Alcatraz Island is located 1-1/2 miles offshore from San Francisco, California. The small island has served as a lighthouse, a military fortification, a military prison, and finally, a federal prison.
The penitentiary was closed in March of 1963. Half a century of salt water saturation had severely eroded the buildings, the bay was being polluted by the sewage from the inmates and the Bureau of Prisons families on the island, and it was far more expensive to operate than other prisons.
Beginning on November 20, 1969, a group of Native Americans from many different tribes occupied the island. During the nineteen months and nine days of occupation, several buildings were damaged or destroyed. A number of other buildings were destroyed by the U.S. Government after the occupation had ended.
In 1972, Alcatraz became a national recreation area and received landmarking designations in 1976 and 1986. Today, the island is a historic site operated by the National Park Service as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
The images on this site are spherical panoramas. Once a page has loaded, click and drag on the image to control your viewing direction.
Please note: Some of the spaces shown on this site (citadel, morgue, building 64, lighthouse...) are not accessible to the public at this time because of safety issues. Other areas (new industries building, hospital...) are only accessible on National Park Service guided tours.
The prison building, built between 1910 and 1912 when Alcatraz was still a military prison, is a three-story cellhouse with four cellblocks. When it transferred from military control to the Bureau of Prisons, the cell bars were strengthened to better prevent escapes. The cells remained primitive and lacked privacy. D-Block housed the worst inmates in solitary confinement. [NPS]
The hospital began operations when the cell house was completed in 1912 and continued to provide services after Alcatraz became a federal prison. Naturally, the hospital was used to provide medical care to inmates, prison personnel and civilians on the island. In all, the hospital was made up of the recovery wards, doctor's offices and a surgery facility. [NPS]
Bureau of Prisons constructed the New Industries Building after multiple escape attempts were made from the Model Industries Building, which was not built for maximum security prisoners. The new building was more secure and safer for the guards. The New Industries Building went into operation just before the U.S. entered the Second World War in 1941. Federal prisoners began production of wartime supplies, such as cargo nets and uniforms. [NPS]
The lower brick portion of Building 64 was orginally part of the fortifications protecting the bay. The upper levels served as military barracks for the soldiers guarding military prisoners on the island. With the arrival of the Bureau of Prisons the once open barracks, were subdivided into apartments for correctional officers and their families. [NPS]
The original Alcatraz lighthouse, constructed in 1854, was the first lighthouse built on the US West Coast. The lighthouse served as a navigational aid for over 50 years. The cottage-style lighthouse building was replaced by the taller 95 foot structure in 1909 because it was no longer tall enough to shine over the new cellhouse. In 1963, when the penitentiary closed, the lighthouse became automated and a modern beacon was added. [NPS]