Alcatraz set for a makeover and update to its audio tour

Alcatraz Island will be closed to visitors today and Tuesday while dozens of workers perform upgrades to the famous former federal penitentiary.

The work will include updating new interior and exterior cell house exhibits, performing maintenance on the docks and cleaning up the remnants of thousands of nesting birds, according to Rich Weideman, spokesman for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

The birds — about 10,000 Canada Geese, Black Crown Night Herons, Western Gulls and Brandts Cormorants — have nested on the island for about three months, Weideman said.

Historical information presented to visitors is also being updated, officials said. Visitors’ audio tour experience will be improved to better simulate a prisoner’s experience at “the Rock,” which operated from 1934 to 1963. Ten minutes will be added to the MP3 tour, including new information about the segregation experienced by African-American prisoners and guards working in the maximum-security prison, Weideman said.

The cost of the boat trip, which includes the audio tour, is slated to go up by about $3 in coming months, Weideman said. Currently it costs $18.75 for adults to travel to the island by ferry and take the tour.

Salifu Abudulai, who stood at Pier 41 yesterday waiting for the Alcatraz ferry, said he moved to San Francisco less than two years ago and was already on his eighth trip to the prison that once housed Al Capone. Nearly every time a visitor comes to town, he ends up taking the ferry to the prison, which was shut down by Attorney General Robert Kennedy.

“It’s synonymous with San Francisco,” Abudulai said of the island and tour.

The price hike likely won’t prevent Abudulai from going to Alcatraz given its wide appeal, he said.

Chris Price, an Irish citizen living in Germany who was also waiting for the boat, echoed that sentiment, saying that if visitors pay $1,400 for an airplane ticket to San Francisco, it’s unlikely that a small hike in price will deter anyone from seeing Alcatraz.

Terry MacRae, president of Alcatraz Cruises, said some pay much more than they have to in order to get to the famous island.

“People are willing to pay twice the ticket price” from scalpers, MacRae said.

mcarroll@examiner.com

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