This article appeared in Western Roofing May/June 2015.

Historical Reroof
Library at Alcatraz Receives Historically Accurate Replacement Tile
by Marcus Dodson, editor

Alcatraz Island, in the chilly waters of California’s San Francisco Bay, was the site of a military fortress and prison in the 1800’s. Home of the West Coast’s first operational lighthouse, Alcatraz was converted to a federal prison, and housed inmates from 1934 to 1963. One of the world’s most notorious prisons, Alcatraz housed some of America’s most ruthless criminals including Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud (the “Birdman of Alcatraz”), George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and Arthur “Doc” Barker. When the Alcatraz Library needed a new roof, the National Park Service required that the tiles be historically accurate. Mike Li, project manager, Pioneer Contractors, Inc., San Francisco, California, stated, “The greatest challenge on this project was the historical profile.” Three different types of tile were presented to the Park Service. “MCA® Clay Tile, Corona, California, was chosen because it was the best match for the shape and color of the original tapered tile,” said Li.


While MCA Clay Tile’s standard colors and tiles are used for high-end residential, commercial, and institutional buildings, its expansion into the historical market has been an exciting development for the 30-year-old company. “Working on historical projects gives us the opportunity to provide affordable options to preserve the integrity of the architect’s original design,” states Yoshi Suzuki, president of MCA Clay Tile. “Each project is unique. We are excited to be a part of the creative process of restoring these important historical landmarks.”


The reroof on the library used 22 squares of MCA Clay Tile Classic Tapered Mission™ tile in natural red. Certainteed Winter- Guard® Granulated Peel and Stick was used for the underlayment and new copper flashings were also installed. According to Li, “The installation of the new roof proceeded without incident.” This job was scheduled for wintertime, which worked out well since it didn’t rain and there was minimal impact from fog. The logistics of working on Alcatraz presented its own challenges. Equipment and materials were transported to the island by barge each morning at 6:00 a.m.; staff took the ferry each day at 8:00 a.m., with no overnight stays. The actual production of the job took about two weeks, working four ten-hour days, following the general contractor’s crew, who traveled from Oregon each week. The general contractor provided scaffolding for the building, which helped with fall protection.


When MCA Clay Tile is approached for a historical tile match, the company tries to receive an original tile from the project and then make a duplicate of the original. This sample, showing the shape, color, and texture, is presented to the architect, roofing contractor, general contractor or owner for approval and/or third party testing. If the tile can be extruded, MCA can most likely duplicate the original, with no set-up, die, or minimum quantity orders. By creating these duplicate historical tiles, MCA has committed to helping preserve our past. They want to be part of the legacy of the historical building. There are also homeowners who favor the look of a historical tile but want the strength and ease of installation of modern day tile. MCA will make an extruded tile to fit their vision. In addition to the Alcatraz Library, MCA Clay Tile is being used for reroofs on the City Hall in Atascadero, California, and Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California. Both projects required historically accurate replacement tile.

Today the penitentiary is a museum and one of San Francisco’s major tourist attractions, drawing some 1.5 million visitors annually, operated by the National Park Service’s Golden Gate National Recreational Area. Visitors see the main cell house, dining hall, staff housing, prison library, and other remnants of Alcatraz’ infamous past. With the reroof complete, the Alcatraz Library continues to be an iimportant landmark of our national history.