San Francisco’s popular outgoing sheriff Michael Hennessey threw himself a retirement party at the county jail today, complete with a bottle of bubbly apple cider and a wrecking ball.

Infamous San Francisco County Jail No. 3 has long been a target of Hennessey’s reform efforts. In 1997, a federal judge declared conditions at the lockup to be unconstitutional, and the jail was finally shut down in 2006.

“This opened in 1934, the same year that Alcatraz opened,” Hennessey said today. “Alcatraz was closed down in 1963. This building continued to operate for another 40 years after…”

Hennessey said that when he took office in 1980, the building known as “Sunshine Jail Farm” when it opened “was a pit and way past its prime. It just took a long time to get to the point where we can tear it down.”

Incoming sheriff Ross Mirkarimi said there were once plans to repurpose the space, which sits on land bordering Millbrae, San Bruno and Pacifica, but the money for that is no longer available.

It was five strikes and you’re out for the wrecking ball today; it managed to take a chunk off the building’s top before being retired for the time being.

The rest of the demolition is expected to take four to five months. Construction crews still have to remove asbestos and lead before taking the place apart.

Hennessey’s last day in office is Friday. He says he will leave it to incoming Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi to cart away the debris after demolition is complete.

The Sheriff’s Office has preserved the city seal that was put on the original building in 1934. It will be mounted on County Jail No. 5, opened in 2006.

KQED’s Tara Siler will be interviewing Michael Hennessey tonight at 5:30 p.m. Listen live or to an archive after.


Vinnee Tong

Vinnee Tong is a producer and reporter at KQED.

She's the producer of Truth Be Told, the KQED special series on race and identity that is distributed nationally by Public Radio International. Vinnee has also worked as an on-call producer for KQED’s live public affairs program Forum. Prior to joining KQED in 2011, she was a reporter covering business news at the Associated Press at the start of the Great Recession.

Vinnee has won several awards for her reporting work, including an RTNDA Edward R. Murrow Award for coverage of fracking in California, as well as awards from the New York Press Club and the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. She is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and son.

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