|San Francisco Bay||Alcatraz Island|
Alcatraz Island - Southwest
For thousands of years, alcatraz was a barren sandstone rock not of much use to any but sea birds. Based on oral history it appears that Alcatraz was used as a place of isolation for tribal members who had violated taboos and later as a hiding place for Indians trying to evade the mission system. In a chart of 1775 made by the Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala, this island was shown as "La Isla de los Alcatraces" or Island of the Pelicans. It remained uninhabited when California became part of the United States in 1848. In 1853, the Army began to build fortifications on the Island and the brick casemates above the dock can still be seen today. The crew of a Confederate privateer were among the island's first prisoners.
Alcatraz became the Army's Pacific Branch Military Prison in 1907. Military prisoners shaped the island, built buildings and transported soil from Angel Island. All the soil and vegetation was transported in. In 1933, the Army transferred Alcatraz to the newly formed Federal Bureau of Prisons. The prison was redesigned as a maximum security facility to house non-reformable civilian inmates transferred to "The Rock" to isolate troublesome convicts.Al Capone was among the first official shipment of prisoners to Alcatraz in order to isolate him from his family who were helping run his organization in Chicago. Among the second shipment in 1934 was Machine Gun Kelly who was one of the first convicted under the Lindbergh law and was transferred to Alcatraz amongst much publicity. In 1962 there were an escalating number of escape attempts culminating in the escape of three inmates on June 11. Due in part to the decay of the concrete in the salt air and the increasing cost of transporting supplies, the prison was closed on March 21, 1963.
Citing an obscure treaty granting lands abandoned by the federal government to Native American tribes, a group of diverse tribes occupied Alcatraz in 1969 and declared it Indian land. After a series of blockades and considerable internal disarray, the occupation ended in 1971 without establishment of a permanent spiritual and cultural center. The island is now a national park.
Alcatraz Island - from Angel Island
Alcatraz has a special image in penal history partly because of its tantalizing location close enough to the city that prisoners could hear the voices on shore. Deep, cold waters with famously strong tidal currents placed the city's attraction hopelessly out of reach. The fog, bay winds and barren rock made it a stark contrast to the high life of San Francisco. The drama of Alcatraz was not lost on Hoover who did a great deal to build up the islands reputation. As near as can be told, no prisoners ever escaped Alcatraz except in death and its absolute isolation and harsh conditions made it a formidable symbol of the punishment model of criminal justice. Exclusive license for transportation to the island has recently been transferred to Hornblower Yachts (which leaves from Pier 33 not 39) and private vessels are not allowed to land at the dock. The tour is well worth while however and during the summer, you should expect to made reservations for a particular trip several days in advance of your planned trip.
Warden's House, Parade Ground, Lighthouse
To its left, you can see the ruins of the warden's house which burned during the Indian Occupation in 1970. It was the commanding Officer's home during the last years of the island's military era and served as the warden's house from 1934 to 1963.
The island was originally barren of vegetation, soil and water. Dirt was brought from Angel Island to form gun emplacemenst when the island served the military starting in 1848. The island was leveled in one area to create a parade ground.The gardens were inmate created and maintained, all the surviving vegetation (except a few native grasses) are survivors from those gardens. At right you can see the water tower (all water was barged in) and the laundry. The cellblocks are on top of the island The Lighthouse on Alcatraz Island is still in operation.Do not pass the corner facing you in the picture at right on the inside of the buoy, there is an uncovering rock spire which has pinned more than one boat.
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