The lobbies of both the Hilton Union Square and its sister hotel Parc 55 in San Francisco have a new look. For one thing, there is a jail cell sitting in the lobby of the Hilton Union Square. No, this is not some new “get tough on people who steal towels” approach. It is part of a mobile exhibit from Alcatraz National Park (sponsored by Alcatraz Cruises) which will be in both hotels through June of 2018.
Alcatraz: Life on the Rock
As you enter the Parc55 hotel from valet parking you will enter through a jail themed sally port. There is also a collection of photos in an exhibit on that floor on the last prisoner to leave the Rock.
The Parc 55 lobby on the 2nd floor has a number of different displays about Alcatraz including some large photos that at each end of the lobby.
The lobby has a small theatre which displays a video documentary on the history of the island.
- It started as a barren rock in the harbor with only sea birds on it.
- Just before the Civil War the U.S. fortified the island as part of a series of 3 forts that guarded the mouth of the harbor. This was to protect San Francisco Bay which was the most strategic harbor on the west coast. In the process they also brought over soil and plants.
- As soon as the war started the army detained suspected southern sympathizers on the island in its first use as a prison.
- After the war the fort became a military prison but was eventually closed because of the expense of running a prison where even drinking water had to be shipped in by barge. Military prisoners built the jail block that dominates the island today.
- It was reopened in 1934 as a Federal prison for the worst of the worst as a new crime wave of gangsters swept across the nation. The crime wave was fueled by prohibition and the Great Depression. It again was closed in 1963 because it was too expensive to run.
- It was taken over by Native Americans in 1969 as part of a protest.
- It became part of the National Park system in 1972.
You can learn more about some of the many movies that have been filmed at Alcatraz from the Birdman of Alcatraz to The Rock.
There are more displays about the families of the guards and officers that lived on the island during the days or the prison and its role as the first lighthouse of the U.S. on the west coast. There are artifacts in display cases such as the notebook of Robert “the birdman” Stroud, Civil War era artifacts, and more.
The 3rd floor also has some displays on the conversion of Alcatraz to a National Park and the bird life on the island.
Along with the many displays in the hotel, there is also a speaker series once a month that is open to the public.
- February 28, 2018, – Former Prisoner William G. Baker – AZ-1259
- March 21, 2018 – Former Guard Jim Albright and former resident Cathy Albright
- April 26, 2018 – Historian John Martini – 100 Years on the Island
- May 24, 2018 – Former Resident and Warden’s Daughter Jolene Babyak
Each talk will take place in the Cable 55 restaurant, which is also serving two Alcatraz themed cocktails for the duration.
For more about the Parc 55 and Hilton hotel check out Parc 55 and Hilton Union Square (Review).