For over 20 years, people have come from all over the world to see the famous Alcatraz Island known for its rich history and cultural lure. Alcatraz Cruises has tried to capture the Island’s vast scope into a different perspective for visitors. After arriving on Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing, visitors can check out our beautiful interp (some have even called it art) completely scaled-to-size model of the Island of Alcatraz.
Visitors are encouraged to stop by the model before embarking on their tour to gain perspective, gain knowledge of the Island’s many areas of interest and pre-plan their journey.
Recently, Alcatraz Cruises was able to sit down with the model’s artist to learn more about the model and how it came to be.
What is your full, proper name?
What is your affiliation with Alcatraz?
I am a private contractor. My past services include: the initial build of the model and now ongoing maintenance and care; large-scale creative signage maintenance; the initial build and upkeep of the replica canon on the Pier 33 Landing; tactile braille model of the Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing.
What is the history of the model and does it have a specific name?
In July of 2011, I finished the model after review from the National Park Service. I did not name the piece; it just became “the model”. The model is made up of foam, bondo, acrylic and epoxy depending on the element. The inside is painted black so that when it’s lit up at night, you can see the windows glow creating a realistic effect. The lighthouse on the model lights up at the same time as the lighthouse on the Island. I made sure to focus as much authenticity as I possibly could. With the research I gathered, many photos helped me get to the final product. Remembering the process of building each section, I can recall how moved I was by the general air of the Island. Alcatraz Island was such an iconic piece of San Francisco history, I felt driven to capture as much realism into the model as I could.
How many hours did it take to create the model?
18-19 months. I added on the dock a year later, then the terraces another year after that. I continue to enhance and repair due to it being exposed to the elements which give it quite a beating. Every 15 months or so, I pull the model off the landing for spot refurbishment.
What is the size of the model?
26’ x 13’. It is 1/87 of the actual size of the Island.
What resources did you use to get the accuracy of all the dimensions (buildings and otherwise)?
A tape measure! Honestly, it took roughly 3 weeks of measuring to get what I needed to scale each and every piece properly. I began reading several books about Alcatraz, reviewed NPS blueprints, looked at over 1,000 photos and measured the buildings with the help of NPS staff and volunteers, including John Cantwell. I was able to figure out exact scales based on all of this information.
Are there any hidden easter eggs on the model?
No. We’ve kept the model true to history. Nothing about movies or escapes or things of that nature. But plenty of funny instances throughout the years of course. During the few pulls for maintenance, I’ve come across items visitors have secretly placed within the model elements. There has been a plastic doll shoe, dental sticks, pencils and lots of rubber bands.
It’s been said that you like to educate through your creativity. How do you react to that?
It’s fun…it makes me proud to have built Alcatraz and for everyone to get enjoyment out of viewing the model.