Memo to Denver's aspiring megalomaniac masterminds: Your ideal lair is currently on the market for a cool $1.4 million.
"Massive 45,000+ sq. ft. of underground floor-space; high chain-link fence around central complex; 2 high capacity deep wells in power dome," reads the listing on broker 20th Century Castles' website. Mountain views, just 20 minutes from metropolitan area... Many unique possibilities... Serious and capable buyers only."
It's a fixer-upper, sure, but it's a steal considering the federal government built it for $130 million in 1960 -- and for that money, it was built to last. Engineers designed the place to withstand a near-direct atomic blast, using concrete walls several feet thick. The residential portion of the complex encompasses 2,363 square feet over two stories of space protected by blast-proof doors. And it's got historical cachet: In 1962, the structure's resident nuclear missiles were locked and loaded during the Cuban missile crisis.
That's right, you guessed it: It's a 1961 Titan I missile site, sitting pretty on 210 acres of prairie southeast of Denver's most remote suburban sprawl. Decommissioned and vacated in 1965 in favor of the Titan II, the property was speculatively snatched up late last year by Salt Lake City businessman Lan England, who was able to purchase such a relic because the U.S. Department of Defense years ago declared such sites surplus and hawked them to ranchers, municipal governments and various real-estate scavengers. But there won't be any later models coming onto the market, ever: Anti-proliferation treaties called for the demolition of silos built in the mid-1960s and beyond.
"These things are appreciating in value rapidly, especially in these uncertain times," says Edward Peden of 20th Century Castles, the Dover, Kansas-based realtor England hired to broker the sale.
"It's the very best [Titan I site] I've seen," he adds. "It's the deepest, hardest hole of them all."
This complex is the granddaddy of the eighteen Titan I sites built in 1961. It could house 150 men for one month in a nuclear-war scenario; if necessary, they could order and carry out nuclear strikes, counterstrikes and counter-counterstrikes, and otherwise assure the Russians that the destruction would be mutual.
Ignoring the supervillain market, Peden's sales pitch for the Denver Titan I targets the Armageddon-fearing survivalist who's looking for a serious home-improvement project. But deep pockets are a prerequisite: The access elevator needs a costly fix, one of the three silos has water leaking into it, and the power dome is in middling condition at best. But the guts of a castle are there. "The launch control center is really pretty clean," Peden says. "It wouldn't be that difficult to make some nice living space in that area. But when you go into the power dome and on down the tunnels, it's very rough."
Peden should know: In 1983, he bought his own Atlas-E for $40,000 -- or about "one-tenth of 1 percent" of its original $25 million price tag -- where he now lives with his wife and two school-aged daughters. Peden's wife (and business partner), Dianna, initially hedged at the idea of moving underground, but he eventually wore her down. "I was spending a lot of time here," Peden says. "Finally she said if we would do some work, make it nice, she would agree to live here."
That was no easy task. It was eleven years before he and his family could move in to the once-active silo. "The room I'm sitting in now had eight feet of water in it," Peden says from Dover. "It was very rough."
Peden parlayed that experience into a real-estate career specializing in such oddities. Since starting 20th Century Castles in the early 1990s, he's sold 31 silos, a handful of which are currently inhabited by humans. In fact, he previously sold the flagship Titan I that England now owns to an entrepreneur who had plans for a Y2K data center. England, who is the executive director of the American Academy for Professional Coders, has no such dreams. "He's very busy and very rich," Peden says of England, who declined to be interviewed. "He bought it as an investment."
For $20, Peden sends prospective buyers a sales video and a form letter: "Dear Potential 'Castle' Owner. Thanks for your interest in our unique underground properties. Built at a cost of millions, these heavily reinforced structures were designed to withstand nuclear attack. They bring new meaning to the world Œshelter.' Centuries from now they will remain."
The enclosed video starts with a number of clips from cable programs that have interviewed Peden or profiled his home. "For four years, they sat here round the clock, ready to blow up a Russian city," he says during one clip, "and now it's our living room." Bespectacled, ponytailed, and rangy, Peden comes off as an enthusiastic and knowledgeable doomsayer, someone who is "happy with our choice of home" in the face of apocalypse soon. Dianna also puts in her two cents: "The thing I like is the climate control."
After the canned clips, the sales video transitions into a good deal of camcorder footage shot at the Colorado Titan I site. Filling dual roles as camcorder operator/commentator, Peden describes what he sees as he tours the complex, starting aboveground, taking a good look at the control dome, silos and assorted tunnels. "The Titan I was a sprawling monster," he says, "with approximately a half-mile of tunnels and domed structures deeply buried under the ground."
A nuke could well have hit this place at some point: The environment is bleak, dry and post-apocalyptic. Most everything appears to be in a state of disrepair. Add a marauding gang of mutant bikers and you've got a Road Warrior ripoff.
But the site's surroundings are considerably more lush than they appear on the videotape. Ranches and a testing facility for engineers border the site, with the Rockies visible and the cowpies numerous. Signs on the site's capably patched fence reading "No Trespassing" and "Government Property" are the only clues to the original intent behind the sparse concrete structures sitting amid the sunflowers and thistles.
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But nuclear war looked like a distinct possibility as the Cuban missile crisis unfolded in October 1962, and this Titan I site would have been a serious player if push had come to mushroom-cloud shove. If either Khrushchev or Kennedy had pushed the button, nuclear strikes and counterstrikes theoretically would have been launched from Denver's back yard. It follows that -- also in a worst-case scenario -- a new society might well have been born on the high plains around the old missile site.
As such, the Denver Titan I site represents "a rare piece of American history and Cold War history," Peden says.
So what bold redevelopment plans might jump off a buyer's drawing board? Does anybody want an impenetrable, windowless, castle? Is Qwest looking for a super heavy-duty data center? Are any former Qwest execs looking for a place to hide? Peden thinks the right company could turn the site into a lucrative tourist attraction. "It's more exciting than a fort or a battlefield," he says. "It's like a cave, and yet it has this historical significance from the Cold War era."
For a place that's been stuck in the 1960s for forty years, the future looks wide open -- and the price is negotiable.