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Alcatraz – Media

Visiting Alcatraz

Alcatraz_movie_02 from Ruth Tringham on Vimeo.


Alcatraz Island Audio Clip 1 – Professor Anthony Garcia

Alcatraz Island Audio Clip 2 – Professor Jim Quesada

Alcatraz – Key Players

People on Site and Scientific Interest Groups

Currently no permanent populations live on the island. Most of the people present on the island are visitors, NPS park rangers, volunteers for the Alcatraz Garden project and contractors who work on renovation. No archaeological research is currently being done on Alcatraz, as most of the research has been taken off site.


Some of the key players are the organizations involved with Alcatraz, such as the PRBO and the U.S. Geological Survey, who are currently conducting a Landscape Survey. Outside of the NPS, there are groups that try to help keep our national parks accessible, such as The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), who are a nonpartisan group working to minimize threats to national parks.

International Community

Some other key players include visitors from different countries and regions, as well as recreationists like marathoners and hikers. The US National Park Service is working on developing sister park relationships with national parks all over the world. Other key players include school groups: part of the NPS budget is reserved for education.

Native Americans


Richard Oakes

Native Americans are also important key players for Alcatraz. This group includes the local Miwok and Ohlone Indians, those Indians who occupied Alcatraz from 1969 to 1971, and many other Native Americans for whom this island is a symbol of the Native American movement.

Local Business

Local business key players include all hotels, shops, restaurants, and tour companies that have ties to Alcatraz Island.


Another group of key players includes the descendants of prisoners and the Federal Penitentiary employees at Alcatraz Island.

The following is a list of sponsors:

•        Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy (The Gardens of Alcatraz)

•        Federal Bureau of Prisons (Inmates perform maintenance work)

•        The Friends of Civil War Alcatraz (docents of Civil War history)

•        American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (solar panels to be installed on the island)

•        Save American’s Treasures (Garden restoration)

•        Alcatraz Cruises

The following is a list of academic partners:

•        Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy Native Plant Nurseries

•        American Youth Hostels

•        Bay Area Discovery Museum

•        Headlands Institute

•        YMCA Point Bonita Outdoor & Conference Center San Francisco

•        Exploratorium

To learn more, please go to the main page (Alcatraz – Native American Presence and Occupation) in order to download the full Site Management Plan.

By Tatyana Kovaleva

Alcatraz – Modern Context

Ownership and Legal Status

Alcatraz Island is managed by the National Park Service, one of eight bureaus run by the Department of the Interior, a Cabinet-level agency of the US Government. It is a part of the NPS Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GOGA). As a national park, Alcatraz is under the jurisdiction of Parks, Forest, and Public Property Code of Federal Regulations.

Buildings and Visitor Facilities


The island as a NPS and GGNRA park.

There are numerous buildings on the island, including the Guardhouse, the Cellhouse, the Officer’s Club, the Warden’s House, the Lighthouse, the Warehouse, the Power Plant, the Electrical Repair Shop, the Modern Industries Building, the New Industries Building, the Morgue, and the Recreation Yard. There are also gardens, including the Officer’s Row Gardens alongside the Cellhouse. Alcatraz includes a Parade Ground area and numerous trails and pathways that are accessible to visitors such as the Agave Trail.

Condition of the Site


An example of the ruins at Alcatraz.

The condition of buildings on Alcatraz varies. Some buildings, such as the Cellhouse and the Guardhouse, are renovated and accessible to the public. Other buildings, like the New Industries Building, are renovated externally, but are closed to  visitors. Some structures, like the Warden’s House, have nothing but outside walls remaining.


Many measures have been taken to preserve the man-made structures of Alcatraz and the natural features of the island. Organizations like PRBO, the US Geological Survey, Lutsko Associates, the Olmsted Center, and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy strive to preserve and properly manage the bird populations and the gardens of Alcatraz.

Current Points of Interpretation

The primary perspective of interpretation of Alcatraz is that of a federal penitentiary, because most of the surviving structures pertain to that period, which is also the most documented. Other aspects of history, such as the Native American presence or the military fort, are under-represented.

Tourist and Visitor Profiles


Alcatraz Cruises is the only commercial company that is allowed to dock on Alcatraz Island.

The Alcatraz experience is targeted at the general public, rather than specific groups. However, there are certain accommodations for groups with special needs, such as people with limited mobility.  The Alcatraz management offers the Cellhouse guided audio tour in English, Spanish, German, French, Italian, Japanese, Dutch, Mandarin, Portuguese and Korean languages. Alcatraz Island does not have age-specific programs.

By Tatyana Kovaleva

Alcatraz – A Brief History

Alcatraz: A Brief History

18,000 years ago, at the end of the last glacial period, Alcatraz was a sandstone hill at the entrance to a valley. As the ice melted, the Pacific Ocean rose and the valley filled with seawater to become San Francisco Bay, while the hill became an island. According to the National Park Service, Native Americans have lived in the San Francisco Bay area for over 10,000 years. The two native groups that inhabited the area when the Spanish arrived in the late 18th Century were the Miwok and the Ohlone. The Miwok lived to the North of the Golden Gate, while the Ohlone lived to the South and the East.


Little is known about Alcatraz from the pre-contact period: based on oral histories it appears that local tribes gathered bird eggs there, and also used it as a place of banishment.

Arrival of Europeans
The Spanish naval officer Juan Manuel de Ayala made the first survey of the island in 1775. He called it “La Isla de los Alcatraces,” which meant “Pelican Island”.

Alcatraz lighthouse was the first to be established on the west coast of the United States, and began operating in 1854. It was damaged during the 1906 earthquake, and replaced with a new lighthouse in 1909.

In 1859 the US government built a fort to protect its recently acquired territory of California. However, by the end of the Civil War in 1865 it was already obsolete.

Military Prison

The commanders of the garrisons at Fort Point and the Presidio realized that Alcatraz would be a convenient place to send their worst offenders, and in 1861 it became a military prison.

Hopi Indians Imprisoned
In 1895, 19 members of the Hopi tribe were imprisoned for seven months for refusing to allow their children to be taken to government-run boarding schools.

Expansion of Prison
Cellhouse, view from the Recreation Yard
Beginning in 1909 the army demolished the original fort and replaced it with a huge prison complex which, when completed in 1912, was the largest reinforced concrete building in the world.

Federal Penitentiary
Because of the prison’s high maintenance costs, the Army handed it over in 1933 to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which turned it into a maximum-security federal penitentiary. During this time it housed some of the country’s most notorious criminals. Eventually, like the Army, the FBP decided that the prison was too expensive to maintain, and closed it in 1963. The island was now declared surplus federal property.

Indian Occupations
On March 9, 1964, five Sioux Indians occupied Alcatraz for a few hours, demanding that the government build a cultural center and an Indian university on the island. This protest inspired a group of Native students led by Richard Oakes to occupy the island for 19 months, beginning November 20, 1969. US Federal Marshals ended the occupation on June 10, 1971.

National Park
In 1972, Alcatraz Island was incorporated into the Golden Gate Recreation Area, and is currently administered by the National Park Service.

By Ian Wilson

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