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Aug. 28, 1954: ‘Atom-bomb-proof' housing for Brooklyn Center

Posted by: Ben Welter under Minnesota History Updated: September 8, 2011 - 3:49 PM

California developer Hal B. Hayes appears to have been a 1950s mix of P.T. Barnum, Donald Trump and the Ghermezian brothers. Hayes promoted grand ideas, amassed piles of money and hobnobbed with Hollywood celebrities. He built an ingeniously tacky “outside-inside” house in Beverly Hills, where trees grew up from the floor and a waterfall churned the indoor-outdoor pool. He was once engaged to the oft-wed Zsa Zsa Gabor, who returned a 45-carat diamond ring when things soured. His development projects eventually soured as well, and the world’s first “atom-bomb-proof” city, described here in a front-page story in the Minneapolis Morning Tribune, was never built.
 
VENETIAN CANAL ‘ESCAPE HATCH’ TO SURROUND HOUSING PROJECT

First A-Bomb-Proof City Promised for Brooklyn Center

 
By EMILY BELSER
 
HOLLYWOOD, CALIF. – (INS) – Contractor Hal B. Hayes Friday disclosed plans for construction near Minneapolis of the first “atom-bomb-proof’ city in the world.
 
The city, to be built on former University of Minnesota property in Brooklyn Center, will be Hayes’ answer to what he terms the nation’s “haywire” civil defense program.
 
(University officials, in announcing the sale of the Earle Brown farm to Hayes and Winston Brothers, Minneapolis construction firm, said the 1,500-home development would cost 30 million dollars.)
 
In addition to dwellings equipped with Geiger counters and bomb-proof bedrooms, the 750-acre project will be surrounded by a miniature Venetian canal, which will serve as an emergency water supply and “escape hatch” in case of attack.
 
Hayes, an authority on anti-nuclear construction, frequently has been consulted by the government about atomic defense problems.
 
Bu, according to him, American civil defense is sadly lacking. He added:
 
“They seem to think when a warning siren sounds all they have to do is shove all the school kids under their desks and deploy a bunch of women in station wagons to pick up the wounded.
 
“Nothing could be worse. There won’t be any place to go because there’ll be total destruction for at least a mile out and incendiary fires all over the place.”
 
Hayes predicts one of the first tragedies in the wake of a bomb attack will be the complete breakdown of a city’s water supply. This is where the canal for the Brooklyn Center project enters the picture.
 
The unique waterway, fed by Shingle creek, will contain wells 1,000 feet deep and sealed with lead capping to prevent contamination. It also will serve as a firebreak and as an escape wading route, three to four feet deep, away from debris-littered streets.
 
The contractor said he got the idea for the canal after studying after-effects of A-bomb attacks at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and bomb damage in Europe.
 
Hayes is masterminding the futuristic city, which will offer homes in the $15,000 to $25,000 bracket. But actual construction will be handled by Winston Brothers.
 
Many of the houses, Hayes said, will be offered for sale complete with electric dishwasher, air-conditioning, television sets, decontamination showers, oxygen tanks, lead and concrete walls and doors, insulated concrete, fireplaces, rheostat lighting and contour bathtubs.
 
“Purchasers can get all this for little extra cost – some of it at about $1.50 extra a month for 30 years,” Hayes maintained.
 
He added there also would be houses for veterans for no down-payment and that non-vets could buy a house for as little as $600 down.
 
Hayes already has constructed mass housing projects somewhat along the lines of the atomic city but none has been so complete or elaborate as the one now being planned.
 
The millionaire’s past projects include several at military installations such as Edwards air force base in California and Inyokern, Calif., naval station.
 
He recently mapped plans for construction of a 10-million-dollar hotel with “connecting swimming pools” in the Los Angeles area.
 
Hayes, whose associates describe him as “a genius,” is known in Hollywood not only for his mass housing projects but for his futuristic inside outside house in the film colony.
 
Among his latest efforts is an underground bomb-shelter he is building in the back of his house.
 
“I JUST WANT to show the civil defense people how it ought to be done,” he said. “Bomb shelters have got to have more than one exit, else you might just as well sit still and be killed.”
 
“Thousands of people were killed in Germany during the war because of one-exit shelters,” he added.
 
Hayes seeks to prevent any such possibility in his new “A-bomb city.”

“We are going to give these people all the protection known to science and all the new household improvements, too,” he asserted.
 
DESIGN of the houses will not be extreme.
 
“They will all be of contemporary design,” Hayes said, “much like the other houses in Minneapolis. Our aim is to give bigger house for less money, smaller down payments and smaller monthly payments.”
 
“The Hollywood contractor said all materials will be purchased in Minneapolis and that all labor will be hired from that area – engineers, architects, machinery and so forth.
 

The Minnesota Historical Society didn't provide much of a caption for this image from 1952: "Boys building a bomb shelter." Most likely the boys were shoveling somewhere in Minnesota, since the photo was part of the society's Minnesota's Greatest Generation project. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)

 

Another intriguing photo and caption, this one from 1961: "Kelsey family in their bomb shelter, 3150 West Owasso, Roseville." The Kelseys no longer live at this address, but several Kelseys still live in Roseville. If you know the folks in this photo, I'd love to hear from you. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)

 

Hal B. Hayes and his "outside-inside" house in Beverly Hills: Carpet on the walls and a tree rising up from the floor and out through the ceiling. What's that creepy-looking hand on the wall? And what's the point of a clock face at shin level? But give the man props for designing a wet bar with liquor on tap. (World Wide Photo)

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