Thursday, July 25, 2013

Those Places Thursday -- Alcatraz Island

Last week I went to Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay with my children and my Mother-In-Law.  The reason for our adventure was a historic one..............My Mother-in-Law wanted to show all her grandchildren where she grew up!!

That's right, she grew up on the island!  She moved onto the island when she was just 10 months old and lived there until she was 13 years old!

Comerford Family on Alcatraz Island 1943
Here is my MIL (little girl on the left) with her mother Monica, her father Jim and her two sisters Carol (center) and Jeannie (right).

For anyone unfamiliar with Alcatraz, it is an island in the San Francisco Bay with a very rich history.  From 1850 to 1934 Alcatraz was a Military Post protecting San Francisco Bay.  From 1934 to 1963 the island was used as a Federal Penitentiary housing such criminals as Al "Scarface" Capone and Robert Stroud AKA "The Birdman." The years from 1969 to 1971 are known as The Indian Occupation of the island.  Today the island is a National Park were visitors from all over the world can come and learn about the islands rich history.

For my family, our trip to the island held a more personal historical value.  From 1940 to 1953 my Mother-in-Laws father, Jim Comerford,  was a prison guard on the island, and what many people do not realize is the island was home to nearly 40 families during the years it operated as a federal prison.  My Mother-in-Laws family was one of those families.

Here my MIL points to the apartment where she lived during her 13 years on the island.  

Sadly, all that remains of the apartment complexes is rubble.  When my MIL moved onto the island in 1940 the apartments were brand new.  Her family paid $50 a month rent for a fully furnished 3 bedroom apartment.

This was my third trip to the island with my MIL and what is always fun is she gets access to areas closed to the general public because she is a former resident.  Here she posses with her six grandchildren (who were seeing the island for the first time) and our person tour guide Lori, in the back upper deck area of building 64.

This is the view of Building 64 from the front as you approach the island by ferry.

This is the back area of Building 64 which is closed to the general public.

This is another view of the back of Building 64.  When my MIL was living on the island she said all the kids."on the island referred to this area as "Chinatown."

As we waited for our return ferry to San Francisco, my MIL showed all the kids photos of herself and her family that were taken on the island during their 13 years living there.  I'll show those and more pictures and stories of the island in future post.


  1. Wow, I had no idea that families lived on Alcatraz! Very interesting. Thanks for sharing this. I've lived in the Bay Area a few years now and have yet to visit Alcatraz, but was just talking with friends this weekend about going on a tour. How fantastic that you have such a unique connection to this historical place.

    Thanks for visiting my blog, I'm now following yours!

    1. Hi Erin,

      I would definitely recommend visiting the island! It is really an interesting place with so much history.

      Although, young kids would not enjoy it. My kids are 8-12 and that seemed the perfect age.

  2. What an amazing story! I didn't know families lived on Alcatraz Island.

    1. I didn't know either until I married my husband! But Yes, all of the guards families lived on the island. 40 families in all. My MIL loved growing up there. She said it was the safest place on earth!

    2. I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

      Have a great weekend!

  3. Wow, what a cool story! I had no idea that the guards' families lived there. Where did they go to school? We recently moved to CA and I'm hoping to visit Alcatraz while we are here. Great post!

  4. I came across this news story today and was reminded of your post:

  5. Thankn You for the link to the news story! I have forwarded onto my MIL to see if she remembers the women.

    Last week our local paper ran a front page story on my MIL. It can be found online here