When the Fallout Shelter sign becomes art

Since it’s introduction in 1961, the Fallout Shelter sign has appeared (sometimes purposely, many times inadvertently) in the background of movies and TV shows and many photographs.

This photograph, taken by photographer Peter Simon (petersimon.com) on February 26, 1968, is titled “Verandah Porche: portrait standing between stone columns, with fallout shelter sign” and was taken in Allston.

The capacity on the sign reads 60, and it is unknown where the picture was taken or if the sign still exists. However, this is one beautiful example of how the sign can be art, and not just an eyesore or inconvenient backdrop.

© 2019 Fallout Five Zero

Photograph citation: Simon, Peter, 1947-. Verandah Porche: portrait standing between stone columns, with fallout shelter sign, February 26, 1968. Peter Simon Collection (PH 009). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries

Special thanks to Ronni Simon for allowing use of this photograph. Peter Simon passed away in 2018, and may he Rest in Peace. 

Special thanks also to Danielle of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Special Collections department for her assistance.

Perfugium in Fundamentum

Boston Latin School, the oldest public school in America, was founded in 1635. The first school building was on School Street in Boston (a plaque marks the site). It moved to it’s current location on Avenue Louis Pasteur in 1921.

Like many of the other Boston Public School buildings, it was marked as a public Fallout Shelter. The first two photos above excerpted from the 1964 Liber Actorum. which is Boston Latin’s yearbook, and presumably taken around the same time. The third photo was taken from the 1979 edition.

It is unknown if this was the same sign, but the school had an addition added in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s, and it (or they) were likely removed at that point, as publications of Liber Actorum from the mid-1990’s no longer showed them.

The picture below of the Boston Latin football team is from the 1969 Liber Actorum  and shows the exterior sign on the front of the building, which based on photographic evidence was removed by 1990.

The building also had numerous interior Fallout Shelter signs on the first floor, in the interior stairs, and in the basement. Three such signs existed in 1995, and all were removed within the next 6 years.

Pictures below show two different signs from the 1979 Liber Actorum

Another picture from the 1984 Liber Actorum shows an interior sign on the first floor hallway next to the stairs

A listing of shelters in Roxbury (which is the area this school is considered to be in) shows the shelter capacity for Boston Latin at 1,006.

English High School, which has been Latin’s football rival for decades, was once housed across the street from Latin in the former High School of Commerce and was also designated as a shelter. However, a new English High School was built in the 1970’s in a high rise (which still sits across from the current Boston Latin and is now owned by Harvard Medical School) and was not marked as a shelter. English High later moved to Jamaica Plain.

Several other editions of Liber Actorum show signs in the hallways, and by physical and photographic evidence, it was likely that 7 or more interior signs existed when the school was designated as a shelter. One FFZ contributor even shared that Civil Defense water barrels became classroom trash bins at Boston Latin in the 1980’s.

As the phrase goes, Tempus Fugit, and no signs remain at Boston’s oldest and most renowned public school.

© 2019 Fallout Five Zero

All photographs above excerpted from editions of Liber Actorum and accessed through archive.org at https://archive.org/details/bostonlatinschool

 

Sitting, Strolling, and Reading in City Square

Army and Navy YMCA-Charlestown Massachusetts. Copyright City of Boston Archives
Army and Navy YMCA-Charlestown Massachusetts. Copyright City of Boston Archives

A woman strolls by as three men sit outside the former Army & Navy YMCA in Charlestown in this undated photo. A Fallout Shelter sign is posted on the wall to the right of the entrance. This building and it’s neighbors have since been demolished.

The above photograph is property of the City of Boston Archives and used under Creative Commons licensing. No portion of this photograph was changed or altered in any way.

A Night At The Theater and I Know I’m Safe

As the national fallout shelter program got underway in the early 1960’s, public fallout shelters were marked in all types of buildings in Massachusetts. As long as the building or space met the criteria set forth by the Office of Civil Defense, it was marked as a fallout shelter.

Although certain types of buildings were very often seen as shelters (schools, municipal buildings, courthouses etc), generally due to their size and construction, some more unlikely places also served as shelters.

That included theaters.

