It was a salvation for the children of Alcatraz. It kept us sane and very much out of trouble. It was a place to go without having our parents, or our friend's parents hanging around. It's what made it all tolerable. If you weren't fishing on Alcatraz, combing the beaches, or studying, you likely went to the Officers Club.
If you were 16, you had your own key to the fenced in compound where the families lived and you could come and go as you pleased. Under 16, you needed an older escort.
From 7 pm to 10 pm every evening, and several hours on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, it became our dance floor, a place for our holiday parties and special dinners, even our movie theater -- all on the main floor. On the lower floor was our two lane bowling alley, two pool tables and a ping-pong table. Ken Blair, the Correctional officer who had the off hour concession, was our adult guardian who prevented any unruly activity. But then, nobody was ever unruly.
There were only two steady jobs for children on the Island; the canteen clerk and paper boy. If you needed extra money, you could set pins for 12 1/2 cents per game at the Officers Club. It was hot, sweaty, drudgery work being back there picking up pins and placing them in the metal rack, then lowering the heavy rack to the floor and releasing the pins. All those pretty girls bowling gave you a sense of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Milkshakes, cokes, cheeseburgers, hot dogs and chips -- the Officers Club was a great place to hang out. If you were 16, you were allowed to play on the Officers pool table. Anyone under 16 had to use the table with the faded green, worn felt and tattered pockets.
The Officers Club was built as a U.S. Military PX for Fort Alcatraz in 1910. In 1916, the lower floor was enclosed and made into a recreational facility for Military Officers and families on Alcatraz. In 1934, the Bureau of Prisons took over Alcatraz and its military stockade and it became the United States Federal Penitentiary, Alcatraz. The Officers Club was for family recreation, part of our small town.
One night, in 1970, the Officers Club was burned to the ground -- long after the Federal Bureau of Prisons closed the Island as a Federal Prison. There now stands a burned out shell.