At Home With Lava: Dangerous Homes

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But by the middle of the decade, the Army decommissioned Whittier, and officials weren't sure whether to turn the remote facility into a resort, a prison, or a mental institution.

"A psychiatric center in such forbidding surroundings would set mental health back 50 years," opined one writer in Time magazine.

But today, Whittier endures as a private community. The 70-mph winds can literally nail the doors shut. Between the avalanches and frequent subzero temperatures, residents leave home so infrequently that some barely ever put on shoes.

Most residents stay three years or less, complaining of creeping claustrophobia. But the longtime residents enjoy world-class whale-watching from their apartment windows.

The old timers tend to be the ones who relish being cut off from the rest of society. "A lot of people come here running from something," says Babs Reynolds, who moved there in 1978 to put distance between her and her third husband.

Now, she operates the town's video store and never expects to leave.

Still, when the temperature warms up, Whittier celebrates. Denizens of the Anchor, the town's only bar, say they've built a three-hole golf course, and they've fashioned discarded military equipment into a giant hot tub.

Let's just hope it's not lost under next week's avalanche.

Buck Wolf is entertainment producer at The Wolf Files is published Tuesdays. If you want to receive weekly notice when a new column is published, join the e-mail list.