Alcatraz - California Historic Site

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Alcatraz

Where is Alcatraz?

Off the northern coast of San Francisco, California near Fisherman's Wharf.

San Francisco, California Map

Did you know: Alcatraz was initially a lighthouse and fort.

Did you know: the Birdman of Alcatraz actually existed - he was inmate Robert Stroud who studied small birds.

In 1775 Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala charted the San Francisco Bay, and the small island La Isla de los Alcatraces, ("Island of the Pelicans" ).The island was abandoned due to swift currents, little vegetation, and rocky ground. Recognized for its strategic military location in the mid 1800s, Alcatraz became the first lighthouse and fort on the West Coast of the United States. Later nicknamed "The Rock", its history as a Federal prison gained it fame and notoriety. Originally declared a military reservation by President Millard Fillmore in 1850, U.S. troops were garrisoned there beginning in 1859 for the defense of the Bay Area of San Francisco.

From 1934 - 1963, Alcatraz was turned into America's foremost maximum-security prison. Some of the most dangerous criminals were imprisoned there, including Al Capone, "Pretty Boy" Floyd, "Machine Gun" Kelly and one inmate, Robert Stroud, who dedicated his life to studying and helping small birds. He later became known as "the Birdman of Alcatraz", famously portrayed by Burt Lancaster in the movie. Famous for its supposed prevention of any possible escape - the prison did have several escapes - but no one has come forward to tell their story. There were 14 separate escape attempts involving 36 men. Twenty-three were caught, six were shot and killed during their escape, and two drowned. Five were never accounted for and presumed drowned - but who really knows. More Alcatraz history...

Today, Alcatraz is a major tourist destination. Visitors can walk the halls, listen to tapes of prison sounds and imagine the infamous characters who spent their final days there. More about visiting Alcatraz...