Now, another relic of a different age is getting a postmodern twist: doomsday shelters.
It's less than 1,000 days to Dec. 21, 2012, which is the last day listed in the Mayan calendar.
One person supplying at least one option is Robert Vicino, an entrepreneur in Del Mar, Calif., who is behind a project called Vivos -- sort of a cross between a time share and a bomb shelter.
Basically, Vicino -- who prefers the term "fractional villa" to time share -- is selling ownership interests in one of 20 underground shelters that cost $10 million apiece and hold about 200 people.
That works out to about $50,000 per adult and $25,000 per child (pets are free). For the money, each owner gets an underground unit capable of withstanding massive earthquakes, flooding, radiation or biological attacks for an entire year, along with food, clothing and a medical facility.
Necessity is usually the mother of invention, but, Vicino says, not in this case. "Sometimes, if you wait for necessity, it will be too late," he points out.
He came up with the idea of an underground shelter during the early 1980s and even investigated the possibility of using an abandoned gold mine near Julian, Calif., a small town near San Diego.
Vicino abandoned that location but not the idea, which resonates with him as the 2012 doomsday date draws nearer.
"There are lots of people with 2012 concerns," he says. "I'm not a believer in it, but I am sure that sometime in our lifetimes, or our children's lifetimes, or our grandchildren's, there will be some disaster that happens that requires people to seek shelter."
To Vicino, that could be biological terrorism, a nuclear bomb or even an earthquake.
"The worst part of an earthquake is what comes after," he says. "You saw what happened in Haiti. It was anarchy."
Vicino is building his shelters based on a spoke-and-hub complex, with 10 radiating wings surrounding a two-story central dome. The shelters will be 35 to 40 feet below the surface ("Radiation only goes 10 feet below the surface," he says) and will have a population density of one person per 100 square feet of floor area, twice as much as what is recommended by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Each spoke has full-size kitchens, dining areas, a living room, a study area, computer desks, exercise equipment, four bedroom suites and two full bathrooms. The central dome has community gathering and dining areas, offices, a theater, kitchens, bathrooms, storage, an urgent-care medical and dental center, a security office and a detention area, along with most of the mechanical and support equipment to power the facility.
Vicino isn't claiming that his shelters will have the standards of a four-star resort, but he compares the standard to a "midclass yacht." However, along with being able to handle the most catastrophic forces of both nature and man, the interiors will be designed with cheerful color schemes and comfortable furnishings, he says.
"Good taste doesn't cost any more," he notes.
Each shelter would be located within a 150-mile radius of a major metropolitan area, and the first one will be built near Barstow, Calif., a high desert community near Los Angeles and San Diego.
"We're actually retrofitting an existing shelter -- an existing Cold War-era government bunker that is in perfect condition," Vicino says, adding that it is only 13,000 square feet, so there is space for only 132 people.
"And we're halfway there," he says, referring to the number of spaces he's sold thus far.
Who's buying a ticket to doomsday survival?
Vicino says 30 percent are people in the medical field, such as doctors, nurses, psychologists and emergency technicians. Another 30 percent are people in law enforcement or the military.
"These people see disasters every day," he says.
The rest come from all walks of life, and his company seeks to pair up buyers based on the order of purchase and the particular skill set. As the frequently asked questions sheet points out, "We don't want all doctors and no plumbers or electricians. That could be a real disaster."
Although buyers can tour the homes after purchase, they are not vacation homes. As a result, owners are only allowed entrance when there is a situation that the owner believes warrants the use of an underground shelter -- and a stopover on the way to Las Vegas doesn't qualify.
For many people, the $50,000 buy-in could be steep for something that may never get used, but Vicino doesn't see that as a barrier.
"You don't get upset if you buy a fire extinguisher and never use it," he says. "This is a deeded real estate investment that can be passed down from generation to generation whenever there is a need for a shelter."