Monday, December 8, 2008

Visiting Alcatraz and Leaving San Francisco

We found the Queen Anne Hotel on Expedia. It is considered a bed and breakfast, but it is more like an inn. A nice touch is that they have sherry and cookies in the lobby from 4 to 6 every day, where they encourage guests to meet and mingle. The hotel was built in 1890 and was a girls finishing school. It is reportedly haunted, although if there were any ghosts, we didn't see them!

Lobby where you can enjoy the fireplace and sip a sherry...a tour of the hotel was being held while we were there, and a nightly ghostwalk in the neighbourhood meets here.

One of several lovely old staircases...

In the morning, we took the ferry to tour Alcatraz...

The seagulls love to follow along, and after several minutes one of the ferry workers announced in a bored tone "Please don't feed the seagulls." I wonder how many times a day they say that!

Arriving at Alcatraz...

Alcatraz has served several purposes over the years. It was initially built as a fort when the 1849 Gold Rush significantly increased San Francisco's ship traffic. The city and port were tempting targets for Confederate Raiders, and Alcatraz became a key point in the Army's defense plan.

It was then used as a military prison from 1912 to 1933. In 1934, it became a federal penitentiary. Most of the inmates were men who had proved to be problems in other prison populations. The prison closed in 1963 due to deteriorating buildings and high operating costs.

Its last occupants were Native American political activists (mainly college students) who landed on the island in 1969 and claimed it in the name of "Indians of all tribes," protesting the practice of expulsion of natives and native lands that had been expropriated. They lived there for 19 months until the government cut off electricity and water supplies to the island. While some felt the occupation was not successful, it did bring about change in the government's policies on the handling of native tribes.

Building 64 which originally served as military quarters for soldiers assigned to prison guard duty and later for apartments for correctional officers and their families. Notice the sign reading "Welcome Indians." This sign relates to the occupation of the island by the Native Americans and has been left there as it is a part of Alcatraz's history.


The front section of the cellhouse contained the administration building.


The guard tower...
This building was built by the army in the early 1920s. While called the military chapel, it's unlikely that the building was used for religious purposes. The first floor served as living quarters for single officers and the second floor housed workshops and a hat factory.

The water tower...

Power plant...

In 1910, the army built a morgue, which was used to keep bodies until suitable burial arrangements could be made. It was no longer used once it became a federal penitentiary.

Jim getting ready to enter the main prison. I think he's looking for handcuffs!

Some of the facts...1576 inmates were processed; there were 14 escape attempts, none known to be successful. Three convicts did escape, but were never heard from and their bodies were never recovered.

Most of the inmates were those who had committed offenses at other prisons.

The cell blocks...

Pretty small...a sink, toilet, table and bed. It was reportedly always cold and damp.

D Block was reserved for unusually dangerous or violent inmates. They received adequate food and health care, but were confined to their cells 24 hours a day. Strangely, their cells were much larger than the ones in the general population seen above.

Not sure what crime he has committed!

Some of the more famous inmates...Al Capone on the left...

Second from the left, Robert "The Birdman" Stroud. He was reportedly a brilliant man, fluent in three languages, but a very nasty, heartless person.

"The Hole" or solitary confinement. Once the outside door was closed, you were in total darkness. Inmates normally spent up to 3 days in there and no more than 19. It was actually used for very few inmates.

In the prison library...inmates were not allowed in the library but could request books which were delivered to them. Many inmates read more serious literature than many people on the outside, and reading was a mainstay of prison life.

One of the most serious escape attempts, which ended in disaster. Five inmates overpowered several guards and locked them in a cell. When their attempts to find the proper key to escape failed, they shot the guards locked in the cell. Those inmates who were not killed in the ensuing lockdown were later executed for the brutal slaying of the guards.

One of the guards locked in the cell scrawled the names of the inmates on the wall who had led the escape attempt and circled the names of the ringleaders.

The cells became the inmates' homes and were decorated as such. Inmates might paint to pass the time and the pink crocheting was another example of a pasttime. On the audio tour, one of the former inmates talked about how he had learned to crochet from his grandmother and taught some of the other prisoners. He remarked how funny it must have looked to have these tough prisoners crocheting. Anything to pass the time...

A tiny window through which inmates could see San Francisco. It is only 1-1/4 miles across the bay and sounds often carried from the city to the island (especially on New Year's Eve). Freedom was tantalizingly close.

The visitation area...inmates were allowed one visit each month.

The corrections officer's uniform...everything was issued to them including socks, underwear, and shoes.

Entering the warden's office...

There were only four wardens during the time it was used as a penitentiary...

The office as it would have looked complete with photo of then President JFK...

The communications room...

The dining hall was considered to be one of the most dangerous areas. Three times a day inmates, all armed with knives and forks, gathered under the watch of only a few guards.


The kitchen where the outline of every knife on the wall quickly showed if any were missing.

The last prisoner leaving on March 21, 1963...

The remains of the warden's house. It was originally built as the military commandant's residence and was an impressive building with 17 rooms and windows with beautiful views of the bridges and San Francisco. Ornamental gardens and a greenhouse were used to grow a variety of plants and a trusted inmate would serve as the gardener.

Fire swept through the abandoned building in 1970 leaving the shell as it is today.


Originally built as the military parade ground, it became a playground for the children of the guards living on the island. One of those children on the audio tape spoke as an adult about how it was an idyllic life. They were ferried to school in San Francisco and returned home at the end of the day to a "beautiful island."

Although it was a gorgeous, sunny day, it was still hard to see San Francisco because of the smog.

The Bay Bridge in the background...

The lighthouse was first used in 1854 and was the first in operation on the Pacific Coast. This concrete one was built in 1909 to replace the original one, and was manned until 1963 when it became automated.

Some amazing species of plants thrive on the island today. When the fort was originally built by the army, soil was shipped in from nearby Angel Island and seeds in the soil were transplanted to Alcatraz.


Back on the mainland where Christmas decorations are in abundance at popular Pier 39.

It was a Saturday and there were bigger crowds than we have seen anywhere on our trip so far.

Fisherman's Wharf famous for its many fish shops, most of them selling fresh crab.

Tight negotiating in this marina!

The next morning before we left San Francisco, we went to check out the "Crookedest Street in America." Look at this steep hill! The one negative we would say about San Francisco is the lack of taxis. Parking is scarce and walking to some locations can be a challenge. It's difficult to hail a taxi on the street, and most times it's best if you walk to a major hotel and get in their taxi line-up. Note to selves...if we return to San Francisco, stay closer to the Embarcadero area!

Here is Lombard Street. The steep, hilly street was created with eight switchbacks to go down the one-way street past beautiful Victorian houses. The street is paved with bricks and beautifully landscaped. The speed limit is 5 mph and it would be difficult to go much faster than that.

In the video you can see cars slowly making their way down...

video

We drove down the street and then parked at the bottom so I could get out to take a picture. Here is what the rest of the street looks like heading down and then up the other side. Crazy hills! When I walked back to the car, I was practically jogging by the time I got there!

Leaving across the Bay Bridge. The bridge is built with two tiers and the deck on top contains cars going in the other direction. I remembered a section of this collapsing in the 1989 earthquake, so I was glad to get to the other side!

And now we're officially heading home! We were planning to stop in Las Vegas, but that would make it a difficult drive home. We have really enjoyed just taking our time and don't want the pressure of having to drive 1000 km a day. We're 6000 km from home and planning on driving about 600 km a day. That will allow time for any bad weather and a time-out day!

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