Dan rants: Alcatraz

[Seagull on bow of boat] After many years in the Bay Area, neither Charlene nor I had ever been to Alcatraz Island . So we got reservations, and on Saturday paid $20 to park near pier 41, and took the Blue & Gold Fleet ferry across the bay.

[Dock at Alcatraz] After arriving at the docks we were met by a ranger who was trying to keep the tourists (ie: us) from wandering off 'til he'd got the lot of us in one place to tell us to not eat anywhere but the docks, which the schmuck with the pistachios thought didn't apply to him, and where the bathrooms were, and not to approach the seagul chicks 'cause they were feircely protected.

[Seagull chicks] Unlike their parents, the seagull chicks were very cute. I didn't get any pictures of the feeding, but it was cool to see the bigger gulls come down, and apparently regurgitate something that the chicks then ate from their beaks.

[Seagull chicks] So we wandered up the hill, past various decripit decaying buildings, 'til we got to the penitentiary itself, with the flag and the lighthouse and the burnt out remains of the old warden's house. Back in 1969, after the closing of the prison, a group of American Indian protesters took over the island, and held it for over a year and a half. During their stay, several of the buildings on the island burned down.

[Cellblock and tourists in Alcatraz] Everybody comes for the tour of the cells. Unlike most audio tours, the audio tour here is a must, wonderfully produced, all voices of people who were either guards or inmates at Alcatraz, touching on the possible escape, the inmate rebellion, and other stories of living on the rock.

[Flowers on Alcatraz] If Charlene and I had a complaint, it was that the great information on the prison overshadowed the earlier history of Alcatraz as a fort guarding the entrance to the bay, and though we skipped one room with a video on the Indian takeover, a little more on the post prison fate would have been cool too. But I guess they've got limited resources in a place that they're trying to keep safe for visitors, let alone preserve. Lots of disrepair, wrecks of old buildings that I wouldn't go near even if they weren't fenced off. But a few things survive amazingly well, the flowers imported for the gardens of the guards now cover the island.

The other thing that struck us was how the evolution of prison architecture has influenced architecture in other areas. Compare the images of the cells to photographs I took earlier this year of the new high school in Sanger, California.

[Charlene in Alcatraz recreation yard] [Gate between blocks] [Cell Bars]

[Bars and Sign at Sanger High School] [Fences at Sanger High School]

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2002 danlyke@flutterby.com