Alcatraz Island, San Francisco, United States

Alcatraz Island is located in San Francisco Bay, 1.25 miles (2.01 km) offshore from San Francisco, California, United States. The small island was developed with facilities for a lighthouse, a military fortification, a military prison (1868), and a federal prison from 1934 until 1963. In 1972, Alcatraz became part of a national recreation area and received designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1986.

Alcatraz Island offers a close-up look at the site of the first lighthouse and US built fort on the West Coast, the infamous federal penitentiary long off-limits to the public, and the history making 18 month occupation by Indians of All Tribes. Rich in history, there is also a natural side to the Rock—gardens, tide pools, bird colonies, and bay views beyond compare.

Today, the island’s facilities are managed by the National Park Service as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area; it is open to tours. Visitors can reach the island in a little under 15 minutes by ferry ride from Pier 33, located between the San Francisco Ferry Building and 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.

Alcatraz Island is home to the abandoned prison, the site of the oldest operating lighthouse on the West Coast of the United States, early military fortifications, and natural features such as rock pools and a seabird colony (mostly 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) and is 135 feet (41 m) at highest point during mean tide. However, the total area of the island is reported to be 22 acres (8.9 ha).

Landmarks on the island include the Main Cellhouse, Dining Hall, Library, Lighthouse, the ruins of the Warden’s House and Officers’ Club, Parade Grounds, Building 64, Water Tower, New Industries Building, Model Industries Building, and the Recreation Yard.

Today, 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.

To those that only know the Hollywood version, the rich history of Alcatraz is surprising. Civil War fortress, infamous federal prison, bird sanctuary, first lighthouse on the West Coast, and the birthplace of the American Indian Red Power movement are just a few of the fascinating stories of the Rock. Alcatraz Island is a designated National Historic Landmark for its significant contribution to the nation’s history.

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.

Barker Beach is a small beach and rocky coastal area on the west side of Alcatraz Island, off the coast of San Francisco, California. It lies just south of the long two-story New Industries Building. During the foggy, early morning hours of Friday, January 13, 1939, five inmates – William “Ty” Martin (AZ-370), Henry Young (AZ-244), Rufus McCain (AZ-267), Dale Stamphill (AZ-435), and Arthur “Doc” Barker (AZ-268) – broke out of their D-Block cells and climbed out of a window that had its bars severed in advance, with the sabotage camouflaged with paint and putty. The five men made it to the water’s edge and began to look for driftwood to build a raft. In the meantime, their absence was discovered and guards swarmed the island with rifles and machine guns. Dark figures were spotted on the western shore and guards opened fire. Stamphill was shot in the legs multiple times but recovered. Doc Barker took a slug in the head and died several hours later. The remaining three inmates gave up immediately and were recaptured without injury. The beach was later named after Doc Barker by the National Park Service.

Alcatraz Wharf is located on the southeast side of Alcatraz Island, in San Francisco Bay, California, US. Classified as building number 33 of the Alcatraz Island National Historic Landmark, its historic name variants were “Alcatraz Dock” and “Alcatraz Pier”. It is the main access point to Alcatraz. Another dock on the island’s northwest side was only used for rock loading. The wharf contained many of the islands historic buildings, including Building 64 (Alcatraz Defensive Barracks), the Bombproof Barracks, Chinatown, Ranger Office, Garage, Dock Tower, Storage Vault, and Firebox #3.

Building 64, also known as the 64 Building, Building #64 or the Building 64 Residential Apartments, was the first building constructed on the island of Alcatraz off the coast of San Francisco, USA, entirely for the purpose of accommodating the military officers and their families living on the island. Located next to the dock on the southeastern side of the island below the Warden’s House, the three-story apartment block was built in 1905 on the site of a U.S. Army barracks which had been there from the 1860s. It functioned as the Military Guard Barracks from 1906 until 1933. One of its largest apartments in the southwest corner was known as the “Cow Palace” and a nearby alleyway was known as “Chinatown”.

During Federal prison times from 1934, the building gradually fell into a shabby state, and new quarters were built on the Parade Grounds, but most families arriving on the island stayed in Building 64 until a room in the newer quarters was available. Most of the other residential quarters have since been demolished, but Building 64 remains and has since been renovated. During the Occupation of Alcatraz, in 1970 the Native Americans drew graffiti in red around the “United States Penitentiary” sign saying “Indians welcome” and “Indian land”. There is a book store on the ground floor on the left side of the building.

Alcatraz Citadel, also known as Fort Alcatraz, was the original military defense and prison on Alcatraz Island, off the coast of San Francisco, California, United States. The citadel was built in 1859 as a U.S. Army military defense, and began function as a war camp in 1861 and long-term military prison in 1868. During the American Civil War, the citadel and its batteries provided an important line of defense. The island continued to develop in the 1870s and 1880s, and in 1893, the first hospital on Alcatraz opened. A new upper prison was built in 1904, but after the citadel ceased function as a military defense in 1907 and the original citadel collapsed the following year, a $250,000 concrete military prison was erected between 1910 and 1912. In 1933-4, this was modernized and became the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary. It housed some of America’s most dangerous criminals between 1934 and 1963.

Alcatraz Dining Hall, often referred to as the Mess Hall, is the dining hall of Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary where the prisoners and staff ate their meals. It is a long wing on the west end of the Main Cellhouse of Alcatraz, situated in the center of the island. It is connected to the block by a corridor known as “Times Square”, as it passes beneath a large clock approaching the entrance way to the dining hall. This wing includes the dining hall and the kitchen beyond it.

