It was once the launch centre for nuclear missiles capable of immense destruction. Now, a former military complex has found new life as an Airbnb guest house.
The facility at Titan Ranch in Vilonia, Arkansas, was one of 18 such underground sites built in the state as part of the American Cold War-era intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) defence system.
From the now-converted launch control centre (LCC), staff could at any time of the day fire a 110ft-long, 10ft-wide Titan II missile from a neighbouring silo. This warhead could then travel over 9,000 miles to deliver its nine-megaton payload, which was 30 times more powerful than that of the both nuclear bombs dropped by the US on Japan in 1945.
Titan IIs were retired as a weapon in 1981, with the various bases deactivated in the following years. Although the missiles were never used, the silos themselves proved hazardous: a serious fire in one killed 53 people in 1965, while an explosion at another in 1980 killed one person. Safety features ensured the warheads themselves were not accidentally triggered.
Guests at the Airbnb, which opened last November, will see for themselves how safety features were inherent to the design. None of the three floors of the LLC, which are 50ft underground, are connected to outer walls. Instead, they are suspended from the ceiling like a giant birdcage – allowing the site to absorb the force from a potential nuclear attack.
Amateur historian and tour guide G T Hill bought the site 11 years ago and began converting the LCC, an arduous and expensive task due to flooding and its general state of disrepair.
However, after a decade of work, the half a million-dollar project now boasts a master bedroom, living room, kitchen, and bathroom, as well as a large space for conferences. But to see them, guests must first enter through two 6,000lb blast doors.
‘Some people get a little nervous down here,’ Hill told local media. ‘But spend any amount of time here and you’ll forget that you’re underground. People who stay here do so willingly, and they have a blast.’
He added: ‘From a weapon of mass destruction to hosting birthday parties and weddings, that’s a pretty wild ride.’
Hill has stated that he has no plans to excavate the neighbouring silo where the missile itself was stored, claiming it would be a ‘multimillion-dollar project’ he could not afford.
Images: Titan Ranch
This is an article from the April/May 2021 issue of Military History Matters. To find out more about the magazine and how to subscribe, click here.