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Tucked away under the unremarkable former Broadway Hardware store is a dark reminder of a time in Sacramento’s past when the threat of war loomed.
Entering the front of the store, which will soon be reborn as a pawn shop, visitors will see an open space with display cases and a counter. But behind one of the curtains in back is a gently sloping concrete ramp leading underground to a nuclear fallout shelter.
Stan Lukowicz Jr., who owns Capital City Loan and Jewelry with his father and brother, said he thinks the shelter might date back as far as World War II – before the threat of nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union.
“At one point during the war, bomb shelters were considered a necessity,” he said, adding that going down in the shelter for the first time was “a little intimidating.”
Broadway Hardware’s shelter is one of more than 100 listed on a 1960s map at the Center for Sacramento History, 551 Sequoia Pacific Blvd.
Other shelter sites include the Old City Hall, The Sacramento Bee, numerous state and government buildings, McClatchy High School, the water treatment plant and the dorms at California State University, Sacramento.
The shelter map was originally accompanied by a booklet describing what to do in the event of a nuclear attack on Sacramento. A blank form was intended to be filled out and serve as a reference to which shelter to head for if it became necessary.
Also at the center is a flier advising residents of the steps to take in an attack.
The flier, distributed by the Sacramento Operational Area Civil Defense Council in 1962, advised residents to “select a shelter area for home and work. Stock shelter area with food, water, medical and sanitary supplies.”
Graphic representations told residents that an “alert” signal would be a long, droning note played out on the sirens and a “take cover” signal would be a warbling siren for three minutes.
In a sobering tone, the flier gives the harsh details of an attack without warning.
“No siren sound. A brilliant white flash, the brightest you’ve ever seen, is your only warning ... You have a few seconds before heavy shock wave arrives,” according to the flier. The flier then advises people to stay inside until they hear it is safe to leave, as radioactive fallout would be dangerous.
Though the presence of shelters and doomsday fliers makes the 1960s sound like an era of dark fears, life went on as normal for most residents, according to Larry and Barbara Kronquest, volunteer docents at the Sacramento History Museum at 101 I St.
“I can remember ‘duck and cover’ and getting under your desk,” said Barbara Kronquest, who was a teacher at the time. “Drills were mandated once a month at the schools.”
Though duck and cover would have been largely ineffective in the event of atomic warfare, she said it was a great way to protect students from falling glass and ceiling pieces during earthquakes.
“I know they designated buildings (as shelters),” she said. “Sacramentans couldn’t get real excited about it because there wouldn’t have been time to get to many of them anyway.”
Larry Kronquest said that with three Air Force Strategic Air Command bases in the area, Sacramento would have been a prime target for Soviet missiles.
During the 1960s, Larry Kronquest worked for the Department of Utilities in City Hall, and he considered the shelter under the building – little more than a basement – virtually useless.
“I had a boss who swore he could get from City Hall to the water treatment plant in five minutes,” he said. “That was the shelter you wanted, because it was stocked with supplies, and you could tap into the water system.”
Both Kronquests said they didn’t think much about the threat – they just lived their lives.
Today, the disused bomb shelters are mere curiosities, reminders of a threat that never came to pass.
Brandon Darnell is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press.