50 Years Ago Today, Alcatraz Was Shuttered, Ending an Era

"The Rock" lives on in the annals of history and the public's continued fascination with the prison.

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Alcatraz was America's premier maximum-security prison in the 20th century, the final stop for the nation's most infamous inmates.

Al Capone. George "Machine Gun" Kelly. Alvin "Creepy" Karpis. These are some of the infamous criminals who once called "The Rock" home.

Even though Alcatraz closed 50 years ago, the prison on an isolated island in the middle of San Francisco Bay remains the foremost symbol of criminal justice in the first half of the 20th century. It is a relic forever tied to an era of gangsters and organized crime that fascinates generations of people born well after the last prisoner was transferred off the island. Alcatraz's closure 50 years ago today essentially ended that era, but the legendary stories from within the prison's concrete walls continue to draw nearly 1.5 million visitors every year.

[PHOTOS: 50th Anniversary of the Closing of Alcatraz]

In honor of this anniversary, take a step back in time with photos from the prison's heyday.


Alcatraz island and penitentiary is seen in San Francisco Bay from the air in the 1930s. March 21, 2013, marks the 50th anniversary of the closing of America's premier maximum security prison.

Alcatraz Island and its penitentiary are seen in San Francisco Bay from the air in the 1930s. (AP)

From left to right are the laundry room, power plant and quartermaster building on Alcatraz Island shown on Oct. 20, 1933, in San Francisco.

From left to right are the laundry room, power plant and quartermaster building on Alcatraz Island on Oct. 20, 1933. (Ernest King/AP)

San Francisco Police Chief William J. Quinn, Warden James A. Johnson, U.S. Attorney General Homer S. Cummings and San Francisco Mayor Angelo Rossi,  inspect a new cell block in the main building on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco, Calif., on August 20, 1934.

San Francisco Police Chief William J. Quinn, Warden James A. Johnston, U.S. Attorney General Homer S. Cummings and San Francisco Mayor Angelo Rossi inspect a new cell block in the main building on Alcatraz Island on August 20, 1934. (AP)

Al Capone, Chicago's infamous gang overlord during prohibition, is released after spending seven years in prison in Atlanta and Alcatraz on Nov. 16, 1939.

Al Capone, Chicago's infamous gang overlord during prohibition, is released on Nov. 16, 1939, after 4 1/2 years behind bars at Alcatraz. (AP)

A guard locks the solid metal sliding door of one of the solitary confinement cells at the federal prison for dangerous criminals at Alcatraz Island in San Francisco, Calif., on April 18, 1941.

A guard locks the solid metal sliding door of one of the solitary confinement cells on April 18, 1941. (AP)

Warden James A. Johnston looks into a cell in Alcatraz Penitentiary in San Francisco Bay on May 5, 1946, where rioting convicts held several guards hostage before shooting them.

Warden James A. Johnston looks into a cell where rioting convicts held several guards hostage before shooting them on May 5, 1946. (AP)

The Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary prison hospital's operating room in San Francisco Bay is shown through the glass of a locked door on March 13, 1956.

The prison hospital's operating room is shown through the glass of a locked door on March 13, 1956. (Ernest K. Bennett/AP)

Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary in San Francisco Bay is shown June 12, 1962, the day three prisoners escaped.

Alcatraz is shown on June 12, 1962, the day three prisoners escaped. (AP)

In this photo released by Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, the air vent used by three convicts to escape from the main prison building in San Francisco Bay is shown on June 13, 1962.

This air vent was used by three convicts to escape from the main prison building on June 12, 1962. The three men were never found. (Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary/AP)

A line of handcuffed prisoners, the last of the convicts held at Alcatraz prison, walk through the cell block as they are transferred to other prisons from Alcatraz Island on San Francisco Bay, Calif., on March 21, 1963. Alcatraz, known as "The Rock," was a federal penitentiary for 29 years and a prison for more than a century.

A line of handcuffed prisoners, the last of the convicts held at Alcatraz, walk through the cell block as they are transferred to other prisons on March 21, 1963. (AP)

Want to see more? Check out a full photo gallery of "The Rock" here.

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