San Francisco Co., CA
I spent time on The Rock!
I can say that with pride, as I HAVE spent time in the nation's most notorious prison...The Federal
My "tour of duty" on The Rock began at waterfront
What were you thinking?
I was only 12 when the prison closed in 1963!
My family and I elected not to pay the several dollars for the audio tour, and slipped ahead of the Swiss, French and German tourists lined up in front of us. We wandered around inside the huge concrete structure, and across the open areas of the grounds surrounding it.
Alcatraz Island is a 12-acre, 1650 foot long by 450 foot wide
rocky island in San Francisco Bay, just a mile and a quarter north of San
Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf tourist area. In 1775, the strategically located
island was originally discovered and named by the Spanish explorer Juan Manuel
de Ayala. He called the uninhabited island "La Isla de los Alcatraces", which means
In 1848 when the
Some of the early construction included barracks and the Sally Port (Guardhouse/main entrance, built in 1857), as well as several brick casemates (1865-67) still visible above the dock area, under the wooden superstructure of the barracks.
In 1905, a three-story wooden barracks building was built on top of the brick gun casemates. These were later converted into apartments for the correctional officers and their families. This massive building overlooks the dock area. The ranger station, and museum/bookstore is housed in its lower level.
After 1901, the island was still an active military post, even though the cannons had been removed. Part of the facility had been used as a prison ever since a small contingent of military prisoners arrived in 1861. The post was used off and on as a military prison until 1907, when part of the fort was officially converted to the Army's Pacific Branch Military Prison. It was during this era that the landscaping and much construction took place. Other amenities were added such as a post-exchange (1910), which in 1934 was converted into an officer's club/recreation hall with a two-lane bowling alley, dance floor, gymnasium and soda fountain, which served the prison employees and their families. The building burned in 1970, and the gutted concrete shell still stands.
In 1909 an 84-foot high lighthouse was built (still standing and in use) to replace the old lighthouse. Construction also began on the massive concrete cellhouse, which was completed in 1912, and for a short time was the largest reinforced concrete building in the world. The cellhouse consists of a main level with three tiers of cells organized into four major cell blocks. At the east end is the main entrance and the guard rooms and offices. At the west end was the dining hall, kitchen and entrance to the recreation yard. Above the dining hall was a hospital; downstairs were the showers. The cellhouse is the highlight of the tour, and several exhibits are marked, so even if you elect not to take the audio headset tour, you can figure out what went on in a particular location.
In the 1920s, a two-story addition was added to the top of the Sally Port. The upper floor was used as a school and chapel, and the lower floor was living space. In 1934 the entire building was converted to apartments for the employees and their families.
In 1929, the Post Commander's concrete home was built just to the east of the cellhouse, and behind the barracks building. From 1934-1963 four prison wardens served the facility, and each in turn lived here with their families. In 1970, the building burned, and its unstable shell still stands, although badly damaged by the 1989 earthquake.
In 1933 the military post and prison were transferred to the
Federal Bureau of Prisons as a maximum security prison, making
The entire complex was guarded with barbed wire, double barred windows and six guard towers, as well as one of the best naturally isolated locations in the prison system. In all, 36 men were involved in 14 known attempted escapes. Only five were never accounted for, but they were presumed to have drowned in the extremely cold, treacherous waters around the island.
Because of high transportation costs for the prison's supplies, cost became a major concern. Along with deterioration of the physical facilities and reforms of the prison system, the facility was outdated and on March 21, 1963 it closed. The prisoners incarcerated here were then transferred to other facilities across the country.
For six years the island sat empty, but in November 1969, a group of Native-Americans occupied the island. Their occupation began in earnest, but by June 1971, the few remaining people left. A year later the island was transferred to the National Park Service and it became another unit in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. A year later the island was opened for tours, and since then an average of 750,000 visitors a year now spend time on The Rock.
On that cool April morning, we walked slowly across the prison
grounds and peeked into buildings that once housed some of
This was our GHOST TOWN OF THE MONTH for January 1999.
· T1S, R5W, Mount Diablo Meridian (sections not shown on GNIS)
· Latitude: 37.8268723 / 37° 49’ 37” N
· Longitude: -122.4227493 / 122° 25’ 22” W
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FIRST POSTED: January 01, 1999
LAST UPDATED: September 21, 2009
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