Decades after the end of the Cold War, ominous black-and-yellow fallout shelter signs still mark buildings across New York City’s five boroughs. The actual number of designated fallout shelters in the city is difficult to discern. What is known is that by 1963, an estimated 18,000 shelters had been designated, and the Department of Defense had plans to add another 34,000 shelters citywide.

While the presence of a fallout shelter in one’s building may have given some residents peace of mind in an era when nuclear destruction seemed imminent, in reality, most of New York’s fallout shelters were little more than basements marked by an official government sign.

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