Woman Shares Her Life in a Cold War 'Bunker' Where the Whole Town Live

A woman has shared an insight into her life in one of the U.S.'s "strangest towns," where nearly all the residents live in just one building.

Jenessa is one of the 318 permanent inhabitants of Whittier, Alaska, where temperatures drop to 10.8°F (-12°C) in winter.

She's been uploading numerous explainers, tours and Q&A sessions to her TikTok page, messy.nessy, after interest spiked in her living situation.

The resident, who says "I live in one of the strangest towns," shared a video which went viral, racking up more than 11 million views.

Jenessa, the mayor's daughter, lives in the 14-storey, 196 unit condominium Begich Towers, otherwise known as the BTI building, dubbed "the town under one roof."

"In this building there's a post office, a church, a store and a building office. In the basement of this building we have a tunnel which runs from this building to the school across the street. There's currently 318 people who live here year-round," she said.

The site was developed during WWII, after the area was identified as strategically important during the conflict due to its port which never freezes, and near-constant cloud cover.

Jenessa said: "So Whittier has been around since the 1940s, it was built around WWII and it was a military bunker. The building that I'm in right now used to be military housing. After WWII many people left, but we still had a large population up until the 1964 earthquake. Whittier had a lot of damage after the earthquake, so many people left. One of the buildings here which was military housing was abandoned."

She explained exactly why nearly all the town's residents live in the BTI, saying: "There are no houses here because you can't buy any property because most of it is owned by the railroad. So that's why everyone lives in one building, because you cannot buy property to build a house.

"You can own your own apartment in this building, or you can rent from someone. But mostly everyone owns their own apartment. We do however have to pay monthly dues, but that also includes water, electricity, things like that."

Built in 1953 and then called the Hodge Building, it, along with the now-abandoned Buckner Building, became the centre of military operations in the region during the Cold War, with tunnels connecting them to nearby buildings.

Fast-forward to the modern day, and the unique set-up means the residents barely need to leave the fortress-esque building, with most facilities and shops under one roof.

And it also means Jenessa's best friend lives one floor above her. However, it's also made dating "awkward."

"Nobody really dates here because we all grew up together so that would be kind of weird," she said.


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Jenessa, who's lived in the town for seven years, explained there aren't many local jobs in Whittier, which is an hour's drive from Anchorage.

She explained: "Since Whittier is so small there's not that many jobs. Whittier is a seasonal town so in the winter everything shuts down. For jobs, you can work for the railroad, you can work for the tunnel, for the school, the city, the harbour master's office, or for BTI. Or some people commute to Anchorage, you can work for the clinic."

And she explained what happens if anyone gets sick, saying: "We have one doctor in Whittier, and I'm pretty sure it's only open Monday through Friday. Whittier also has on-call EMS volunteers, and I'm actually a volunteer for the EMS here and so if there's a big emergency you'll be transported to Anchorage."

Jenessa drove around the town sharing all the sights and locations, pointing out the school, city park, boat lot, camp ground, a "tiny" gas station, private marina, pedestrian tunnel, fish processing plant, city offices, police, clinic, docks and grocery store.

While there are a few bars, restaurants, gift shops and a hotel, as she said: "In summertime there's a bunch of things you can do that are fun."

But she admitted: "In the wintertime there's not much to do at all, because everything kind of shuts down pretty much. We get pretty bad weather here in the wintertime."

And towering above the small town is the abandoned Buckner Building, with Jenessa saying: "This building is super big. This building has a bowling alley, a theatre, a bunch of rooms, a kitchen, a swimming pool."

The looming concrete structure, billed as "the city under one roof," was once the bustling hub of army operations in the region, with The Hodge Building mostly used as housing quarters.

But the six-storey fortress, the subject of an episode of Abandoned Engineering, was vacated by the army in the 1960s, and it's remained empty ever since.

While the Hodge Building, later renamed Begich Towers, was turned into a condominium association.

The two buildings emerged relatively unscathed after the Great Alaskan Earthquake in 1964, which measured 9.2 on the Richter scale and killed around 131 people.

As it's too expensive and dangerous to demolish the Buckner Building, mother nature is slowly taking it over, with the site popular with youths, vandals and urban explorers.

Stock image of the BTI building
Google map image of the BTI building in Whittier, Alaska. Google Maps

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