11223219814_e6e6842381_bFormer Pilgrim Theater, 660 block of Washington St, Boston.
Copyright City of Boston Archives

As the photo above shows, the former Pilgrim Theater in Boston was marked as a fallout shelter (as was the adjacent doorway, which appears to be a separate shelter).

11191558024_ff88e833e4_bFormer State Theater, 617-619 Washington Street, Boston.
Copyright City of Boston Archives

This photo of the former State Theater also shows two shelter signs; one was for the theater, the other for the adjacent Crabtree Building.

11223350134_1302bd0664_bFormer E.M. Loews Theater, 690-692 Washington Street, Boston.
Copyright City of Boston Archives

One fallout shelter sign is seen on the former E.M. Loews Theater, under the “Center” marquee.

Of the three theaters shown above, only the building that housed the E.M. Loews Theater still remains (a Chinese restaurant now sits where the theater used to be). The other two buildings have been demolished, and the sign at E.M. Loews has been removed.

The Paramount Theater on Washington Street in Boston, the Wang Citi Center (formerly the Music Hall) on Tremont Street, and the Huntington Theater on Huntington Avenue were also fallout shelters. An exterior sign remains at the rear of the Wang, and one is on the front of the Huntington Theater. All the signs at the Paramount were removed before it was renovated to its current state.

In Quincy, the old Wollaston Theater on Beale Street was once a fallout shelter. The exterior sign on the front of it was just removed in late 2013; an interior sign also existed, but it’s current status is unknown.

Although no fallout shelters ever had to be employed for actual use, one can only imagine the mass confusion that might have ensued should a shelter in a theater been needed and a movie or performance was already underway.

Know of another theater that was once a fallout shelter? Contact us.

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The above photographs are property of the City of Boston Archives and used under Creative Commons licensing. No portion of the photographs was changed or altered in any way. 

An Abnormal Revelation

While driving recently down Huntington Avenue in Boston, I went to pass the Mass College of Art, which is undergoing some construction. The building under construction is at 621 Huntington Avenue, and as the top frieze says, it used to be the Boston Normal School (and was later Boston State College, until that was absorbed into UMass Boston). The front facade of the building had been removed, and apparently, a fallout shelter sign had been buried underneath and was still hanging.

IMG_9287

After a few weeks I went and spoke with the foreman and asked if I could grab some pictures and as well what they had planned to do with the sign. Surprisingly, he said they planned and reburying it with the new construction. At least if that’s the case, someone another 50-100 years from now will see it again. He entered the construction area and took these pictures.

IMG_9288

Although it’s covered in mortar and not in great condition, the capacity symbol is still intact and appears to say 923.

It’s rare to have a sign covered and uncovered during construction, and even more so to have them preserve it by covering it again.

Thanks to the unnamed foreman for obtaining the pictures.

UPDATE: In January 2015, a glass facade was finally put up over the old brick work. Just prior to it being erected, the foreman was true to his word and the sign remained. It is presumed to have been re-buried, only to be rediscovered another few decades from now. 

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The first fallout shelter in Massachusetts

Even though the National Fallout Shelter Survey began in 1961, it was sometimes well over a year until some buildings were marked with signs.

In Massachusetts, the first sign was posted at, of all places, the Massachusetts State House.

Image

This photo, taken on November 5, 1962, shows then Massachusetts governor John Volpe posting the first fallout shelter sign on the front of the State House. He is flanked by Major General John J. Maginnis, Director of the Massachusetts State Civil Defense, Col. Peter Hyzer, Corps of Engineers, Division Engineer and John N. Levins, Department of Defense, Office of Civil Defense, State Chief. 

This is the main entrance on the Beacon Street side of the State House. Exterior signs were also posted on the Bowdoin and Mt. Vernon St sides. The sign on the Bowdoin St side (set back behind what is now the Mass Firefighter’s Memorial) was present as recently as the mid 1990’s. However, all the exterior signs, including the one in the photo, have since been removed. I know of at least one interior sign that was also removed, and I assume all the rest were as well.

The photo-op seen here was not unique to Massachusetts. It seems that sign posting photo-ops took place in other states as well.

 

 

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Photo above and accompanying information used with permission from Conelrad Adjacent. Thanks to Bill Geerhart for allowing permission.