The Former Military Chapel (Bachelor Quarters) is a building on Alcatraz Island off the coast of San Francisco, United States. It is located next to the Sally Port and Dock and the Building 64 residential apartments. It was built in the 1920s in the mission-revival style to accommodate for the officers at the military prison on the island. The ground floor had quarters for the officers and their families who worked at the military prison and the top floor was used as a school and chapel. It functioned as a Sunday School for children of the military personnel on Sundays. In 1934, when Alcatraz became a Federal Penitentiary, the building was used as a Bachelor Quarters for unmarried officers.

The Parade Grounds is a large concrete open area on the south end of Alcatraz Island, off the coast of San Francisco, USA. They lie beyond Building 64. They were originally built in the 1860s on a barren site by the U.S. military who used the site for military drills and parades.

After the island became a Federal Penitentiary in 1934, the Parade Grounds was used as a playground, especially on weekends and holidays, and was used host special events, often organized by the Officer’s Club. As the nearby Building 64 aged and fell into disrepair, the operators of the prison funded several new residential blocks on the square. Gardens were developed around them, and handball and weightlifing facilities developed for the employees and their families. The children living in the quarters on the Parade Ground were known to other children and their families on Alcatraz as “the topside kids” because they lived above those residing in Building 64 on the dock below.

The island ceased use as a jail in 1963 and the residential buildings and gardens which were added were razed to the ground by the General Services Administration in the 1970s, but the foundation marks can still be seen.

Alcatraz Library was the library used by inmates of the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary. It was located at the end of D-Block. Upon entering Alcatraz, every inmate was given a library card and a catalog of books found in the library; inmates could place orders by putting a slip with their card in a box at the entrance to the dining hall before breakfast, and the books would be delivered to and from their cell by a librarian. The library, which utilized a closed-stack paging system, had a collection of 10,000 to 15,000 books, mainly left over from the army days.

Alcatraz Island Lighthouse is a lighthouse – the first one built on the U.S. West Coast – located on Alcatraz Island in California’s San Francisco Bay. It is located at the southern end of the island near the entrance to the prison. The first light house on the island was completed in 1854, and served the bay during its time as a Citadel and military prison. It was replaced by a taller 95 feet (29 m) above mean sea level) concrete tower built in 1909 to the south of the original one which was demolished after it was damaged due to earthquake in 1906. The automation of the lighthouse with a modern beacon took place in 1963, the year Alcatraz closed as the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary. It is the oldest light station on the island with a modern beacon and is part of the museum on the island. Although when viewed from afar it easily looks the tallest structure on Alcatraz, it is actually shorter than the Alcatraz Water Tower, but as it lies on higher ground it looks much taller.

The Model Industries building or Industries Building is a three/four-storey building on the northwest corner of Alcatraz Island off the coast of San Francisco, USA. This building was originally built by the U.S. military and was used as a laundry building until the New Industries Building was built as part of a redevelopment program on Alcatraz in 1939 when it was a federal penitentiary. As part of the Alcatraz jail, it held workshops for inmates to work in.

On January 10, 1935, the building shifted to within 2.5 feet from the edge of the cliff following a landslide caused by a severe storm. The warden at the time, James A. Johnston, proposed to extend the seawall next to it and asked the Bureau for $6500 to fund it; he would later claim to dislike the building because it was irregularly shaped. A smaller, cheaper riprap was completed by the end of 1935. A guard tower and a catwalk from Hill Tower was added to the roof of the Industries Building in June 1936 and the building was made secure with bars from old cells to bar the windows and grill the roof ventilators and to prevent inmates from escaping from the roof. It ceased use as a laundry in 1939 when it was moved to the upper floor of the New Industries Building. Today the building is heavily rusted after decades of exposure to the salt air and wind, and neither the guard tower on top of the building nor the Hill Tower have survived.

Alcatraz exhibit contains objects made by notorious inmates, historic photographs and documents, escape materials and inmate artwork. The collection also includes items made by officers including correctional materials form when Alcatraz was a federal penitentiary from 1931- 1963;military prison materials from 1859-1934 and the American Indian occupation of 1969-1971.

Today, 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.

The Global Peace Foundation proposed to raze the prison and build a peace center in its place. During the previous year, 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 Service began major renovations on the island, including the installation of solar panels on the cell house roof, slope stabilization near the Warden’s House and the stabilization and rehabilitation of the outer cell house walls.

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, and in the video game Call of Duty: Black Ops II in a downloadable zombie survival map called “Mob of the Dead”. It is also featured as a playable racetrack in the 1996 arcade racing video game San Francisco Rush: Extreme Racing. 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 is featured in the episode “Bird Mummy of Alcatraz” in the children’s program, Mummies Alive! and was also featured in a mission in the video game “Watch Dogs 2”. Alcatraz has also been featured as a map in the game “The Escapists”, as downloadable content.

Here at Golden Gate National Recreation Area, we preserve and rehabilitate many different kinds of cultural resources, including historic buildings, artifacts, archeology, structures and landscapes. Preservation projects could include building a new trail, seismically strengthening a masonry building or monitoring an archeological dig.

All construction and rehabilitation on Alcatraz Island is especially complicated because of its unique site. The NPS, along with its partners and contractors, have to use commercial barges and ferries to transport all the necessary building supplies. Because the island doesn’t have its own water source, contractors have to ship their own water to make concrete.

The weather on Alcatraz is unpredictable and liable to change unexpectedly, so be prepared by bringing along a light jacket or sweater no matter how nice the day starts out. The best advice is always to dress in layers. Wear rain gear during wet winter months. (Rain gear is available for purchase at the bookstores.) Wear comfortable walking shoes with grip-type soles. Avoid wearing sandals, leather-soled shoes, high heels and open-toe shoes.