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A painter works to restore graffiti originally painted by native American occupiers of Alcatraz has been restored on the newly stabilized water tower on the island. (Photo provided by Golden Gate National Recreation Area)

Graffiti has reappeared on a historic water tower on Alcatraz -- and this time it's government-sanctioned.

That wasn't the case from Nov. 20, 1969, to June 11, 1971, when Native American groups seized and occupied the island, marking the beginning of the group's civil rights movement.

It was about 80 Native Americans who launched from Sausalito in three boats after a meeting at the city's No Name Bar, according to an account in "You Are Now on Indian Land: The American Indian Occupation of Alcatraz" by Margaret J. Goldstein.

During the occupation, graffiti was painted at various locations, including on the water tower, which reads: "Peace and Freedom. Welcome. Home of the Free Indian Land."

"It was before the days of spray cans being used; it was done with paint and brush," said Fairfax resident John Martini, a historian who was a ranger on Alcatraz from 1974 to 1976. "A lot of graffiti is political and the Park Service felt then and now it was important to keep."

The island's water tower -- the tallest structure on the island -- is considered historically significant. In recent years, it began to show signs of wear and tear from the harsh marine environment that surrounds it.

More than $1 million was put into the nonfunctioning water tower to refurbish it, but part of that process included coating it in paint that was resistant to moisture.

When the paint went on, the graffiti was covered.


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"But before that happened we painstakingly took notes and pictures of the graffiti on the water tower," said Alex Picavet, a Park Service spokeswoman. "Then we had it painted back on. It's the same color paint, everything is the same."

There are other examples of coveted graffiti in the park system: Pompeys Pillar in Montana has scrawlings from the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and there is historic graffiti in off-limits areas of the Washington Monument.

"I think it's the only example we have of the Park Service re-creating graffiti," Picavet said. "It is historically significant and an integral part of the story of Alcatraz."

Contact Mark Prado via email at mprado@marinij.com.