05/23/10 423 W - + 4 - 8 Joliet Prison

Most recognize this facility from the movie The Blues Brothers1, from the beginning of the film, where John Belushi as "Joliet" Jake Blues is released from prison. You know those scenes by heart. Overhead shot of Jake being escorted through the courtyard. Camera following Belushi as his character is escorted through a cell block. Director and actor Frank Oz returning "one hat, black." The slow sliding of the prison gate, with Belushi backed by bright white light. The character's brother, Elwood, waiting by the car. Etcetera. Great scenes, great movie.  

The prison opened in 1858, just outside the city limits of Joliet, Illinois. The buildings-- built of limestone-- were designed by William W. Boyington, the architect whose work also include the Chicago Water Tower and the Illinois State Capitol building. Convict labor was used, and the stone was quarried on the site. (Raleigh's Central Prison, built in the same period, was also constructed with convict labor.) The thing cost $75,000 to build and had space for 761 inmates. It was the largest prison in the United States, and served as a model for others. 

[ Missing photos - See this gallery instead ]

This Wikipedia entry, which includes a splendid panoramic photo of the facility's front side, has more history. There was no running water or toilets in the cells until 1910. The opening of the nearby Stateville Correction Center in 1925 was intended as a replacement facility, but didn't happen. A women's prison was built across the street in 1896, and closed in 1932. Beginning at least in the early 1960s, the prison was also used as a reception and classification center for all prisoners in Northern Illinois.    

Joliet Prison closed as a holding prison in February 2002, and closed as an intake center in March 2004. The parking lot was renovated in 2009, transforming same into a  public park. No interior access is available, at least yet. Looking through the press releases on this city web site, it appears commercial development is desired or perhaps planned for the complex. If nothing else, it's a great place for photographs!     

1The movie was directed by John Landis, who also directed National Lampoon's Animal House, An American Werewolf in London, Trading Places, Into the Night, and other favorites of this blogger. There's a nifty book about the director that was published in 2008. The author is film historian and journalist Giulia D'Agnolo Vallan. The book is an omnibus of essays, interviews, articles, and photographs. Got mine a couple weeks ago. Highly recommended.

As I started looking at your pictures, I immediately heard my inner soundtrack/monologue switch to “One unused prophylactic; one soiled.”
Duda - 05/28/10 - 08:53

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