Alcatraz Prison Improvements and Guard Housing – San Francisco CA


The Public Works Administration funded improvement work at the Alcatraz Prison on Alcatraz Island. The cost of the project was $1,100,000. The funds for the modernization were earmarked through a PWA program in 1938. The modernization plans were temporarily suspended after the Attorney General suggested the prison be moved away from San Francisco’s “doorstep.”

The work restarted in 1940, when Attorney General Jackson took office, inspected the site, and approved the modernization project. James V. Bennett, the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, declared in 1940 for the Fresno Bee that he expected the construction to finish by July of 1940. He also noted that “[t]he construction work is going forward while the prison operates normally […], and it entails considerable risk, for there is always danger of prisoners getting dangerous tools or seeking to escape.”

A 1939 record of PWA works, notes that “[a]t Sing Sing, Auburn, Joliet, Atlanta, and Alcatraz prisoners are housed in new PWA-financed buildings equipped with the latest tool-proof steel bars and safety and locking devices”

According to a 2003 National Park Service report, the PWA funded the construction of new staff housing between 1940 and 1941. “The PWA—funded construction of three new apartment houses for the Alcatraz guard staff, which were constructed in 1940-1941 on the parade ground at the south end of the island. Two of these buildings were earmarked for family quarters and one was designated a bachelor guards’ dormitory. The completion of these buildings in early 1941 greatly eased overcrowding in Building 64 when many of the families and most of the bachelors moved into the newer quarters.” The new apartment buildings were labeled as buildings A, B, and C.

Source notes

Fresno Bee, May 8, 1940, p. 2.

Jerry Lewis Champion Jr., The Fading Voices of Alcatraz, Bloomington: Author House, 2011, p. 92.

National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Golden Gate National Recreation Area Alcatraz Island, Alcatraz Barracks Building 64, Abbreviated Historic Structure Report, 2003: (, accessed April 27, 2018.

Public Works Administration, America Builds: The Record of PWA, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1939, p. 200.

Project originally submitted by Brent McKee on April 27, 2018.

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Location Info

Alcatraz Island
San Francisco , CA

Coordinates: 37.8269775, -122.42295

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