24 Cold War Sites Should Be Considered for National Landmark Status, Park Service Says

Twenty-four sites around the United States connected to the Cold War may be worthy of National Historic Landmark designation, the National Park Service said in a recent study.

The sites range from weapons testing bases to presidential homes to underground bunkers to a B-29 bomber sitting at the bottom of a lake.

“As a former Cold War veteran, I understand this study meets an urgent need to identify Cold War properties that are rapidly disappearing,” National Park Service Director Chuck Sams said in a press release. “The history of the Cold War is told in just a handful of our national parks and National Historic Landmarks, but there are many opportunities to learn about and discuss this complex and recent history”

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The study, released Friday, was ordered by Congress in a law passed in 2009 that required the Interior Department to “identify sites and resources in the United States that are significant to the Cold War.” Specifically, lawmakers wanted research into key locations tied to intercontinental ballistic missiles, flight training centers, manufacturing facilities, communications and command centers, defensive radar networks, nuclear weapons test sites, and strategic and tactical aircraft.

While the study identifies properties researchers believe could be eligible for landmark designation because they are “nationally significant” to Cold War history, a more thorough analysis is needed for each site to know whether they indeed meet eligibility criteria, the Park Service said in the news release.

In general, properties have to be at least 50 years old to become National Historic Landmarks. Most sites associated with the Cold War are not that old, and many were demolished as they were deactivated from military use.

Among the sites the study suggests could be eligible is a B-29 bomber that crashed in Lake Mead, Nevada, in 1948 while testing an experimental guidance system for an intercontinental ballistic missile. Another study of its eligibility is already underway, according to the report.

Many of the other two dozen places named in the report are also associated with weapons and testing. For example, the report names the Bikini Atoll nuclear test site in the Marshall Islands that the United States used for 23 nuclear tests, causing “devastating damage.”

The report also lists the nuclear test site in Nye County, Nevada, where more than 1,000 nuclear tests happened. It separately lists the “Sedan crater” within the Nevada site that was created in a 1962 nuclear test meant to explore the use of nuclear detonations to excavate earth.

Other weapons sites include several former Nike missile bases. Most of the approximately 256 bases for the first U.S. anti-aircraft missile have been demolished or reconfigured, but sites that still exist include ones in Golden Gate National Recreation Area in California, Everglades National Park in Florida, and Fort Hancock and the Sandy Hook Proving Ground in New Jersey, as well as sites in Alaska and Indiana.

The report also identifies three launch sites of Atlas intercontinental ballistic missiles in California, Wyoming and Colorado.

Two ships are also on the list: the USS New Jersey, which was used in the Korean and Vietnam wars and is now a museum in the city of Camden in its namesake state, and the USS Turner Joy, which was involved in the Gulf of Tonkin incident and is now a museum in Washington state.

The report also names several presidential sites, including the Camp David presidential retreat, the Maine home of the Bush family, President Richard Nixon’s “Western White House” in California, President Harry Truman’s “Little White House” in Florida, and secret emergency bunkers that were built near President John Kennedy’s vacation homes in Massachusetts and Florida.

Mar-a-Lago, the Florida estate now owned and used as a primary residence by former President Donald Trump, was designated as a national historic site in 1980 several years before Trump’s purchase after the death of cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post. It received its designation because its architecture is symbolic of affluent society in the 1920s, according to its National Register of Historic Places nomination form.

In addition to the Kennedy bunkers, other formerly clandestine sites the Cold War report says could be considered for historical designation include the Raven Rock Mountain Complex, a “secret emergency backup” Pentagon excavated into a Pennsylvania mountain, and a barn in Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C., where the FBI used the attic to electronically spy on nearby Soviet embassies.

“Puppet states, proxy wars, espionage and counterespionage, overt and covert operations, subtle intimidation and raw violence, threats and bluster, public pronouncements and secret treaties, alliances and betrayals, paranoia and credulity, lies mixed with truth, smoke and mirrors — each side toyed with reality and illusion to gain advantage,” the report said of the Cold War competition between the United States and Soviet Union. “To most Americans, the Cold War was an era of constant low-grade fear and worry punctuated by a few unforgettable moments of great anxiety.”

— Rebecca Kheel can be reached at rebecca.kheel@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.

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