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“The Rock” Turns 86: Alcatraz’s Anniversary

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Tuesday, August 11, 2020 - All Day | Cost: FREE
Alcatraz Island | Alcatraz Island, San Francisco, CA 94133


Alcatraz, the former federal island prison that once held the likes of gangster Al Capone, offers national park visitors a close-up look at a maximum-security, minimum-privilege life.

COVID Update: Alcatraz Island is currently open for outdoor-only day tour visits. (The interior of the prison is currently closed to the public). Boats depart hourly from Pier 33 from 11am to 3pm. Adult round trip tickets are $39.90. Temperature checks and face coverings required. Learn more about visiting Alcatraz. – updated 8/10/20

The island, once an 1850s military fort, is the site of the West Coast’s first lighthouse (since replaced by the current lighthouse) and the birthplace of the Native American “Red Power” movement (sparked by an occupation of Alcatraz from 1969-1971). Gardens, tidepools, nesting birds, and stunning bay views are also among its many attractions.

The federal penitentiary which opened on August 11, 1934, and operated until 1963.

After the “Indians of All Tribes” occupation, the park opened as a national recreation area under the management of the National Park Service. In 1973 the prison opened to the public for tours.

In its commitment to protect the natural resources of the Island, staff and volunteers ensure ongoing restoration and conservation of the island ecosystem, including habitat protection for the more than 20,000 sea birds who nest on the island each season.

The Alcatraz Gardens, a striking historic landscape with some plants originally planted in the 1800s, have been lovingly restored after nearly 100 years of decline. The Alcatraz Historic Gardens Project is an ongoing Parks Conservancy-supported effort to restore, preserve and maintain the gardens created by those who lived on the island during its military and federal prison eras in order to interpret their history, horticulture and cultural significance for today’s visitors.

Alcatraz Island Historical Timeline:

Read more at parksconservancy.org

1775: Spanish explorer Lt. Juan Manuel de Ayala maps San Francisco Bay and names the island “La Isla de los Alcatraces” (The Island of the Pelicans). With no vegetation or habitation, Alcatraz was little more than a desolate rocky islet occupied by the occasional swarm of birds.

1850: A joint Army and Navy commission recommends a Triangle of Defense to guard San Francisco Bay. President Millard Fillmore signs an Executive Order reserving lands around San Francisco Bay, including Alcatraz, for “public purposes.”

1854: The Alcatraz lighthouse begins service as the first lighthouse on the Pacific Coast.

1857: With the completion of the Guard House, the island serves as a military prison from 1857-1933.

1859: Capt. Joseph Stewart and 86 men of Company H, Third U.S. Artillery, take command of Alcatraz.

1863: The J.M. Chapman, a Confederate privateer ship, is seized and its crew arrested and imprisoned on Alcatraz. Lower Prison, a temporary wooden structure, is built. Soon other prison structures are added on the island.

1865: Alcatraz troops are sent to San Francisco to preserve peace and prevent rioting after President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Alcatraz cannons fire the official mourning for the dead president.

1870: Major George Mendell designs plans for earthwork defenses on Alcatraz.

1895: Nineteen members of the Hopi Tribe from Arizona are imprisoned on Alcatraz for resisting the policy of forced education of their children and land allotment programs contrary to their Native American beliefs.

1898: Spanish-American War results in prison overcrowding at Alcatraz.

1900: Upper Prison (Alcatraz’s third prison) is built on the Parade Ground.

1907: Alcatraz is designated as the “Pacific Branch, U.S. Military Prison.”

1912: The new Cellhouse (Alcatraz’s fourth prison), built with convict labor, is completed and prisoners move in. At the time the Alcatraz Cellhouse was the largest concrete structure in the world.

1915: Alcatraz is renamed the “United States, Disciplinary Barracks.”

1933: Alcatraz is transferred to the Federal Bureau of Prisons; 32 “hard-case” military prisoners remain on the island as the former military detention center becomes America’s first maximum-security civilian penitentiary. This “prison system’s prison” was specifically designed to house the troublemakers that other federal prisons could not successfully detain.

1934: Alcatraz begins its era as the nation’s toughest and most feared federal penitentiary, housing the “worst of the worst” American criminals, among them AI Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and Robert “Birdman of Alcatraz” Stroud. Prisoners arrived on Alcatraz in handcuffs and ankle shackles. Daily life on Alcatraz was harsh, and prisoners were given only four rights: medical attention, shelter, food and clothing; recreational activities and family visits had to be earned through hard work. Punishments for bad behavior included hard labor and lock-downs in solitary confinement, restricted to bread and water. There were a total of 14 escape attempts by 34 prisoners during its 29 years as a federal penitentiary.

1963: Due to high costs and deteriorating infrastructure, Alcatraz is permanently closed by Attorney General Robert Kennedy and the remaining prisoners are transferred to the new maximum security federal penitentiary in Marion, Ill.

1969-1971: Mohawk tribal leader Richard Oakes leads the occupation of Alcatraz by the “Indians of All Tribes,” which at its height numbered more than 400 members. The group hoped to establish an American Indian cultural center on Alcatraz, but when Oakes left the Island due to the tragic death of his stepdaughter, public interest in the occupation waned and order among those remaining on the island began to deteriorate. After 19 months, federal marshals moved in and forcibly removed the few remaining occupiers in June, 1971. The Alcatraz Occupation is recognized as a milestone in American Indian history, and each year, Indians of all tribes return to Alcatraz on Columbus Day and Thanksgiving to hold a Sunrise Ceremony for Indigenous Peoples and commemorate the longest Native American occupation in U.S. history.

1972: Alcatraz becomes a national recreation area under the management of the National Park Service. It opens as a national park attraction in the fall of 1973.

1976: Alcatraz is named to the National Register of Historic Places.

1986: Alcatraz receives designation as a National Historic Landmark.

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Event Details


Cost: FREE
Categories: *Top Pick*, Online, San Francisco, Walks & Tours
Address: Alcatraz Island, San Francisco, CA 94133

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