Built in 1909 as a military prison, Alcatraz became a maximum-security federal prison in the early 1930s and has loomed large in the public imagination ever since. In 1963, the prison was classified as surplus government property and the unused structure was placed under the stewardship of the General Services Administration. In 1969, the island was occupied by the group Indians of All Tribes to protest U.S. Government land seizures from indigenous people. In 1972, the island and prison became part of the newly formed Golden Gate National Recreation Area; today, it is an oft-visited National Historic Landmark.
The Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy retained ARG Conservation Services to provide specialized conservation treatment for the Alcatraz Eagle, a sculptural bas relief perched above the entrance to the main Administration Building. The Eagle was part of the plan for the original prison constructed between 1910 and 1912. It presides over the courtyard where prisoners mustered when the facility was operational. When Alcatraz was occupied by Indians of All Tribes, the shield beneath the eagle was emblazoned with the word “Free,” still visible today.
The untreated sculpture had suffered years of exposure to the elements and was missing mortar and paint. ARG Conservation Services re-pointed missing mortar joints, patched areas of masonry failure, consolidated historic and culturally significant paint layers, coated surfaces to reduce water penetration, and touched up paint to restore the iconic Eagle to its former glory. Treatment also preserved its historic graffiti, a memento of the occupation. The firm has also provided conservation services to painted wall signs in the Shower Room of the Main Cellhouse, which dates from the federal penitentiary period.