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(ăl`kətrăz') [Sp. Álcatraces=pelicans], rocky island in San Francisco Bay, W Calif, about one mile (1.61 km) north of San Francisco. Alcatraz was first sighted by the Spanish in 1772 (and possibly three years earlier). Its name derives from the presence of a pelican colony, but Spanish and Mexican maps referred to Yerba Buena IslandYerba Buena Island,
300 acres (121 hectares), W Calif., in San Francisco Bay. It is the midpoint of the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge, which crosses the island through a tunnel. There are coast guard facilities on the island.
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 as Alcatraz until 1826, when the two islands clearly acquired their present names.

Alcatraz came under U.S. control in 1850 and became the site of the first U.S. fort on the West Coast. It was used as a U.S. military prison from 1859 until 1933, when it was transferred to the control of the Dept. of Justice. A year later it became a federal prison housing the most dangerous criminals; it was closed in 1963. Nicknamed "The Rock," it was a symbol of the impregnable fortress prison with maximum security and strict discipline.

From 1969 to 1971 a group of Native American activists occupied the island in the unsuccessful hope of establishing a center there, but the occupation contributed to the growth of Native American activism and was an impetus to the adoption of federal reforms. Alcatraz became part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area in 1972, and by the mid-1990s it was attracting almost a million visitors a year. In 2014–15 Alcatraz was the site of a multimedia exhibition by Chinese dissident artist Ai WeiweiAi Weiwei
, 1957–, Chinese artist, architect, filmmaker, and political activist. He is the son of poet Ai Ch'ing, who was internally exiled (1958–76) to work camps with his family.
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 that focused on human rights and prisoners od conscience.


See study by E. N. Thompson (1979); D. Ward, Alcatraz: The Gangster Years (2009).


an island in W California, in San Francisco Bay: a federal prison until 1963
References in periodicals archive ?
Yet, most of the more than 1 million tourists who visit the famous former prison annually never get to experience Alcatraz Island at night or see its spooky, decrepid hospital -- experiences unique to the night tour.
Alcatraz brings together the production genius of the teans behind Lost, Fringe and CSI - so you know it's going to be good.
New generations will be drawn the fresh mythology of the re-invented Alcatraz.
But as the jail's status as a leisure destination grows - Alcatraz Island is already San Francisco's second most popular tourist attraction, after its famed cable cars - you might soon have the chance to escape to Alcatraz for a weekend away.
For the Alcatraz comp the guys are keeping it simple.
For nine dollars, visitors can own a piece of Alcatraz and help preserve the park site; proceeds from the sale will help cover a fraction of the costs of an $8.
1963: Alcatraz - the maximum security prison in San Francisco Bay was closed: The world famous prison built in 1934 on a rock island in San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz, was closed because the costs were too high and the facilities were deteriorating.
When you visit Alcatraz Island, the last thing you expect to see is a baby boom.
Andy Potts Wins 2012 Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon for Fifth Time, Sets New Record (Photo: Business Wire)
After being shut down, Alcatraz turned into a tourist destination and inspired several movie productions.
For most visitors a trip to Alcatraz will be their only opportunity to see the inside of a federal prison.