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Pieces of Alcatraz Prison Are for Sale

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ People fascinated with the history of ``The Rock,″ aka Alcatraz Island, can now own a piece of it.

The National Park Service, which manages Alcatraz as one of San Francisco’s most popular tourist attractions, has started selling boxed chunks of concrete from the federal prison that once housed Al Capone, George ``Machine Gun″ Kelly and Robert ``Birdman″ Stroud.

Retailing for $4.95, the souvenirs were made possible because the park service is renovating the decaying cell house and a separate guards quarters, both considered national historic building. The $7.7 million effort to stabilize the former prison structure is the largest capital project on the island since the U.S. Bureau of Prisons closed the penitentiary in 1963.

Richard Weideman, a spokesman for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, said park staff came up with the idea for the mementos as an environmentally friendly and cost-effective alternative to ferrying tons of construction rubble off Alcatraz.

``We look at this as an educational opportunity and a fund-raising opportunity,″ said Weideman, adding that the keepsakes were modeled after similar endeavors involving fragments of the Berlin Wall and the Golden Gate Bridge.

The proposal to peddle the chips off the old cell block, however, initially met with criticism from what Weideman calls ``traditionalists″ within the park service and other federal agencies who objected to merchandising the landmark structures.

``Some people look at this as, `How can you sell pieces of a historic building? It would be like selling pieces of Independence Hall,‴ he said. ``We don’t think it detracts from the historic significance of the buildings because this stuff wouldn’t even be retained on the island. It would be dumped in a landfill.″

Since the ``Save the Rock″ campaign began a week and a half ago, the cleaned and packaged slices of correctional history have been selling at a rate of 20 to 30 a day, according to Weideman. Park staff, who have about 500 ready to go, expect the rocks to bring in $20,000 to $40,000 a year.

The campaign also features commemorative T-shirts, posters and a CD-ROM describing ongoing efforts to preserve the building that became famous as ``The Rock,″ which was built from 1909 to 1911 by military prisoners who were incarcerated on Alcatraz before it became a civilian facility in 1933.

The move underscores the public’s enduring interest in the famed maximum security prison, interest that has lasted longer than the 29 years Alcatraz actually housed what the Bureau of Prison calls the ``most incorrigible inmates.″

As for the ``traditionalists,″ Weideman predicts they will be won over. He recalled how the park caught flak several years ago when it launched an advertising campaign and began offering tourists the option of self-guided taped tours instead of listening to a live ranger.

``We are a pretty radical national park,″ he said. ``We are reflective of California in that we like to try new and untested activities.″


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Alcatraz Island