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Underground House Colorado
Mountain Home
Stapp Lakes Ranch
Entrance to the underground house in Ward, Colorado
General information
Architectural styleRanch-style house
LocationWard, Colorado
AddressBeaver Reservoir Road
Coordinates40°7′5″N 105°32′42″W / 40.11806°N 105.54500°W / 40.11806; -105.54500
Closedca. 1988
OwnerSacred Mountain Ashram
Technical details
MaterialConcrete and steel
Size3,400 sq ft (320 m2)
Floor count1
Design and construction
Architect(s)Jay Swayze
Architecture firmUnderground World Homes

The Underground House in Ward, Colorado, was a subterranean dwelling known for its architectural design, which embraced the concept of underground living. The house was designed by architect Julian "Jay" Swayze (1923–1981) in the 1960s. The dwelling is an example of an unconventional approach to residential construction and integration with the natural environment. It was included in the Underground World Home exhibit at the 1964 New York World's Fair.[1][2]


In 1964, Girard Henderson had an underground home built on a 320 acres (130 ha) mountain ranch located near Ward, Colorado.[3][4]

The construction was completed by builders Julian "Jay" and Kenneth Swayze, from Plainview, Texas.[5] The Swayze brothers established a company known as Underground World Homes, specializing in the design and construction of full-sized underground residences. On May 13, 1963, Swayze initiated the process of securing a patent for his underground home design. Patent US3227061A was officially granted to Swayze on January 4, 1966, recognizing the underground home concept. This patent marked a milestone in the development of underground dwelling technologies.[6] Swayze's approach led them to create various underground homes, including one that Jay Swayze resided in with his wife and two daughters called Atomitat. It was the first home in the U.S. to meet civil defense specifications for a nuclear shelter. Henderson became intrigued by the idea and decided to invest, acquiring a 51 percent share of Underground World Homes.[1][7]

During that same year, Henderson undertook the construction of an almost identical underground home, sponsoring the Underground World Home exhibit at the 1964 New York World's Fair, copying the concept pioneered by the Swayze brothers.[8][9][10]

Henderson and his wife spent time on the property.[11][12][13][14][15][16]

Underground near House Ward, Colorado

The Swayze brothers authored a book titled Underground Gardens & Homes: The best of two worlds, above and below.[2] Published in 1980, the book delved into the nuclear age, addressing the imperative need for comprehensive planning to safeguard ourselves from potential adverse consequences.[7]

Situated twenty-eight miles (45 km) northwest of Boulder, Colorado and at an elevation of 9,500 ft (2,900 m) above sea level, the dwelling, dubbed "Mountain Home" by its contractors, employed a building technique known as "ship-in-a-bottle", that deployed mountain top removal, followed by the pouring of a concrete shell, and finally the reinstatement of the mountain top.[1][2]


Underground Home interior photos
Underground Home living room
Underground Home swimming pool

The Ranch-style house one-level 3,400 sq ft (320 m2) underground earth shelter was designed to blend with the surroundings with earth against the walls and on the roof. It had a brick veneer siding but was enclosed in a waterproof concrete shell and covered with a compacted earth berm. The entrance was created to look like an opening to a mineshaft. To make the house functional, over $104,000 (equivalent to $1,021,700 in 2023) was spent on the hydroelectric system that supplied the underground dwelling with power. Water for the system flowed from glacial snowpack on Mt. Audubon.[5] More than $200,000 (equivalent to $1,964,807 in 2023 was spent in total to make the house livable.[15]

To imitate the comforts of above-ground living, the wood-frame home had three-bedrooms, a swimming pool, and fake "outdoor" patio.[11] Because the house had no window, artist Jewell Smith painted Trompe-l'œil murals depicting the New York City skyline from the living room and the Golden Gate Bridge from a bedroom.[17][1] Windows within the structure revealed a narrow corridor that served as a separation between the "exterior" wall and the concrete retaining wall. As noted by architecture historian Beatriz Colomina in her book, Domesticity at War, this architectural element disrupted the conventional notions of inside and outside.[18] The house had a remote-controlled lighting system that could imitate the night sky and sunrise.[7] Additionally, a fireplace channeled smoke through a fake tree trunk to the surface.[11]

