Friday, August 7, 2009

Save the Alcatraz Ruins

I read this article today in the San Francisco Chronicle about the upcoming 75th Anniversary of the prison at Alcatraz. It mentions that some former inmates have formed a non-profit to raise money to rebuild some of the building destroyed in the Indian occupations in the 60’s and 70’s. While on one level, I can sympathize with the inmates nostalgic desire to see the place restored to its former glory, I hope they don’t succeed.

The ruins themselves are beautiful and the Indian occupations that destroyed those buildings are as much apart of the history of the island as the prison is. Rebuilding those buildings would serve to try and erase that part of the island’s history. (The only reason I even know about that part of the island’s history is from having the ruined buildings explained.)

Recently, in Luxembourg, I visited a beautiful old chateau named Vianden. I was having a wonderful time enjoying the self guided tour until I found out the entire castle had been rebuilt in the late 70’s. Suddenly I wasn’t in an old castle, I was in a Disneyfied reconstruction. The atmosphere of history was gone. I would much rather have climbed around the ruins. The ruins were where the real history lived, not a recreation of a few historians opinions on what the building once looked like. I wanted the real history.

I want that on Alcatraz too. Buildings fall down. It’s as natural a part of their history as death is to life. Rebuilding the “Officer’s Club” might satisfy some people’s longing for nostalgia but it will destroy other people’s. It might repair some people’s sense of loss, but it will create loss as well. Don’t rebuild those buildings. Let them be ruins. Let them be what they are. Let them be history.

Vainden now:

Vianden as ruins:

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In 1789, the governor of Australia granted land and some animals to James Ruse in an experiment to see how long it would take him to support himself. Within 15 months he had become self sufficient. The area is still known as Experiment Farm. This is my Experiment Farm to see how long it will take me to support myself by writing.