San Francisco: Alcatraz, the world famous former Federal penitentiary and International visitor destination in the center of San Francisco Bay, has just benefited from a multi million dollar restoration and renovation that has dramatically transformed and improved the way visitors experience the iconic national park.
A joint project of the National Park Service (NPS) and its non profit partner, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy (Parks Conservancy), the $3.5 million renovation marks the most ambitious and far reaching program and improvement effort on Alcatraz since the Island opened to the public more than thirty years ago. In addition to dramatic new visitor enhancements, the project also ensures the ongoing preservation and protection of the Island’s rare historical, cultural and natural resources.
Taking a holistic, experiential approach to the project, over the last two years NPS and Parks Conservancy staff have completely revamped how visitors experience The Rock from their arrival in the historic Cellhouse, to a compelling new digital audio tour, to the new museum store featuring archival exhibits of authentic prison artifacts. The ambitious project also has resulted in improved accessibility, and a vision to renovate and conserve the famed Alcatraz Gardens.
“From the moment they arrive on Alcatraz, visitors are now able to follow in the footsteps of actual prisoners and correctional officers to gain a comprehensive understanding of what life was like at America’s most notorious prison,” commented Greg Moore, executive director of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. “Alcatraz has always been an international icon, and one of the city’s most popular destinations, but it has never before undergone this level of transformation. Our goal was to bring the story of this national historic landmark to life. There are few more provocative visitor experiences in the world that can match it.”
Highlights of the Alcatraz preservation and renovation project include:
- The new Alcatraz “Doing Time” Audio Tour has been produced by the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy in conjunction with Antenna Audio, a subsidiary of Discovery Travel Media. The original Alcatraz tour transformed the audio tour industry in 1987, and over the last twenty years more than 20 million people have taken it. The new all digital version incorporates the best elements from the original including interviews with former Alcatraz inmates, correctional officers and family members with new first person dialogue, state of the art sound effects, and new MP 3 players. The tour is included with every Alcatraz ticket, and is now available in eight languages: English, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, and Mandarin.
- Archival museum collections spanning the history of Alcatraz through its notoriety as America’s most infamous Federal penitentiary are being publicly exhibited for the first time. Highlights include restored cell furnishings, actual prisoner artifacts, and historic artwork and photographs depicting daily life on The Rock.
- The vastly expanded Alcatraz Cellhouse Museum Store features exhibits of many of the historic artifacts from the federal penitentiary years (1934 1963). Items include the actual implements used by inmates during the 1962 breakout made famous in the movie Escape from Alcatraz; authentic inmate handcuffs and shackles; and correctional officer badges and blackjacks. Complementing the artifacts, the Parks Conservancy has released a series of replicas based on these historic items as part of the unique Alcatraz product line.
- On any given day, the new Alcatraz Author Program features historians, former inmates, correctional officers, naturalists and other special guests who have written about Alcatraz on the Island and interacting with visitors. A calendar of events is available at www.parksconservancy.org/calendar.
- The National Park Service is dedicated to making Alcatraz accessible to all visitors, and working with the Parks Conservancy has implemented various improvements, including elevators to formerly inaccessible areas of the Cellhouse and more frequent tram service from the landing dock.
- The 180 seat orientation theater brings a high tech touch to the visual history of The Rock. A new film produced by Discovery Communications introduces visitors to the diversity of the Island through compelling historical footage and first person narration.
- New exterior exhibits have been installed across the Island, providing visitors with in depth information on The Rock’s history, architecture, wildlife, and landscape as they take in world class San Francisco views.
- In its commitment to protect the natural resources of the Island, staff and volunteers ensure ongoing restoration and conservation of the Island ecosystem, including habitat protection for the more than 20,000 sea birds viewed on the Island each season.
- The Alcatraz Gardens, a striking historic landscape with some plants originally planted in the 1800s, are being lovingly restored after nearly 100 years of decline. The Alcatraz Historic Gardens Project, sponsored by the Parks Conservancy and the Garden Conservancy, aims to restore, preserve and maintain the gardens created by those who lived on the Island during its Federal prison and military eras. The project also interprets their history, horticulture and cultural significance for Alcatraz visitors.
“Thanks to the efforts of the National Park Service in partnership with the Parks Conservancy’s supporters, staff and volunteers, the many faces of Alcatraz are being preserved for future generations,” Moore said. “It’s a great time for everyone to take a new look at The Rock, which now, more than ever, delivers one of the world’s most memorable visitor experiences.”
Alcatraz is open every day of the year except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Visitors are encouraged to buy tickets well in advance, especially during peak summer season. For schedules, prices, and to purchase tickets, please visit the Alcatraz Cruises website at www.alcatrazcruises.com. Additional information on the Island itself is available through the National Park Service at www.nps.gov/alcatraz, or the Parks Conservancy at www.parksconservancy.org.