitchen and a 
wood-burning fireplace, is on sale for $18 million.

Here in Kansas, one couple has been selling old missile silos through a 
company called 20th Century Castles. In Colorado, a former weapons 
compound featuring half a mile of underground tunnels is listed on the 
real estate site LoopNet for $4.2 million.

In Indiana, Robert Vicino, a California property developer, has 
converted a former government site into an underground mansion called 
Vivos that he says is “like a very comfortable four-star hotel.” He has 
also purchased 575 former weapons cellars in South Dakota that he is 
turning into a subdivision he calls the “largest survival community on 

Bunker clients say they are united not by ideology — liberals, 
conservatives and political agnostics exist side by side in this world — 
but by a belief that global forces have left societies increasingly 
vulnerable to large-scale disaster.

Tom S., 69, who works in information technology and lives outside 
Atlanta, purchased one of the Vivos cellars after becoming increasingly 
concerned about political unrest, among other things. His 
2,200-square-foot bunker is also a great jumping-off point for exploring 
the Rockies, and he and his wife plan to use it as a home base when he 
retires, he said.

(For now, if disaster strikes, the plan is for them to pack the car and 
make the roughly 26-hour drive from Georgia to South Dakota.)

Tom declined to make his last name public, citing concern that he would 
be harassed online, but he said the purchase had the incidental effect 
of putting him in touch with his political opposites.

He identifies as conservative but his bunker neighbor is liberal, and 
they once had a spirited conversation about President Trump.

In Kansas, Mr. Hall, 62, of Survival Condo, has become one of this 
industry’s best-known businessmen, mostly because of the complexity of 
his operation and his savvy promotion efforts.

The condo sits down a country road, past grazing cattle, a wire fence 
and a guard in fatigues gripping a rifle. Visitors enter through a 
concrete dome; below sit the apartments, outfitted with fake windows 
made of digital screens; the subterranean swimming pool; a dog park; a 
weapons cache; and storerooms for food. Buyers pay monthly condominium 
fees of about $2,600.

Mr. Hall has outfitted the building with five air filters, connected it 
to the electrical grid, drilled a well to the local aquifer, and set up 
diesel generators, a wind turbine and a battery bank, all for backup power.

The doors that cap the entire operation weigh 16 tons, and close behind 
visitors with a booming slam.

Mr. Hall spent a career building data centers for defense contractors 
like Northrop Grumman. After 9/11, shaken by the attacks, he hatched a 
plan to build protected information hubs; when he saw that the market 
was glutted, he turned to protecting people.

 From his defense days, Mr. Hall knew that the government had been 
selling off its underground weapons warehouses. In 2008, he purchased 
one for about $300,000 and told his wife, Lori, and young son that they 
were moving from Florida to Colorado so he could start his bunker 
business. That silo soon became the Kansas Survival Condo.

Ms. Hall, sitting in a cushioned chair in the bunker living room, said 
friends warned her against the project. But she admired her husband’s 
creative spirit and threw her support behind him. “It’s hard to be the 
first one,” she said.

The site had initially held an Atlas-F missile, an intercontinental 
weapon with a warhead hundreds of times more powerful than the bomb 
dropped on Nagasaki. The missiles, built and buried around 1960, lasted 
only five years in their hide-outs before they were removed and 
converted into space rocket launchers, or scrapped entirely. The 
military had decided to replace them with more sophisticated missiles 
and abandon the bunkers. The Air Force eventually turned the empty 
vaults over to the General Services Administration, which auctioned them 
off to civilians.

The Survival Condo vault, which cost the military millions to build, was 
sold to a civilian in 1967 for $3,030 and passed through several owners 
before making it to Mr. Hall.

(Today, officials use websites like gsaauctions.gov to sell unwanted 
government property. Receiving bids recently: a commercial dryer from 
NASA, for $100; a painting of Old Tbilisi, for $150; and a parcel of a 
missile site in Wyoming, for $3,000.)

It cost Mr. Hall $20 million to remodel what was in fact a hole in the 
ground, money he raised from pre-sale of the units. Because few banks 
issue loans for bunkers, his clients financed their apartments 
themselves, wiring him the cash.

More recently, he has purchased a second Kansas vault. He mostly broke 
even on the initial project, he said, and swears that interest in the 
second one “is picking up.” Among the potential buyers, he said, are 
representatives of the Saudi Arabian military, who have asked him to 
draw up plans for an on-site heliport and underground mosque.

The Saudi embassy in Washington declined to comment.

But build-out of the new bunker, which is three times as big as the 
first, now occupies most of his time. There is so much to get done, he 
said, and the end could come any minute.

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