March 21, 1963
Posted Mar 1, 2008 3:12 PM CST
By George Hodak
A mile and a half off the coast of San Francisco, and surrounded by icy waters and treacherous currents, Alcatraz served as an Army fortress and prison before it was turned over to the Justice Department in 1934.
Completed in 1912, the original cell house was upgraded to a maximum-security facility that took in high-profile gangsters and lesser-known incorrigibles. Among the rogues’ gallery of public enemies who did time on “the Rock” were Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Arthur “Doc” Barker and Robert “Birdman” Stroud.
In its storied 29-year history, 34 inmates attempted escape; a few managed to get off the island, but all were either recaptured or thought to have drowned.
Facing high operating expenses and a costly renovation, Alcatraz was closed and later replaced by a more modern prison in Marion, Ill. Alcatraz is now a popular tourist attraction run by the National Park Service, as well as a favored location for Hollywood filmmakers.