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Alcatraz Island, also known as ‘The Rock,’ a rocky island in San Francisco Bay, off the coast of California, in the United States. From 1934 to 1963, a facility on the island served as a federal prison for some of the most dangerous civilian prisoners. Learn more about the history of Alcatraz Island here.
Fortifications to the island started in 1853, and by 1858, the Fortress Alcatraz was finished. Camp Alcatraz, as the fortress and island were called, began to receive soldiers and cannons. One of the more interesting facts about the history of Alcatraz is the fact that during the Civil War era, the island fortress was partly used to store guns.
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The first European to document the islands of San Francisco Bay was Spanish naval officer and explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala during Spanish rule of California, who charted San Francisco Bay in 1775. He named today's Yerba Buena Island "La Isla de los Alcatraces", which translates as "The Island of the Gannets" but is commonly believed to translate as "The Island of the Pelicans (Spanish for Pelicans is Pelícanos)", from the archaic Spanish alcatraz ("pelican"). Yerba Buena Island's name appeared on Ayala's 1775 chart of San Francisco Bay as "Isla de Alcatraces", but was later transferred to the rock now known as Alcatraz Island by Captain Beechey, an English naval officer and explorer. Over the years, the Spanish version "Alcatraz" became popular and is now widely used. In August 1827, French Captain Auguste Bernard Duhaut-Cilly wrote "... running past Alcatraze's (Pelicans) Island ... covered with a countless number of these birds. A gun fired over the feathered legions caused them...
Closing of the prison
There are several reasons that Alcatraz closed as a penitentiary in 1963: The penitentiary cost much more to operate than other prisons (nearly $10 per prisoner per day, as opposed to $3 per prisoner per day at Atlanta); half a century of salt water saturation had severely eroded the buildings; and three people had escaped in 1962. After its closure, George Mosconereceived public proposals to repurpose Alcatraz Island.
Native American occupation
Alcatraz Island was occupied by Native American activists for the first time on March 8, 1964. The protest, proposed by Sioux activist Belva Cottier and joined by about 35 others, lasted four hours and was reported by, among others, the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Examiner. Beginning on November 20, 1969, a group of Native Americans called United Indians of All Tribes, mostly college students from San Francisco, occupied the island to protest federal policies related to Amer...
Part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area since 1972, the entire Alcatraz Island was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, and was further declared a National Historic Landmark in 1986. In 1993, the National Park Service published a plan entitled Alcatraz Development Concept and Environmental Assessment.This plan, approved in 1980, doubled the amount of Alcatraz accessible to the public to enable visitors to enjoy its scenery and bird, marine, and animal life. 1. Barker Beach 2. Boat Dock 3. Building 64 4. Citadel 5. Dining Hall 6. Former Military Chapel (Bachelor Quarters) 7. Helipad (FAA LID: CA27) 8. Library 9. Lighthouse 10. Main Cellhouse 11. Model Industries Building 12. Morgue 13. New Industries Building 14. Officers' Club 15. Parade Grounds 16. Power House 17. Recreation Yard 18. Wardens House 19. Water Tower
Today[when?], American Indigenous groups, such as the International Indian Treaty Council, hold ceremonies on the island, most notably, their "Sunrise Gatherings" every Columbus Day and Thanksgiving Day. Around 2007, the Global Peace Foundation proposed to raze the prison and build a peace center in its place. Supporters collected 10,350 signatures that placed it on the presidential primary ballots in San Francisco for February 5, 2008. The proposed plan was estimated at $1 billion. For the plan to pass, Congress would have to have taken Alcatraz out of the National Park Service. Critics of the plan said that Alcatraz is too rich in history to be destroyed.On February 6, 2008, the Alcatraz Island Global Peace Center Proposition C failed to pass, with 72% of voters rejecting the proposition. The coastal environment of the San Francisco Bay Area has caused deterioration and corrosion of building materials throughout Alcatraz. Beginning in 2011, the National Park Servi...
Alcatraz has been home to several art installations. In 2014, Chinese artist/dissident Ai Weiwei staged an exhibition which explored "questions about human rights and freedom of expression" called @Large. This exhibition included Lego portraits of famous political prisoners. The creation of the exhibition was featured in a 2019 documentary film, Yours Truly. In 2016, Nelson Saiers used mathand prison slang as central elements in a six-month installation that called attention to the imposition of long prison sentences.
1. Cisterns. A bluff that, because of its moist crevices, is believed to be an important site for California slender salamanders. 2. Cliff tops at the island's north end. Containing a onetime manufacturing building and a plaza, the area is listed as important to nesting and roosting birds. 3. The powerhouse area. A steep embankment where native grassland and creeping wild rye support a habitat for deer mice. 4. Tide pools. One of the only complexes in the San Francisco Bay, the island's tide...
Gardens planted by families of the original Army post, and later by families of the prison guards, fell into neglect after the prison closure in 1963. After 40 years, they are being restored by a paid staff member and many volunteers, thanks to funding by the Garden Conservancy and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. The untended gardens had become severely overgrown and had developed into a nesting habitat and sanctuary for numerous birds. Now, areas of bird habitat are being preserv...
