Big House Scene of Gala Business Bash
Big House Scene of Gala Business Bash
Apr. 28, 1987
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ The joint was jumping as 600 business executives partied on Alcatraz, the legendary penitentiary that housed the country's worst crooks for nearly 30 years.
Surrounded by steel bars, doors and endless locks, they dined Monday night at tables set in burgundy linen, off rich china and silver, sipping fine wines from crystal goblets. An orchestra played. Liveried waiters and waitresses in black ties and white gloves served.
It was a big time in the Big House.
Spoma Mattson, one of the event's chief planners, said the bash had a certain timeliness because it came ''at a time when some Wall Streeters are facing sentences in federal penitentiaries,'' referring to the ongoing insider trading scandal that has resulted in prison sentences for several executives.
On the outside, said businessman Barry Douglas of Los Angeles, ''you really can't imagine what this is like, when you walk in and they shut the door behind you.
''I wanted something out of the ordinary,'' said Bill Hambrecht, chief officer of Hambrecht & Quist, a San Francisco investment banking firm celebrating its 15th technology conference.
''It's a bit far out,'' he said. ''But we work these people (conference participants) hard. They talk business for four straight days, and it's important to go out at least one night and have a lot of fun.''
The company paid caterers $72,000 to arrange the entire evening, including a troupe of actors who pretended through noisy sham inmate-guard fights and an ''escape'' during dessert.
The high-tech executive and institutional money managers drank cocktails on the patio alongside the burned-out remains of the warden's house, huddling against the cold of a fresh westerly wind blowing in through the Golden Gate.
In the mess hall, they were entertained by an eight-piece band and a laser light-show playing on a wall where the final breakfast menu in March 1963 was still hanging.
The National Park Service, which administers Alcatraz as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, reported the party was the first time that alcoholic beverages had been legally served on the island.
The partygoers prowled the cavelike detention cells in the infamous ''D'' Block, and later had supper and sipped wine from crystal goblet at tables right outside the steel bars.
''What an existence in there,'' said Gary Haroian of Boston, peering into the dark cubicle where criminals were tossed for weeks after violent episodes.
Dozens listened raptly to the lectures of Frank Heaney who, at 21, was the youngest guard ever to serve on the island. He is now doing public relations for the ferry service that runs tourists to Alcatraz.
''Did you have Ivan Boesky here?'' joked one man, referring to the stock speculator who is a central figure in the Wall Street insider trading scandal.
''Those guys are lucky this place closed down,'' called another as the colleagues laughed.
Many of the guests peered from the barred mess hall windows, glimpsing a spectacular view of San Francisco that the convicts must have seen while serving time on the arid island they called ''The Rock.'' It's only a tantalizing mile off the glittering San Francisco shore.
Barges transported $11,000 in lighting equipment, dozens of portable heaters, toilets, furniture, thousands of feet of extension cord, 4,000 pounds of food, and hundreds of gallons of fresh water.
The 20-acre island is a place that can be called truly unique for a carefree party. For 29 years it was the meanest prison in America, echoing to the footsteps of the likes of Chicago crime czar Al Capone, ''Birdman'' Robert Stroud, and George ''Machine Gun'' Kelly.
Park Service spokesman Howard Levitt said the party is an experiment to determine the feasibility of such events for the future. Alcatraz is part of the system's Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Throughout the prison years, 40 known inmates tested the administrative brag that Alcatraz was escape-proof with 13 escape attempts, the first in 1936.
One man was reported by his relative to have succeeded: Clarence Anglin, who fled the island in 1962 and was reported to have died a free man in Iowa 10 years later.