Kelly Butte Civil Defense Center

Kelly Butte Underground Command Center Facts and History

Command Center 1957

Artist's Conception of Operations Room

Concrete and rebar foundation work in progress. Note the emergency exit stairway under construction at the left rear behind the wall forms.

Main Electrical Panel

Back-up Generators

Bunker Entrance 1957

Bunker Entrance Jan 2008

Park Address: 2960 S.E. 103rd Drive Portland, OR 97266

Kelly Butte Natural Park Area: 25.6 acres

Park Access: Head south on 103rd from Division

There is a locked gate about half-way up 103rd Dr. that you will have to negotiate

A Safe Place To Hide

The Kelly Butte Civil Defense Center was an 18,820 square-foot underground bunker complex located on top of Kelly Butte approximately 6.5 miles east of downtown Portland. It was to be a secondary government headquarters in the event of a nuclear attack or other emergency situation. Built in 1955-56, it could house 250 people for up to two weeks. It contained food, water, back-up power, purified air, showers and other basic necessities for the city and state officials to "weather the nuclear storm" and provide the surviving population with information and coordinated help after the attack.

This underground command center was the first its kind in the United States. Other cities used this bunker as a model to build their own installations. It was a state-of-the-art facility with no skimping in its construction or furnishings.

Super Structure

One of the many compelling features of the bunker was it's 26-inch-thick, reinforced concrete, arched roof. This gave the shelter a semi-circular or curved roof line. The concrete arch was intentionally overbuilt. Insulated by the surrounding Kelly Butte hillside, it was said that the fortified earthwork could withstand a "near miss" from a 20 mega-ton nuclear bomb. The bunker was first constructed and then buried 10 to 30-feet below the hillside. The structure measured 185 feet by 95 feet with a maximum ceiling height of 35 feet. There was a second story above half of this area.

Underground power lines brought electricity to the emergency operations center. This power supply was backed up by 2 large generators. If a power outage occurred, these generators turned on immediately. There are 2 large water tanks down below the bunker (SE of the main entrance) that provided fresh water. Initially, the designers searched for a well, but were unsuccessful. The bunker was well-ventilated. There was some type of air filtration system in place. It is unclear how efficient this clean air process would have worked with the resulting nuclear fallout after an attack. Other equipment included air conditioners, pumps, back-up batteries, fans, blowers, air compressors and other mechanicals.

The total cost of the shelter in 1956 was $670,000.

The bunker also featured an "escape hatch." The exit passage was behind the big map on the wall.

In 1960, the bunker employed 7 full-time civil defense workers and some part-time volunteers. By 1968, the bunker was down to one person performing maintenance 20 hours per week. Clearly, civil defense concerns were changing.

Radio Transmission Tower

Located directly on top of the bunker was the 230-foot high radio tower. Much like the roof of the bunker, the radio tower was built to withstand the shock wave and high winds from a nuclear blast. The 12-inch steel tubes were sleeved with 10-inch tubes on the inside to give the tower additional strength. It was anchored to the top of the bunker with rebar, concrete and large bolts. According to the Portland Civil Defense officials, the shelter was equipped with a special radio that could broadcast warnings and establish contact with all government response agencies within a 30-mile radius without disclosing the signal's location of origin to enemy planes.

Emergency Operations

The shelter featured a large map of Portland on the wall with smaller maps of North America and the World. Special attention (flight times, distances, weather conditions, etc.) was given to the airspace between Russia, Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. Unique clocks were mounted on the walls. The State of Oregon and American flags added patriotism and decor to the room. A closed-circuit security camera protected the double-doored, front entrance into the bunker. Visitors were first scrutinized, then allowed to enter through a swinging door (this was cutting-edge technology in 1956). In addition, there was an emergency telephone system, a telegraph, a small broadcast studio and over 3,000,000 microfilm copies of original city documents, property deeds, laws and engineering records. Some of these records dated back as far as 1851.

The main floor had a large operations room that was filled with tables and desks. There were sections such as the Police and Fire Department, Traffic Control, Engineering, Medical and Welfare, etc. Each department head answered to the Civil Defense Director; who in turn, answered to the Mayor.

The upper level, or balcony, had a kitchen with a small cafeteria. The emergency phone center, showers and sleeping quarters were also located on this level.

It appears that at the time, city officials were quite optimistic that the City of Portland could recover quickly after a nuclear bomb attack on the city.

Defense Center Time Line

1952 Portland voters pass $600,000 Civil Defense Levy

1955 Planning and construction of Defense Center

1956 Sept, 1956, Defense Center Dedication Ceremony, Visitors get first look at Center

1957 Civil Defense movie "A Day Called X" released

1962 Columbus Day Storm

1963 May, 1963, Portland withdraws from the Federal Civil Defense System

1964 Operations decline

1967 Portland Police Bureau utilizes center for academy training

1972 Law Enforcement/Civil Defense agencies conduct a feasibility study for conversion of bunker to a city/county communications center (BOEC)

1973-74 Design and construction (remodel) of communications center

1974 November, 1974 The Bureau of Emergency Communications (BOEC) occupies the underground complex and begins taking calls for local police agencies.

1981 January, 1981 The BOEC begins taking calls for the Emergency Medical System (EMS) so that police and medical calls are handled at the same bureau.

1981 November 1981 Introduction of the 9-1-1 telephone system to Multnomah County

1988 Artist Hank Pander paints a 30' x 75' mural called "Palmyra" on the BOEC main wall

1991 Enhanced 9-1-1 (computer-aided with caller I.D.)

1992 October 1992, Ground-breaking begins on a new 9-1-1 call center location

1994 March 1994, BOEC moves into new building

1995 Activity at the bunker decreases

1999 Underground diesel fuel tanks and contaminated soil removed

Graffiti and vandalism increase

Local transients occupy and loot the bunker

Kelly Butte Complex shut down and sealed up

2006 Radio Transmission Tower removed

Back-filling of bunker entrance begins

2008 Back-filling continues

Please feel free to contact me regarding any information
you may have about the Kelly Butte Defense Center

Special Thanks to:

Brian K. Johnson, City of Portland Archives
drewish (Andrew)
Evan Kennedy, Structural Engineer
Jim Churchill, BOEC