Hoyt Wooten was one of our city’s most remarkable citizens. He was the owner of WREC-TV and WREC Radio (the station’s call letters stood for “Wooten Radio Electric Corporation”), better known today as WREG. He and his wife lived in a fabulous Italianate-style mansion on a lavish estate on Highway 51 South. He owned the largest private yacht any Memphian had ever seen, a 100-foot vessel he named the Elbaroda (it’s “adorable” spelled backwards).
And in the 1960s, with the Cold War looming, he dug a giant hole in the backyard of his Whitehaven estate and constructed the world’s largest and most expensive private bomb shelter. Designed to hold 50 of his closest friends, the underground complex included separate dormitories for men and women, a recreation hall, kitchen, communications center, food storage, and even a morgue for anyone who didn’t survive their cozy stay underground.
The shelter was powered by a pair of mighty diesel generators, fueled by huge storage tanks buried deep underground, supposedly out of the way of any bomb that fell nearby.
This rare photo shows one of the generators being lowered into place. Note the heavy-duty steel rebar that was used to reinforce the thick concrete walls.
Hoyt Wooten’s bomb shelter was built to last forever. Did it? Well, you’ll have to wait for a full story — and lots more photos — in an upcoming issue of Memphis magazine.