Bombs Away!

Restoration brings new life to a Cold War relic

Story and photos by Eva Mizer

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Each silo is equiped with giant concrete doors, which need the aid of hydraulics to open.

To visit Alexander Michael in his vacation home is a peculiar venture. No 'Welcome' mat greets you; instead, signs warning of trespassing by the United States government dot the long driveway off Route 9 in Plattsburgh, N.Y. The site is plain, with only a few metal and concrete structures. Your feet crunch the gravel as you walk over to one of the structures to let your presence known. After a bit of searching for a doorbell, you knock on the door and listen, only to hear the dripping of groundwater echoing through the long dark stairwell. Suddenly, from deep within the darkness, the clanging of a heavy door and rapid footsteps can be heard as a man wearing a fleece jacket and a baseball hat bounds up the stairs to greet you in a warm Australian accent.

He opens the door and says briskly, “Mind your step.” The spring rains and the snow's thawing routinely flood the halls of his concrete home. The air chills as you reach the bottom of the stairs and pass through two heavy-duty metal blast doors capable of deflecting a nuclear explosion. Why so extreme? Because Alexander Michael is not your average homeowner, and his home is not your average home—it is a retired nuclear warhead missile silo.

The history of the silo is one of many rushed projects started for the defense against a possible attack from the Soviet Union. “After Einsenhower delivered his farewell address in January 1961, the military complex demanded more funding and more jobs,” explains history professor Dr. James Lindgren of SUNY Plattsburgh. What followed was an expansion of military spending and building, resulting in missile silo complexes across the nation in three clusters. The last cluster of these silos was installed in the North Country, with the Plattsburgh base as the main control center.

After a relatively short life of a few years, the silo, along with all the others in the Atlas ICBM (or Inter- Continental Ballistic Missiles) series, was closed. “They were obsolete the moment they were built, and they were even obsolete before they were [actually] built because they required a hydraulic system to hoist the missiles up out of the silo and strategically placed on a launch pad outside,” explains Lindgren. The process was deemed too intricate, too expensive, and ultimately unnecessary after the end of the Cold War. Over time, the silos were left derelict, with some becoming ‘massive sewers’— collecting rainwater, breaking apart, and becoming more dangerous by the day.

“I saw the potential in this place.”

However, not even a daunting project of a flooded and much-corroded 150-foot missile silo and control base such as this could deter Michael. A designer from Australia, Michael saw the potential to turn the silo into a second home and entertainment venue, specifically a nightclub or musical ensemble area.

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Because Michael is only in the silo for two months of the year, he often works around the clock to get what he needs done.

I saw the potential in this place,” Michael says, walking down the stairs to the control room. Suspended from the rest of the structure to help protect workers from a possible nuclear blast, the room was in bad shape when he bought the silo. “There was rust over everything and the paint was peeling; it was pretty ugly.” Nonetheless, years of elbow grease and a few second-hand store retro chairs later, Michael has brought the room back to its former glory with a few added bonuses—mainly some lounge chairs for guests and a television set up for entertainment.

Michael walks into the bathroom, and it feels as though it is a step through time. Most of the bathroom is from the original design, with the original sinks and toilet stalls still in place. “I tried to stay true to what was here,” Michael explains, “but some things I just couldn’t keep because they were in such bad shape or missing.”

The kitchen, for example, was corroded and in a state of disrepair. “I wanted to keep the kitchen, but my budget wouldn’t allow it [because] it was in such rough shape,” Michael explains, “But it would have been great to have the original style.” Instead, Michael opted to buy or make most of the furniture through his own designs. To match the industrial and military theme, Michael bought hardware from local stores to create counters, tables, and other furniture.

Continuing down the stairs, Michael has converted the second floor control room into a lounge and bedroom. The change, however, wasn’t easy. “All of this was separated into separate rooms; we had to knock out a lot of walls to open this up,” Michael explains. In addition to knocking down walls, the deplorable conditions of the first floor were only an echo of what waited above on the second floor. Walking to the back room, Michael opens the door to show the ragged peeling paint, rust, and water damage along the back wall. “I left this how we originally found it, and you can see how much work has been done since,” Michael says.

“The acoustics in here are amazing, and we’d have a
second floor terrace up here for more seating.”

Walking down the last flight of stairs, the cold air turns your breath into a fog, and ice coats parts of the floor. “I got back, and all of this was covered in ice,” he explains. “My main priority has been melting the ice and pumping out all this water.” As he opens the last door, a cold breeze comes through, and a long tunnel leads to the missile silo. Walking in, the light streaming from the open silo doors is a blinding shock to the eyes. Aside from the enormity of the space and the few sections already restored, the site is not much to look at just yet. Years of rust has engulfed much of the metal structures, various spots are unsafe to even walk on, and mold and cracking plagues the concrete sides.

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Alex Michael visits his silo twice a year to make ongoing repairs

Although engineered to be some of the strongest concrete made at its time, it was no match for the continuous brutality of the area's climate. Fifty years of North Country winters constantly wore away at the structure, causing severe structural damage to not only the walls, but the concrete doors that seal the silo as well. Originally damaged by looters and scrappers when dropped, one of the concrete doors will have to be reset to prevent future damage. Once the doors are restored with operational lifts to mechanically open and close them, restoration can begin on the silo itself. For now, however, any work done would fall behind as another year of elements push through the opening. “I decided to renovate the control center and doors first. Otherwise, anything I do would just go to waste here,” Michael explains.

It’s been ten years since Michael bought the retired silo and started renovation. The difference between the original and current pictures are stunning, and it’s hard to miss the dedication he has given to this larger-than-life project. Currently, Michael is looking for a co-investor in what he predicts will be an attractive unique entertainment venue. “The acoustics in here are amazing, and we’d have a second floor terrace up here for more seating,” Michael says, making a sweeping motion with his arms around the silo. For now, a barbecue set up in the silo entertains guests and the sound from his boom box is the only music that reverberates throughout the wide structure, now open to the sun.

Do you know of any unique North Country homes?

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