Current State

After Henderson died on November 16, 1983, the Colorado mountain property, including the underground home, was put up for sale for $1.5 million dollars. It was purchased for $1.17 million by the Sacred Mountain Ashram on June 9, 1988 from a mysterious reclusive millionaire who was "terrified...of being caught in a nuclear holocaust." After the sale, the exterior walls of the underground house were dug free of dirt, windows were built to allow sunlight to come into the home.[16][5]

See also



  1. ^ a b c d Greg Castillo. "Underground Dream World". UC Berkeley's Graduate Architectural Journal (8). Archived from the original on 2022-05-03. Retrieved 2023-06-07.
  2. ^ a b c Swayze, Jay (1980). Underground Gardens & Homes: The Best of Two Worlds, Above and Below. Hereford, Texas: Geobuilding Systems. pp. 33, 136.
  3. ^ "The Pacific Reporter". West Publishing Company. 168. 1918. Retrieved 2023-06-15.
  4. ^ "Stapp Lakes Lodge". Boulder Public Library, Carnegie Library. 1920. Archived from the original on 2023-06-15. Retrieved 2023-06-15.
  5. ^ a b c "Ashram bring light to retreat". The Mountain-Ear. 12 (1). Nederland, Colorado. October 13, 1988. Archived from the original on 2023-06-09. Retrieved 2023-06-08.
  6. ^ "Underground building". IFI CLAIMS Patent Services. January 4, 1966. Retrieved 2023-06-15.
  7. ^ a b c "Underground luxury homes remain hidden across country". The Napa Valley Register. Napa, California. May 3, 1996. Retrieved 13 June 2023.
  8. ^ Hirshon, Nicholas (17 October 2012). "The Secret Spot Hidden Below New York". Narratively. Archived from the original on 16 April 2021. Retrieved 24 April 2022.
  9. ^ McDonough, Doug (12 October 2013). "Looking Back: 1964 World's Fair featured Swayze underground home". Plainview Herald. Archived from the original on 26 April 2022. Retrieved 26 April 2022.
  10. ^ Porter, Donald J. (2019). A jet powered life : Allen E. Paulson, aviation entrepreneur (Illustrated ed.). Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. p. 114. ISBN 978-1476676562. Archived from the original on 16 May 2023. Retrieved 24 April 2022.
  11. ^ a b c "Colorado Family Lives in Underground House". Enterprise-Record. Chico, California. September 11, 1964. Retrieved 16 May 2023.
  12. ^ Greg Castillo. "Underground Dream World". UC Berkeley's Graduate Architectural Journal (8). Retrieved 2023-06-07.
  13. ^ Welch, Bryan (November 8, 1981). "Colorado's Free Enterprise High". The San Francisco Examiner. San Francisco, California. p. 310. Retrieved 2023-07-26.
  14. ^ Carlson, Jen (20 March 2017). "Is The 1960s World's Fair Underground Home Still There? An Investigation". Archived from the original on 13 August 2021. Retrieved 25 April 2022.
  15. ^ a b Louis Kilzer (1983). "Colorado's mystery millionaire". Denver Post. Denver, Colorado. Archived from the original on 2023-06-10. Retrieved 2023-06-09.
  16. ^ a b "Ashram buys pristine mountain retreat". The Daily Sentinel. Grand Junction, Colorado. August 8, 1988. Archived from the original on 15 June 2023. Retrieved 8 June 2023.
  17. ^ McClure, Wanda (9 March 1964). "Muralist to Feature Work at New York World's Fair". Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Archived from the original on 25 April 2022. Retrieved 25 April 2022.
  18. ^ Colomina, Beatriz (2007). Domesticity at War. MIT Press. ISBN 9780262033619. Retrieved 14 June 2023.