Photos from the San Quentin News archive and the San Quentin Museum offer a glimpse into the prison’s distant past.
Inmates in striped prison uniforms line up to shop at San Quentin’s original commissary window.
A grand courtyard with fountains and row upon row of well-tended flowers has since been replaced by the prison’s modern-day Garden Chapel, where the fountain has run dry for water conservation purposes. Note the youth of the tree standing sentinel at the Captain’s Porch—a mere sapling in this picture, compared to the shady giant that keeps watch today.
The Main Dining Room was once a wide-open space filled with trestle tables and benches, where the men would take their meals. On their plates, the incarcerated of yesteryear would enjoy such foods and portions today’s prisoners would find hard to believe–including half a watermelon, pictured.
New arrivals at San Quentin State Prison once entered the facility through the front door. The prison’s exterior facade has changed very little in the decades since this photo was taken.
San Quentin’s original cell block were three-tiered structures left open to the elements.
Prison overcrowding evidently used to be much, much worse, with racially integrated five-man cells
San Quentin’s original Receiving and Release holding area is a stark contrast to the cells in the prison’s modern-day facilities.