Thursday, March 21, 2013

50 Years Gone


View from the Golden Gate.

It was 50 years ago today that AG RFK's order to close The Rock was carried out and the last inmates left Alcatraz. The San Jose Mercury News (via HuffPo) has a great write-up on the history of the island; here's a brief:

Alcatraz began as a military fort and lockup during the Civil War era. Workers leveled areas of the rocky mound, named "Isle of the Pelicans" by Spanish explorers, to accommodate buildings.

It became a federal prison in 1934, when authorities needed an isolated facility to hold the gangsters that proliferated during the Great Depression. It wound up holding more than 1,500 inmates, including infamous criminals like Al Capone and James "Whitey" Bulger. Ultraviolent killer Robert Stroud, the "Birdman of Alcatraz," was the subject of a celebrated 1962 film starring Burt Lancaster.


By 1963 the cost of maintaining the complex had became too burdensome, and authorities closed the penitentiary after 29 years of operation. Native American protesters took over the island for nearly 19 months in 1969-71, a political stand that some credit with helping to end the U.S. policy of terminating tribal contracts.

The National Park Service assumed control of Alcatraz in 1972, making it part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Today the island receives nearly 1.5 million annual visitors, more than many national parks. Tickets sell out nearly every day, sometimes weeks in advance, for audio tours of the main cell block and recreation yard plus the chance to stroll past the island's gardens and ruined buildings.

I haven't been on the tour yet, hope to go sometime soon. It is very popular and has been sold out on more than a few of my strolls down to the Wharf. One of these sunny days I will get there...