Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island – A Tourist Destination in Northern California

By tell me your secrets Charles Harmon

Alcatraz panoramic view
Alcatraz panoramic view. Photo by David Corby / CC BY 2.5

Alcatraz Island, usually just called Alcatraz, is a very small island located in the San Francisco Bay. It is only 1.5 miles offshore from San Francisco, California, United States. The island is often referred to as “The Rock.” It was originally developed with facilities for a lighthouse, a military fortification, and a military prison (1868). It became a famous federal prison from 1933 until 1963.

Beginning in November 1969, the island was occupied for more than 19 months by a group of aboriginal people from San Francisco. They were part of a wave of Native activism across the country with public protests throughout the 1970s. In 1972, Alcatraz became a national recreation area. Later in 1986 it received designation as a National Historic Landmark.

Alcatraz Island
Alcatraz in the dawn mist, from the east. The “parade ground” is at left. Alcatraz from Treasure Island, 01/07/2005 7am photo by BLuP1 / CC BY 2.5

Alcatraz Island Today

Today, the island’s facilities are managed by the National Park Service. It’s considered as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and is open to tours. Visitors can reach the island by ferry ride from Pier 33, near Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco. Hornblower Cruises and Events, operating under the name Alcatraz Cruises, is the official ferry provider to and from the island.

Map of Alcatraz Island
Map of Alcatraz Island — former prison and present day park, in San Francisco Bay, California.

Hornblower launched the nation’s first hybrid propulsion ferry in 2008. It was the Hornblower Hybrid, which now serves the island, docking at the Alcatraz Wharf.

Alcatraz is home to the abandoned prison. It was the site of the oldest operating lighthouse on the West Coast of the United States. It had early military fortifications, and natural features. Features such as rock pools and a seabird colony. It was the home mostly of Western Gulls, cormorants, and egrets. According to a 1971 documentary on the History of Alcatraz, the island measures 1,675 feet (511 m) by 590 feet (180 m). It is 135 feet (41 m) at highest point during mean tide. The total area of the island is reported to be 22 acres.

Alcatraz Landmarks

Alcatraz Island from the West
Alcatraz Island view from the West. Image shot from an altitude of approximately 1800ft. Photo by Ralf Baechle / CC BY-SA 4.0

There are quite a few landmarks on the island which include the Main Cellhouse, Library, Dining Hall, and Lighthouse. More landmarks are ruins of the Warden’s House and Officers Club, Parade Grounds, and Building 64. Also find the Water Tower, New Industries Building, Model Industries Building, and the Recreation Yard.

Alcatraz in the Media and Popular Culture

In media and popular culture you’ll see Alcatraz Island often. That includes several 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), Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), and J. J. Abrams’ 2012 television series Alcatraz.

Alcatraz Island at sunset
Alcatraz Island and lighthouse at sunset. Photo by Centpacrr / CC BY-SA 3.0

The former prison has been in books, video games and more. Alcatraz has also been portrayed often as a safe haven or base of operations in many post-apocalyptic movies. Movies such as The Book of Eli. On a more recent note, Alcatraz gets flattened by the Starship USS Vengeance in Star Trek Into Darkness (2013). The starship crashes into the famous ex-prison island.

Today some American Indian groups, such as the International Indian Treaty Council, hold ceremonies on the island. Most notably, their “Sunrise Gatherings” every Columbus Day and Thanksgiving Day are held on Alcatraz. You can take tours of the former prison. There you learn of its history and other interesting facts.

For more information about Alcatraz Island see the National Park Service website here http://www.nps.gov/alca/index.htm. You can learn more on the history of this highly historic island here http://www.alcatrazhistory.com/ and here http://www.bop.gov/about/history/alcatraz.jsp


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