Alcatraz Island appears often in media and popular culture, including films dating from 1962: The Book of Eli (2010), X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), Catch Me If You Can (2002), The Rock (1996), Murder in the First (1995), Escape from Alcatraz (1979), The Enforcer (1976), Point Blank (1967) , Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) and J. J. Abrams' 2012 television series Alcatraz. It also was featured in the Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters anime, in the book Al Capone Does My Shirts, in the video game Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 as a playable level. It is also showcased as a playable racetrack in the 1997 arcade racing video game San Francisco Rush the Rock - Alcatraz Edition. Alcatraz has also been portrayed often as a safe haven or base of operations in many post-apocalyptic movies, such as The Book of Eli. Alcatraz was featured in the video game Call of Duty: Black Ops II in a downloadable zombie survival map called "Mob of the Dead" in which players could explore the Main Cellhouse, the Boat Dock, and a...A panorama of Alcatraz as viewed from San Francisco Bay, facing east. Sather Tower and UC Berkeleyare visible in the background on the right. (Drag image left and right to show full panorama.)Different view of the Water Tower built in 1940.Alcatraz Utility House and Power Plant Chimney, built in 1939.School House (two story building in the middle) and the Electric Repair shop(foreground) built in 1930s.Erwin N. Thompson. "The Rock: A history of Alcatraz Island, 1847–1972" (PDF). National Park Service. United States Department of Interior.The Rock (1915). "A Brief History of the Island of Alcatraz (continued in multiple issues)". The Rock. Improvement Fund, Pacific Branch United States Disciplinary Barracks, Alcatraz, California. 1(...
- There have never been any confirmed prisoner escapes from Alcatraz. This one shocked me! With the popularity of the 1979 movie, Escape from Alcatraz, about a group of three men who used spoons to escape “The Rock,” I’m positive I’m not the only who believed this myth.
- The island was home to prisoners as early as the 1850s. When San Francisco was put on the map during the Gold Rush of the 1840s, Alcatraz was used for military prisoners.
- It is technically possible to swim to shore. In 1962, one inmate managed to squeeze through a window and swim to shore. Unfortunately, he was so tired by the time he reached land, that the police found him lying unconscious at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge.
- At any given time, there were about 300 civilians living on Alcatraz that included both women and children. The families of the guard staff lived on the island, of course.
- Al Capone played banjo in the inmate band. The notorious gangster and mob boss was among the first prisoners to occupy the new Alcatraz federal prison in August 1934.
- There were no confirmed prisoner escapes from Alcatraz. A total of 36 inmates put the supposedly “escape-proof” Alcatraz to the test. Of those convicts, 23 were captured, six were shot to death and two drowned.
- Alcatraz is named for sea birds. Before criminals became its denizens, the windswept island was home to large colonies of brown pelicans. When Spanish Lieutenant Juan Manuel de Ayala became the first known European to sail through the Golden Gate in 1775, he christened the rocky outcrop “La Isla de los Alcatraces,” meaning “Island of the Pelicans.”
- In spite of his nickname, the “Birdman of Alcatraz” had no birds in the prison. While Robert Stroud was serving a manslaughter sentence for killing a bartender in a brawl, he fatally stabbed a guard at Leavenworth Prison in 1916.
Sitting like a beacon in the middle of the San Francisco Bay of California is Alcatraz Island. Though most prominently known for the years it served as a maximum-security prison, the “Rock’s” history stretches far beyond those infamous days, and its legends and stories continue to find their way into American lore.
Mar 31, 2019 · 20 Mind-blowing Facts About Alcatraz Island. Alcatraz Island from San Francisco, (c. March 1962). Wikimedia Commons. 4. In spite of said theoretical plausibility of escape from Alcatraz Island, there were no confirmed escapes from the prison during its lifespan as a federal penitentiary. Earning its reputation as an “escape-proof” prison ...
- Spanish explorers discovered Alcatraz Island in 1775. They named it La Isla de los Alcatraces, which means “Island of the Pelicans.” Prisoners later called it “The Rock.”
- In 1850, President Millard Fillmore (1800–1874) reserved Alcatraz Island for military use. A fortress was built on it and about 100 cannons were placed around the island to protect San Francisco Bay.
- The largest group of Native Americans imprisoned at Alcatraz was 19 Hopi “hostiles.” They were imprisoned because they refused to farm the way the U.S. government wanted them to.
- The "Escape from Alcatraz Marathon” is held every year to show that it is possible to escape from Alcatraz and live. Created in 1980, it includes a 1.5-mile swim to San Francisco, an 18-mile bike ride, and an 8-mile run.
- Cells were smaller than a closet: In B & C blocks, the cells were 5 feet by 9 feet, with a sleeping cot, a toilet, and a small sink (cold running only).
- Alcatraz has great gardens: When Alcatraz was an active prison, its officers and their families planted gardens. The hardy plants they chose survived decades of neglect after the prison closed.
- Alcatraz is a birdwatcher's bonanza: In other places, you'd have to peer at nesting seabirds with binoculars, but on Alcatraz, it's easy to get much closer.
- Families lived on Alcatraz during its prison years: The guards and officers lived on the island with their spouses and children. There's even an Alumni Association for folks who grew up there.