1960s fallout shelter built by WREG founder to be placed on national historic register

Hoyt Wooten designed and built the fallout shelter behind his home in 1963. (photo from University of Memphis special collections)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Cold War-era fallout shelter built in Whitehaven by the founder of WREG is being added to the National Register of Historic Places after a vote by the state’s historic commission.

Hoyt Wooten designed and built the shelter under the ground next to his home between 1961 and 1963, a time when Americans feared a nuclear war with the Soviet Union.

Wooten engineered the concrete blast shelter to comfortably house up to 65 people for 31 days if a nuclear bomb 1,000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb was dropped eight miles away, about the distance between Wooten’s home and downtown Memphis.

At 5,600 square feet, it’s one of the larger private fallout shelters ever built and was called the “best engineered, most elaborate private shelter” in the nation by a federal official at the time.

A postcard shows the shelter’s original appearance.

In addition to architect-designed living areas with pool tables, bunk beds and a large kitchen with windows painted to look like the outside world, the structure originally contained some post-apocalyptic touches — like a refrigerated morgue, radio communications room, decontamination showers, metal blast doors, a hidden escape hatch and steel bars to keep people from getting in. Many of those features remain.

The shelter, along with Wooten’s 1939 house, are now surrounded by a modern housing development in Whitehaven.

Born in Mississippi, Wooten operated WREC radio from The Peabody hotel in the 1920s, expanding to television and putting WREG Channel 3 on the air in Memphis in 1956. He sold the station in 1962 but remained chairman of its parent company until his death in 1969.

Below are photos of the shelter taken recently by staff of the Tennessee Historical Commission.

The entrance above ground

The radio communications room

A mural made to look like a window in the underground living area

The kitchen

The recreation room

The recreation room in the 1960s. (photo from University of Memphis special collections)

 

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