Skip to main content

Full text of "Report of the State Prison Commissioners"

See other formats



[SESSION OF 1853. 










Office of Superintendent of Public Buildings. 

To the Honorable Speaker of the House of Representatives of the State 
of California : — 

The undersigned, appointed Commissioners by Act of the Legislature 
May 1st, 1852, to select a suitable location for a State Prison and to con- 
tract for the building of the same, have discharged the duty thus devolving 
upon them, and beg leave to report : 

That duly impressed with the importance and responsibility of the 
trust confided to them, they proceeded directly after their appointment to 
examine and survey the points which were at first recommended to their 
consideration, as the most appropriate localities for the site of a permanent 
prison. Their attention was in the outset directed to Goats Island, oppo- 
site to the City of San Francisco, and if security alone against the escape 
of convicts was to be considered, this Island would have been entitled to 
a first choice ; but after diligent investigation, the undersigned could not 
determine in whom the ownership of this island was vested, and not be- 
ing authorized to purchase under a doubtful or insecure title, this locality 
was rejected. 

Angel Island was the next site considered, but no warranty of a title 
could here be obtained, and without considering its advantages, it was 
necessarily passed. It was deemed important that the prison should be 
built on some point contiguous to the Bay of San Francisco, and passing 
by the two islands before mentioned, the most suitable locality was found 
at Point St. Q,uentin, near the mission of San Rafael, and distant from 
San Francisco about twelve miles. No other place on the bay appeared 
to the undersigned to possess superior or equal advantages. It is within 
the line of steamboat navigation, and easy and safe of access. It is an 
elevated, healthy and conspicuous point ; good water is obtained on the 

ground, and abundance of wood in the neighborhood. Quarries of stone 
suitable for building purposes, apparently inexhaustable, are found within 
the prison limits and immediate vicinity. Clay, well adapted for the 
manufacture of brick, forms the substratum of the ground selected, and it 
has been demonstrated by actual practice, that the convicts can be worked 
to advantage upon the ground now designated as the prison limits. 

Ten thousand dollars, the amount appropriated for the purchase of a 
site, were paid for thirty acres (20 acres) of land on Point St. Quentin ; 
but the contract provides for the building of a wharf leading to sixteen 
feet water in the bay, without charge to the State, and to be free forever 
to its use. 

The undersigned having thus far, they believe, without impeachment 
of motive, discharged faithfully their duty to the State, proceeded next 
to contract for the building of the Prison, and in passing, they must be 
permitted to refer to the gratuitous and vindictive assaults which have 
been made upon them personally, and upon their official action by the 
public press, or by malicious and irresponsible persons availing them- 
selves of this mode of attack. The malignity of interested Stock Bro- 
kers ; the harpies who live by crying up and down the State credit, the 
moths who feed and fatten upon State script : the " Bulls and Bears" who 
gamble in State securities can.iot be measured by argument, or silenced 
by facts ; and it would be extra official, and not comport with our self 
respect to analyze pointless invective that has become stale to the public 
ear. The undersigned have had a duty fc) perform, a task they were 
commissioned to accomplish, and they are prepared to show they have 
been faithful to their trust. 

Pursuant to the law under which the undersigned hold their appoint- 
ments, they published at large proposals for building a State Prison ; it 
will not be denied that ample time, ample information and due publicity 
were given : that competition was invited, and the undersigned have only 
to say that after an impartial consideration of all the proposals submitted 
to them ; the contract was awarded to the lowest responsible bidder. 
And now, sir, the undersigned respectfully submit the contract which 
they have made, to the candid consideration of the Legislature : if in their 
official capacity they had bound the State to pay exorbitant prices, or 
even higher than the current prices of the country, if they had violated 
any law, or abused the extraordinary powers conferred upon them, they 
might approach the representatives of the people with diffidence and 
doubt ; but the contract wears an open face, it is composed of figures and 
facts ; it is susceptible of measure, it has length, and breadth, and depth 
convertible into cubic yards ; and what it ought to cost is susceptible of 
exact calculation. It is by measurement that the work is let, and the 
accompanying papers will show that measure by measure in comparison, 
the Prison will be built cheaper than like work is being or has been 
done in any part of the State ; it may be that the undersigned are at 
fault in requiring the Prison to be completed within the period of one 
year, but they see no reason to doubt that the magnitude of the plan will 
give rise to a structure not more than commensurate with the prospective 
wants of the State. Older States have larger population, but the number 
of convicts is increasing in a fearful ratio and will soon outnumber those 
in many of the States that have prisons of superior dimensions. 

Even were it now practicable, the undersigned would not recommend 
a remodelling of the plan with a view to its contraction, but it is under- 
stood that the contractors will be content to build within one year only 
the most essential portions, proceeding afterwards from time to time, or 
from year to year, according to the public wants, and with a due regard 
to the means of the State. ^ 

All of which is respectfully submitted. 


Superintendent Public Buildings.