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50 Years Ago, Sacramento was Littered with Fallout Shelters

SACRAMENTO -- Deep underneath one busy Sacramento post office branch is a quiet, concrete room, roughly 100 meters long.

Mail chutes hang from the ceiling, and a conveyor belt stands ready to push deliveries along into the office. Thomas Lewis, maintenance manager for the U.S. Postal Service, says there’s no other room like it at any post office in the area.

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“There’s a lot of history down here with the post office and with civil defense,” said Lewis.

That room underneath the post office is a fallout shelter.

Built in 1962, during the height of Cold War tensions with Russia, the room served for years as a place to drop mail, in addition to being a bomb shelter. Not much has changed since in the decades since the room was built. It is no longer used. Cylinders stuffed full of survival supplies still line the walls. Inside are cups, straws for drinking, sanitary pads, gloves, and chemicals to treat human waste. The cylinder itself would serve as a toilet in the case of a nuclear attack.

This isn’t the only fallout shelter to exist in the Sacramento area.

A map from the Center for Sacramento History shows that during the 1960s, at least 135 shelters could be found in Sacramento. They could be found in schools, state buildings, the Folsom Dam, and even the Metropolitan Airport. The map does not include private fallout shelters, found in many homes built during the Cold War.

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Dr. Joseph Palermo, a history professor at Sacramento State, says these shelters were commonplace when concerns about nuclear attack were heightened.

“One hundred thirty-five might be a representative sample of a town that size in that period,” said Dr. Palermo. “Or it could reflect that you had a few air bases close by, and were considered prime targets.”

FOX40 reached out to dozens of locations listed on the map. Many don’t exist anymore. Others have repurposed these rooms into something new, and are no longer recognizable. But across the city, you can still find these remnants from the past.

“It’s a part of our history, right? It’s part of America and the different stages we’ve gone through,” said Lewis. “The Cold War was a big part of it.”

Below is a map of some locations that still have shelters, though they have all been repurposed: