Gimme Shelter

Urban Explorer Handbook 2006

click to enlarge NO FALLOUT: Tampa dentist Howell Morrison inside the Cold War-vintage bomb shelter his father built in South Tampa. - Wayne Garcia
Wayne Garcia
NO FALLOUT: Tampa dentist Howell Morrison inside the Cold War-vintage bomb shelter his father built in South Tampa.

Where: The bomb shelter on New Jersey Avenue in Tampa, a block south of Kennedy behind Al Capote Dry Cleaners

Public access: None, unless the owner, Dr. Howell Morrison, a Tampa dentist, opens it for you. The shelter's door, salvaged from a ship (note the wheel-like opener), is secured with a heavy chain and two rusty padlocks.

Element of danger: Some. The cramped space is filled with old tools, drills and other detritus, including a few decommissioned rifles and a set of deer antlers. The shelter has been nothing more than a storage space for years, Morrison says. The eight metal steps descending to the shelter space are steep and small.

Why we went: Because it's a bomb shelter — built by Morrison's father, George, in the early '60s, shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis. The senior Morrison was concerned because MacDill Air Force Base was so close by. Over the years, the edifice has taken on considerable mystique in South Tampa. The top of the shelter juts out of the ground, with a low peaked roof that's covered with gravel.

What we discovered: No one would want to be cooped up here in case of a WMD attack (although we suppose it would be better than inhaling nerve gas); in fact, Howell Morrison says he wouldn't bother using it as a safe haven.

The Lost bunker this isn't. Built from an old underground fuel tank, it's about 200 square feet of riveted steel with a cement floor, a few old bunks, fluorescent lights, an ancient Westinghouse fridge (that no longer works) and the kind of exquisitely musty aroma that only 40-some years as an underground storage unit can produce. The dehumidifier just blew, but Dr. Morrison says the space stays around 72 degrees no matter what time of year.

Initially, the shelter was stocked with survival stuff, but as the Cold War became more routine in people's lives, the refuge was neglected. Growing up, though, young Howell had the coolest clubhouse in town. He says he downed a few beers down there in his youth, but swears he did not engage in any sexual shenanigans.

About The Author

Eric Snider

Eric Snider is the dean of Bay area music critics. He started in the early 1980s as one of the founding members of Music magazine, a free bi-monthly. He was the pop music critic for the then-St. Petersburg Times from ‘87-’93. Snider was the music critic, arts editor and senior editor of Weekly Planet/Creative...
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