SAN QUENTIN, Calif. — The dank crypt for the living still wields emotional power, its peeling ocher walls and low vaulted ceilings suffused with chill and darkness.
With its oaken, iron-latticed door and two-foot-thick granite bricks, San Quentin’s dungeon looks so stereotypically medieval that it might have been dreamed up by one of Hollywood’s masters of the macabre. But as niches for wooden pegs that once secured chains and shackles attest, these gloomy catacombs bore witness to “an enormous amount of human history, pain, misery and atonement,” said Kevin Starr, the California historian.
As a federal court-ordered overhaul of California’s prison medical system begins, the storied prison overlooking San Francisco Bay is tearing down several outmoded buildings on the 432-acre property, including the original 1885 hospital built in the institutional Italianate style. A $146 million, state-of-the-art primary care health services complex will open in 2010.
Before demolition, state historians called in to survey the site discovered the significance of what had been a forgotten space used for storage. The space, a dungeon, was the original San Quentin and is believed to be the oldest surviving building constructed by the state.
New York Times