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350px-Alcatraz_Island_photo_D_Ramey_LoganToo costly to repair, the U.S. government decided to close the famed prison in 1963.

On March 21, 1963, the last 27 prisoners were removed from Alcatraz Penitentiary with “their heads bowed and their bodies chained,” according to the Oakland Tribune.

Prisoners Leave Alcatraz

Prison officials and reporters watched the final prisoners leave the prison nicknamed “the Rock” because it was the only building on a 12-acre island in San Francisco Bay.

“The closing was abrupt and final. The prisoners, dressed in new, dun prison garb for the occasion, were taken by boat in two trips from the island. Guards and their families — some on the island for as long as 20 years — went in a third crossing to San Francisco. Only a few will remain on the island to prepare for formal abandonment June 30. The rest will either retire or be re-assigned,” reported the Oakland Tribune.

Warden Olin Blackwell gave the newsmen a final tour of the prison. At one point, he stopped and chipped away plaster with his hand to show one of the reasons why the facility needed to be closed.

“It seems sinful that this famous prison, the impenetrable rock which stood in defiance to such men as Al Capone, should die such a slow death,” reported the Tribune.

The Escape-Proof PrisonAlcatraz_sewing_room

Alcatraz became a civilian prison in 1934. During its 29 years of service, 40 prisoners made 13 escape attempts.

The most famous escape attempt was in 1962. Frank Morris and brothers John and Clarence Anglin, all bank robbers, dug their way out of the prison using sharpened spoons. Their bodies were never found and they were believed to have drowned in the bay.

The only escapee known to have made the swim from prison to shore was John Paul Scott. Though he made the swim, he was found unconscious on the shore and near death from his efforts.

Renovation or Closure

While the water of San Francisco Bay contained the prisoners on the island, the sea air in San Francisco Bay ate away at the prison, corroding metal and weakening concrete.

“It would pay us and would pay the government in the long run to replace Alcatraz with an institution more centrally located.” Federal Prison Director James Bennett said. “Perhaps in the Midwest.”

Besides the crumbling concrete and rusting steel, electrical and water conduits were rusting through. In some places, the steel girders were rusted through and had been replaced with wooden timbers.

It had been known that massive repairs were needed since 1954. At that time, needed renovations were estimated at $4 million. By 1963, the repair costs had risen to $5 million and the cost to keep a prisoner was the highest in the country.

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