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Greenlawn home's bomb shelter either 'coolest' or 'freakiest,' owner says

Lena Pennino-Smith and husband, Brian Smith, with their

Lena Pennino-Smith and husband, Brian Smith, with their children Jonah, 8, and Clare, 5, inside the bomb shelter at their Greenlawn house. Credit: Johnny Milano

Though they immediately fell in love with their Greenlawn home, Brian Smith and his wife, Lena Pennino-Smith, say they didn’t quite know what to make of its rather atypical feature: a bomb shelter.

“I had never seen anything like it. I kind of thought it was either the coolest or the freakiest thing I’d ever seen,” says Smith, 44, a middle school math teacher.                  

Built by the original owner, an engineer, during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, the bomb shelter is a throwback to the Cold War era, when the peril of nuclear war was a constant national concern. 

There are two ways to enter the shelter — either through a steel door in the basement laundry room that leads to a descending concrete chute or though outdoor steps in the yard that lead to steel doors. 

The two-room shelter has a water tank, toilet, electricity, air filtration systems and bunk beds.

Since the family moved into the house in April, “we really haven’t touched it,” says Pennino-Smith, 43, journalist and children's songwriter.

The family is intrigued by the oddity. In fact, Smith says he is fond of showing it to visitors.

“There was quite a range of reactions from complete fright to thinking it was the coolest man cave they’ve seen in their lives,”  he says, adding that the space could work as a wine cellar or for general storage, though access is less than ideal.

Their children, Jonah, 8, and Clare, 5, and their friends love the space, as do salamanders, which appear to relish the chamber’s moist atmosphere, Smith says.

Though he doesn’t plan to use the shelter for its original purpose, Smith says he thinks it would be the safest place to be in extreme weather conditions.

“If there was any sort of threat of a tornado or anything, I’d go straight down there in a second,” he says.

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