Lost New England Goes West: Main Cell Block, Alcatraz, San Francisco

Alcatraz guard Carl T. Perrin, on duty on March 21, 1963, the last day of the prison’s operation. Photo taken by Keith Dennison, courtesy of the National Park Service.

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The scene in 2015:

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The corridors between the cell blocks at Alcatraz were named after major streets; this particular one was known as Broadway, and it was the central corridor in the facility, separating blocks B and C. The block had three levels of cells, and most of the inmates were kept in either B or C blocks, with the more isolated D block being used for isolation and punishment, like solitary confinement.

Because Alcatraz was intended for the nation’s most problematic federal prisoners, the prison enforced many strict regulations. Each cell housed only one person, and conversations between inmates were strictly limited to discourage them from coordinating escapes. “Lights out” was at 9:30 P.M., and, unless they worked a prison job, the inmates spent nearly 23 hours a day in their cells, passing the time by reading, smoking, and occasionally playing musical instruments or making artwork. Images of the interior of the cells can be seen in this earlier post and this one.

This post is part of a series of photos that I took in California this past winter. Click here to see the other posts in the “Lost New England Goes West” series.

Lost New England Goes West: Alcatraz Island, San Francisco (3)

Another view of Alcatraz Island from the water, taken in 1938. Image courtesy of the National Park Service.

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Alcatraz in 2015:

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This view is very similar to the one in this earlier post, but the “then” photo here was taken almost 40 years later, once most of the construction on the island had been completed. When the 1938 photo was taken, the island had been operated as a federal prison for about four years, but the island had actually been used as a prison for much longer. The main prison building at the top of the hill had been completed in 1912 as a military prison, replacing a much smaller structure, known as the Citadel, which had stood there since before the Civil War.

To the left of the main prison is the lighthouse, which was built in 1909 after the previous one had been damaged in the 1906 earthquake. Next to the lighthouse is the burned-out remains of the Warden’s House. This mansion had been built in the 1920s, and was home to the various wardens until the prison closed in 1963. Along with several other buildings on Alcatraz, it was burned in 1970, during the Native American occupation of the island, and today only the shell remains. Right along the water is Building 64, which was built in 1905 and housed officers and their families, and to the right is the 1857 guardhouse, the oldest surviving building on the island.

This post is part of a series of photos that I took in California this past winter. Click here to see the other posts in the “Lost New England Goes West” series.

Lost New England Goes West: Alcatraz Guardhouse, San Francisco

The view on Alcatraz next to Building 64, facing toward the guardhouse, in 1937. Image courtesy of the National Park Service.

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The view in 2015:

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As mentioned in an earlier post, the guardhouse in the center of this scene is the oldest surviving building on Alcatraz Island. It was built around 1857 as part of the Army’s initial fortification of the island, back when Alcatraz was seen as a valuable defensive position rather than as a prison. However, it did not take long for the Army to realize the value of the isolated island’s potential as a prison, and the guardhouse here was also used to house inmates.

Over the years, more buildings were added to the island, including Building 64 on the left side of the photo, which was built in 1905 to house the officers who were stationed on the island, along with their families. When the first photo was taken, the prison had been recently transferred to the Department of Justice, who used it to house the most difficult federal prisoners in the country. Many notorious criminals passed through here on their way to the main prison building, including Al Capone, Whitey Bulger, Arthur Barker, Alvin Karpis, and Machine Gun Kelly. The prison closed in 1963 because of the high operating costs, and today it is open to the public as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

This post is part of a series of photos that I took in California this past winter. Click here to see the other posts in the “Lost New England Goes West” series.

Lost New England Goes West: Alcatraz Dining Hall, San Francisco

The dining hall at the Alcatraz Federal Penitentary, sometime between 1933 and 1963. Image courtesy of the National Park Service.

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The dining hall in 2015:

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This dining hall is part of the main prison building at Alcatraz, which first opened in 1912 as a military prison. The first photo, taken during its time as a federal civilian prison, shows the dining hall set up for some sort of holiday dinner. All of the inmates ate their meals here together, and the food was supposedly the best in the entire federal prison system. Meals were 20 minutes long, and inmates could help themselves to as much food as they wanted, provided that they ate it in time and left no waste.

In the distance on the far left of the 2015 photo is the breakfast menu from March 21, 1963, the prison’s last day in operation. The meal consisted of assorted dry cereals, steamed whole wheat, scrambled eggs, milk, stewed fruit. toast, bread, butter, and coffee. Today, the dining hall is one of the stops on the self-guided tour of the island, which is operated by the National Park Service as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

This post is part of a series of photos that I took in California this past winter. Click here to see the other posts in the “Lost New England Goes West” series.

Lost New England Goes West: Clarence Anglin’s Cell, Alcatraz, San Francisco

Cell #152 in Alcatraz, shortly after Clarence Anglin’s attempted escape in June 1962. Image courtesy of the National Park Service.

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The cell in 2015:

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Clarence Anglin and his brother John were convicted bank robbers whowere both incarcerated at Alcatraz. As explained in more detail in the previous post, they participated with their friend Frank Morris in what was possibly the only successful escape attempt from the prison. The first photo was taken in Clarence’s cell shortly after the escape was discovered, and the second one shows the cell as it appears today, complete with a replica of the dummy head that Anglin created to hide their disappearance.

In over 50 years since their disappearance, there have been no confirmed sightings of the three men, nor were their bodies ever discovered, which has led to plenty of speculation and reported sightings ever since. Perhaps the most interesting piece of evidence to surface recently, though, is a 1975 photo that was released last year, which supposedly shows the Anglin brothers in Brazil. Despite the resemblance to the escaped convicts, it remains inconclusive, but it is certainly possible that the men, now in their mid-80s, could still be alive and hiding in South America.

This post is part of a series of photos that I took in California this past winter. Click here to see the other posts in the “Lost New England Goes West” series.

Lost New England Goes West: Frank Morris’s Cell, Alcatraz, San Francisco

Cell #138 at Alcatraz, seen shortly after Frank Morris’s attempted escape in June 1962. Image courtesy of the National Park Service.

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The cell in 2015:

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The prison at Alcatraz is probably best known for the June 11-12, 1962 escape attempt by Clarence Anglin, John Anglin, and Frank Morris. The three men, plus a fourth one who ultimately did not participate in the escape, began planning six months earlier. With Morris as the ringleader, they used discarded saw blades, spoons, and an improvised drill to slowly chip away at the corroded concrete around the ventilation openings in their cells. On the other side of the wall is a utility corridor, and once they had escaped from their cells they climbed up to the roof, constructed a makeshift raft, and left the island.

To prevent their absence from being noticed, they had created papier-mâché heads and left them on their pillows. As a result, the escape was not noticed until the following morning. The first photo here was taken in Morris’s cell, probably only a few days after the escape. The men were never found, and despite the publicity at the time and in the years since, there has been no conclusive evidence to suggest either that they drowned in the frigid waters or successfully made it to shore.

Less than a year later, the prison closed, not because of the escape attempt, but because of the exorbitant cost of running a prison on a small island in the middle of San Francisco Bay. Today, the property is administered by the National Park Service, and the old prison is now open for tours. The cells of the escaped inmates, including Morris’s as seen here, have been furnished to show how they would have appeared on the night of the escape.

This post is part of a series of photos that I took in California this past winter. Click here to see the other posts in the “Lost New England Goes West” series.