Boston Civil Defense: Some Numbers

As the fallout shelter program took off nationwide, Boston’s Civil Defense Department was well involved, and as seen in documents published on the documents page, was marking, licensing, and stocking shelters all over the city.

Here are some numbers and facts about the program found in annual Civil Defense Department reports:

  • Around the end of 1962, Boston had licensed 240 shelters in the city.
  • By the end of 1963, that number was up to 1,062.
  • By the end of 1964, 1,147 buildings in the city had been licensed and marked. Of those, 482 were stocked with supplies.

As well, by the end of 1964, MBTA tunnels in the city had been stocked with enough food and supplies for 70,000 people.

In one year, it seems the program had slowed a bit. The end of 1965 saw 1,153 shelters marked and licensed, an increase of only 6 shelters from the previous year.  512 of the shelters had been stocked with supplies.

On May 11, 1965, two 200 bed emergency hospitals were established; one at Maverick Station in East Boston and one at Broadway Station in South Boston.

On July 7, 1965, 350 tons of food and medical equipment were stored at Andrew Station in South Boston for use in downtown department stores, to care for a total of 74,000 people. (It is unknown if these items still exist, or where in the station they were stored).

As for the air raid siren system, a document from the Boston Civil Defense Department, dated November 29, 1965,  which was written to answer a questionnaire regarding Boston’s air raid warning capabilities, stated that 132 air raid sirens existed in the city at that time.

The last of the sirens came down in 2000 when the old Registry of Motor Vehicles building at 100 Nashua Street in Boston (also a fallout shelter) was demolished.

The list I have provided on this site only has, as of this writing,  just over 400 fallout shelter locations in the city (including many demolished buildings), so it is remarkable, at least to me, that some 700 more existed. Hopefully time, effort, and tips will reveal the rest.


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Sources: Boston Civil Defense Department Annual Reports, Document 9, 1961-1966, City of Boston Archives and Records.

John F. Collins papers, City of Boston Archives and Records


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.


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 on 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.


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 brickwork. 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. 

© Fallout Five Zero

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.


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. 

Faux Fallout Facts

The term “Fallout Shelter” is often misused and interchanged with other terms.

Here are two myths about the fallout shelter that need to be debunked.


Fallout shelters were bomb shelters

This is probably one of the most widely misguided facts about fallout shelters.

The terms “fallout shelter” and “bomb shelter” are widely interchanged with one another, but both are very different.

A “bomb shelter” is designed to protect its occupants from the physical force of a bomb blast.

Fallout shelters were meant only to shield occupants against the effects of fallout, which is the collection of radioactive particles created and dropped after a nuclear bomb blast. Few fallout shelters were also bomb shelters, or would have offered such protection.(Apparently, and understandably, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency bunker in Framingham was designed to protect its occupants against a severe bomb blast. No official word on fallout protection, however).

Had a nuclear bomb blast occurred in any given US city, the fallout shelters in that city would have essentially been useless. Fallout shelters were only to protect against fallout particles that moved through wind from the city or town where the bomb was dropped to other cities. Sadly, occupants of a fallout shelter in the city where the bomb was dropped probably would have been trapped when the building collapsed from the blast, or worse if they were near ground zero. .

Fallout shelters were only in basements

Not all fallout shelters were in basements of buildings. Fallout shelter space in buildings was sometimes in interior corridors, and on upper floors. According to old Civil Defense literature, more than half of available fallout shelter space in the US was on the upper floors of buildings. Although basements were often selected for their available space and protection, inner corridors of upper floors in buildings was also used as shelter space. Here in Boston, one of the largest fallout shelters in the city was the John W. McCormack Post Office and Courthouse in Post Office Square. With a listed capacity of over 10,000, most of that space was in the corridors of the upper floors of the building, as indicated by signs in the stairwells with arrows pointing both up and down (the building underwent an extensive renovation in 2008-2009 and it is suspected all signs have been removed). The same goes for the Suffolk Superior Courthouse on Pemberton Square; there, interior signs remained on the first and upper floors as of 2011 and are assumed to still be there today. The basement contained old jail cells and was unsuitable as a fallout shelter.


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The beginning

Welcome to Fallout Five Zero.

If you haven’t browsed the about page, this site is a chronicle of the public Fallout Shelter, some fifty years after the idea for public shelters came about. Surveying for public fallout shelters began in the US in September 1961, and was known as the National Fallout Shelter Survey. Buildings throughout the US were surveyed, and if found suitable (and in cases of privately owned buildings, permission was granted by the owner), the building was marked with signs. As well, some (but not all) buildings were stocked with survival rations.

This happened in every US state, and Massachusetts was no exception.


My interest in fallout shelters began in 1994 with this sign.



This sign, in the Boston school I was attending at the time, is in a stairwell leading to the basement and the gym. On the way to gym class one day I saw it, and although I had seen these signs before, I never gave them much thought. That was until I saw this sign. It piqued my interest. It was stately, official, and even somewhat intimidating at the time.

I began asking my parents about them. Why did they exist…did they remember them etc. And so it began.

Having spent many years on the Internet and in books reading and learning about fallout shelters, I know I am not alone in my interest. Several other sites, which I will link to at a later date, have information about or their own chronicle of fallout shelters. Thousands of pictures of fallout shelter signs from throughout the country are currently available on various search engines and picture sites. However, as time goes on and buildings or sites are renovated or demolished, signs are being removed, leaving little to no knowledge that certain buildings once served as shelters, and further removing our current generation from even knowing what a fallout shelter was.

This site, and the associated content, is based in and around Boston, but will include other Massachusetts cities and towns. I may even include out of state content as time goes on.

All pictures, unless otherwise indicated, are my own and property of Fallout Five Zero.

The site will take some time to get it the way I would like it, As of tonight, I began the fallout shelter list, which will list every known fallout shelter in and around Massachusetts. I have compiled this data from my own physical observation, and as well through research and pictures.

I will also be posting pictures of fallout shelters and fallout shelter signs that I have previously taken, and I will be taking as time goes on. The quality should be better than the above picture, for which I apologize. It was taken with a camera phone in low light (with permission) in 2010.

Once the site is fully up and running, I will be accepting user submissions of fallout shelter locations I do not already have and any pictures of fallout shelters others would like to include. Any photo submission will be given full credit.

If you’ve found your way here, thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy.


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