Artists Take Over NY Missile Base
Attack on Soviets Not Likely

1125 Quonset huts at the missile silo site that has been refurbished by Art Works, near Plattsburg, NY. Michael Kassner photo
ON OCTOBER 1, 1961 THE U.S. Air Force activated the 556th Strategic Missile Squadron. Forming a semi-circle around Plattsburgh AFB in Upstate New York near the Canadian border, twelve bases for the ATLAS-F Intercontinental Ballistic Missile were built. Each base cost $18 million to build, and consisted of a 52 feet-in-diameter, 174 feet-deep underground missile silo and a Launch Control Center (LCC). Both were protected by a 4-foot-thick concrete and metal blast door designed to survive an indirect nuclear explosion. Each base was located far enough from the others so that each could independently survive an enemy strike on any other base. Countless millions of dollars were spent building and manning the ATLAS-F bases. Less than five years after the 556th Squadron began service, Congress cancelled the ATLAS program. All twelve bases were deactivated on June 25, 1965.

Today, ATLAS-F Base 556-4 near Lake Champlain has been renamed One Creative Place, home and studio to painter and landscape photographer Tony L'Esperance who once served at Plattsburgh AFB as an electronics engineer. After leasing the base for seven years, Mr. L'Esperance founded Art Works, a non-profit artists group, in July, 1999. Today, Art Works' 14,000 square feet of heated space houses studios for two architects, a glassmaker, a land artist, a jewelry maker, an illustrator, and a painter as well as exhibit space, offices, and a lounge. "I'm in the process of buying the base," said Mr. L'Esperance, "my idea is to create a small community of working artists here who can share some resources and hopefully some interesting dialogue."

Mr. L'Esperance insists that it is safe to live and work in a facility which once maintained a thermonuclear warhead ready for action. According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Base 556-4, despite the presence of hazardous trichloroethene in the nine acre base's groundwater, "is not a potential inactive hazardous waste site." In any case, everyone at Art Works drinks water piped in from the nearby town of Willsboro.

Art Works is, for the moment, confined to the former base's three above-ground buildings--two large quonset huts and an office which connects them. Unfortunately, the silo and LCC are inaccessible. "They're full of thousands of gallons of stagnant water," said Mr. L'Esperance, "It would be a great space, but it's really expensive to remove all that water." The underground silo has an interior volume of 363,000 cubic feet.

Art works still has 4,000 square feet of studio space available for rent to interested artists. "The space is rented cheap," says Mr. L'Esperance, "I'm trying to raise money through grant writing and private donations to help to help with heat, lights, rents, some equipment, and to help support this creative community."

For more information about Art Works, contact: Tony L'Esperance, One Creative Place, Willsboro, NY 12996, tel/fax: (518) 963-7016, email: ynot@willex.com.

Field Report by Michael Kassner