BARSTOW, Calif. — A company with a doomsday plan is taking money for what it promises will be a comfortable, nuke-proof bunker under the Mojave Desert, with an atrium, gym and jail, and sloppy joes and pearl potatoes on the menu.
Robert Vicino, who runs the Del Mar-based company called Vivos, has collected deposits on half the 132 spaces planned in the 13,000-square-foot bunker in Barstow.
The facility is among several popping up across the country as fears of doomsday have been fueled recently by strong earthquakes, terrorism and predictions of the world's end in 2012 when the ancient Mayan calendar is said to end.
"I'm careful not to promote fear. But sooner or later, I believe you're going to need to seek shelter," said Vicino, a real estate salesman whose career started with advertising and moved on to timeshares.
The political climate now in some ways reflects the Cold War era, when many Americans dug backyard fallout shelters, said Jeffrey Knopf, an associate professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey.
"There's a lot of free-floating anxiety out there about the dangers that terrorists will get nuclear weapons and it multiplies," he said.
Facilities such as Vicino's are attracting interest in other states such as Oregon and Kansas, where one engineer is developing underground survival condos for $1.75 million.
In Barstow, $50,000 will get a bunk in a four-person room. Vicino is still taking reservations: $5,000 for adults and $2,500 for kids. Pets are free.
He said the Portland, Ore., company that owns the Barstow property, TSG Investments, gave him permission to convert it. The land once belonged to AT&T and was originally used as an emergency government communications center during the Cold War.
The Los Angeles Times toured the bunker, promising not to reveal the location because Vicino said he didn't want freeloaders trying to get in if disaster strikes.
The Times found a giant open area with anemic blue walls and a 3,000-pound door. Vicino said he hasn't raised enough money to start renovating but claims the place is already protected from electromagnetic pulses that could destroy electrical equipment.
Steve Kramer, a 55-year-old respiratory therapist from San Pedro, said he paid $12,500 to reserve spots for him and his family. He's stocking up on dried food and teaching his 12-year-old son to ride a dirt bike in case they have to go off-road to get to the desert bunker.
"We're not crazy people, but these are fearful times," Kramer said.
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