Volunteers Uncover Hidden Terraces

Whaleboaters on Alcatraz

Members of the Bay Area Whaleboaters Association. Photo by Corny Foster

While Alcatraz is a relatively small 22.5-acre island, a few historic gardens tended long ago remain hidden; they have yet to be cleared of overgrowth vegetation, documented, and perhaps one day restored.

This past weekend, volunteers from the Bay Area Whaleboaters Association worked to reclaim a set of terraces that lead from the dock to the parade ground. These terraces were first gardened by Freddie Reichel in the early 1940s. Mr. Reichel was the secretary to Alcatraz Warden Johnson. Impressed with the gardens left by the military, he worked in his spare time to maintain their beauty. He began to tend these terraces behind his home.

Prior to any removal of vegetation, we investigate the history of the area. There should be some documentation that the area was once a garden. Evidence of a past garden can be found in historic photos, oral history interviews, old maps of the island, and existing ornamental plants and hardscape features. In this case, old photos, surviving ornamental plants, and extensive terraces confirmed our belief that the area had once been gardened.

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Alcatraz inmate gardener

A guard supervises an inmate gardener clearing the same stairs in 1955. Photo by Bergen.

The Whaleboaters revealed dry-stacked terraces and cleared the staircase that was becoming covered with eucalyptus leaves. They made a few interesting discoveries – a pink radio, several rubber boots and surviving ornamental plants such as Euonymus japonica and an unidentified rose.

found radio and boot

Motorola radio and rubber boot found in the overgrowth. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

The Whaleboaters did a fantastic job revealing this hidden corner of the island. From the dock, visitors can see for themselves the newly revealed terraces and the staircase that once led to the parade ground.

Before and after. Photos by Shelagh Fritz

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4 Responses to Volunteers Uncover Hidden Terraces

  1. Linda Van Ostaaijen says:

    Looking forward to visiting the gardens next week and learning about the history of Alcatrez!

  2. Dave McDonald says:

    So do you think these stairs will be available to use for Guests ?

    • Shelagh says:

      This staircase will not be open for island guests in the immediate future; but hopefully one day this staircase will provide another route to the parade ground.

  3. mandy ellis says:

    Wow what a change! Looks great!