Abo Elementary and Fallout Shelter

Visited 2015.10.05
Artesia, New Mexico

Driving down dark stretches of highway for what seemed like forever, I first spotted Artesia by the glow of its refineries. The place was lit up like a Christmas tree, and the smell of oil was thick in the air as I crossed city limits.

It was late, so I found someplace to call it a night and googled the city to see what its story was, and that's when I learned of Abo Elementary — the first public school in the United States constructed entirely underground and equipped to function as an advanced fallout shelter. The next morning, I investigated the site before hitting the road.


From the National Park Service:

"Located in the small southeastern New Mexico town of Artesia, the Abo Elementary School was built in 1962 to function as both a school and an underground fallout shelter for the community during the height of the Cold-War after plans by Roswell New Mexico architect, Frank M. Standhardt. With the exception of three, flat-roofed concrete block buildings (linked by a canopy to form a roughly shaped L in plan), the building is located completely underground and was engineered to withstand the effects of a thermonuclear blast. This was achieved by excavating below grade and constructing steel reinforced cast concrete walls and posts to support a 21-inch thick concrete slab roof. Heavy steel doors, designed to hold up under a nuclear explosion, were placed inside the three above ground entrances.

From 1962 until 1995, the building functioned as a public elementary school."

99% Invisible also had an episode about it, that you can listen to here: Cold War Kids, Episode 121