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


Takdun said...

Hey this is some good info you have on here.


Anonymous said...

I have the real blue print of that place.

rumblefish said...

Can we post them?

Anonymous said...

I remember Kelly Butte well. During the 80's, my father was with PPB and he arranged for me to spend a few shifts at Kelly Butte with the dispatchers. Fun! A few years ago, I wanted to go inside and look around but access was restricted due to safety reasons. A friend of mine at BOEC told me Kelly Butte had been gutted, but I was never sure if I believed her or not. I think she wanted to discourage me from trying to sneak inside! I would have loved to get an old dispatch console, district maps, etc. All gone now, I suppose. Is the city backfilling the whole place now? Too bad they could not have saved it as a museum or something. Thanks for sharing the info you have, nice site!

Ed said...

Fascinating. This overbuilt structure ought to be re-used in some capacity, though I am at a loss for exactly what. A museum dedicated to the Cold War would be a likely choice, but fiscally improbable. But, maybe some stimulus money would achieve this, a la WPA, in keeping with Mr. Obama's Rooseveltian thinking.
It could help revitalize the Kelly Butte area.

OuchMouth said...

Man, I'd love to get inside and check the place out. To bad people have to ruin things by...well...ruining things. Can't you just check out places like that without starting fires and looting it?

Looks like the front is all sealed up now, but I'm wondering about this emergency escape hatch...anyone know if there's a way to reach that?

Jeff said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff said...

Sometime after May 2006, the emergency exit was filled with concrete and covered up with back fill. If you want to see what the bunker looked like right before they sealed it, go into my profile and click on the Kelly Butte 911 Call Center and look at the pictures (it isn't pretty).

Ned Howard said...

I've started work on a documentary short film about Oregon's lost Cold War infrastructure and I'm planning on including a profile of this site. I'm looking for anyone who would like to be interviewed on camera about Kelly Butte. Maybe you worked there during the '50s or maybe you were one of the urban spelunkers who explored the place before the backfill -- I'm interested in hearing any of these stories. Please contact me at the email address below:


Ned Howard
NE Portland

Jawa250cc said...

Thanks a bunch for making this site available. I found it after I purchased some radiation survey equipment that is being released to the public. The way things are going in Iran and the terroists in the world, we may need this place again. Sure hope not. Really interesting. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

I herd there is another underground complex in the mountain near Centenial High School. Has any one else got more details?

Davena said...

I wonder if the city has ever considered unearthing this place and leasing out to be a data center? Its a thing now to use these old places that are normally unusable, but stacks of servers don't care if there's no windows. Portland could earn a bit off it, place gets some new life to it. Who knows?

Anonymous said...

Hey everyone, this bunker has been covered up because it was "A Sick Building" No? I vote to enjoy posts' like this one.

Timothy said...

Looks like this thread hasn't been visited for a while, but I thought I'd leave my input. First and foremost, for urban explorers or anyone interested in visiting this site: don't bring a car. I have lost not one but TWO front windows in only two recent trips to the location.

That said, the area is still quite alluring. There's something about just standing on top a massive buried structure that entertains the curiosity.

Thank you Jeff, for your wonderful collection of information on the place and it's history.

I know several people who were lucky enough to explore the interior before some assholes decided to ruin it for the rest of us.

Yes, there are health concerns that remain to this day. Yes, the emergency exit has been sealed, and a massive back-filling effort is apparently still under way (as of my last visit - about 6 months removed from today's date.) However, there are several far less obvious means of entry; all of which require some pretty serious precautions - not your typical urban exploration thing, really.

In conclusion: fascinating site, and a fascinating history, but a sad story; when you account for the fact that this was a very beautiful structure on a very beautiful hill, and now its just a dump site for the county in their "back-filling" efforts, I'd say we've got our priorities screwed up.

Want to talk about Kelly Butte? hit me up with an email >> << I would love to share information, pictures, and stories with anyone interested in urbex - or this bunker in general.

[Keep Portland PLUR!]

Luke said...

This is really cool stuff. I never knew such a thing existed in the Portland area. If only I had known before they started backfilling it!

I would love to get inside of that thing sometime. As a huge history nut, I love this and thank you Jeff for the informative blog on something so close to home. It's a shame I'll probably never get to see this with my own eyes.

Anonymous said...

My dad ran the civil defense radio center in the state capital.Joe Vogt.He was the worlds fastest morse coder.

Anonymous said...

Visited there in the 80s, sorry to see it gone. The Massachusetts bunker in Framingham still is used by MEMA for disaster purposes.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this information. I find this fascinating. I am looking for information on possible fallout shelters in Portland.. you know.. just in case.

Anita said...

It's a shame they sealed it and filled all the entrances in with cement. I can understand why they did it though, it was unsafe and you couldn't breath in there for no more than 20 minutes so it was for everyone's safety and it's too keep people out. I wonder how homeless people managed to stay in there despite you couldn't even breath in there.

Pete said...

Thanks for the great story. It has me wondering about todays creations, if there are any, seen through the eyes of people in another 50 years. What seems so obviously urgent to us today may just look like overblown silliness. Any ideas?

Anonymous said...

Ican assure you all that this place is still very active. And back in the early 90's while exploring the hill after watching a free movie from the drive in, my friend and I found a very thick steel and concrete door built right into the mountain...and as it would go while examining the mysterious door two " MEN IN BLACK " type guys popped up out of freaking no where and told us to kick this day I have no idea where they came they snuck up on me and my friend and what there purposes really were...what I can tell you is that there is NO DOUBT in my mind these men were authorized and prepared to take our life without hesitation or question.... needless to say been scared to tread in mountain since

janitorpete32 said...

Hey I wanna talk more, message me!

Jeff Bushor said...

I was up there today with my dog. Hard to find much of anything other than the parking lot and a guy that lives up on the right (west) trail with his boxer dog. Lots of trash and graffiti but still eerie up on the hill. Took some pictures and will try to post them.

Anonymous said...

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خدمات 24 ساعته و شبانه روزي حتي در تعطيلات رسمي
مشاوره رايگان در تمامي مراحل

درب اتوماتيک شيشه اي

طراحي سايت

نوين گيت

تاجران آريا دلفين

Aria Dolphin

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julia said...

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