21 March 1963

Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary closes.

On March 21, 1963, the Alcatraz Island federal prison in San Francisco Bay was emptied of its inmates and closed at the order of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.

Alcatraz, also known as “The Rock,” had housed some of America’s most dangerous felons, since it opened in 1934.

Alcatraz had previously served as a fortress to protect the San Francisco Bay area and also was the home of the first operational lighthouse on the West Coast.

The Army gave control of Alcatraz to the U.S. Justice Department in 1933 so it could be used as a federal prison for inmates deemed too dangerous for other U.S. prisons, according to www.history.com.

Alcatraz had held some famous inmates such as Al “Scarface” Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly and gangster Alvin “Creepy Karpis” Karpowicz who was listed as “Public Enemy No. 1,” according to history.com.

Alcatraz was shut down in 1963 because its operating costs were higher than other prisons and exposure to the salty sea air was taking a toll on the buildings.

The 1979 movie “Escape from Alcatraz” starring Clinton Eastwood was an adaptation of the 1963 non-fiction book by J. Campbell Bruce about the 1962 prisoner escape from Alcatraz.

According to history.com, 36 inmates attempted to escape over the years.

“According to the U.S. Marshals Service, only three remain unaccounted for: Frank Morris and John and Clarence Anglin, who spent months digging out of their cells with crude tools before escaping on June 11, 1962, in one of the most famous prison breaks in history.”

Alcatraz Island today is a popular tourist attraction and is part of the National Park Service.