It is home to the now-abandoned prison, the oldest operating lighthouse on the West Coast of the United States, early military fortifications, and natural features such as rock pools, a seabird colony, and unique views of the coastline.
Alcatraz was a military fort from 1850 to 1933. The United States Army Disciplinary Barracks on Alcatraz was then acquired by the United States Department of Justice on October 12, 1933. The island became a federal prison on January 1, 1934. During the 29 years it was in use, the jail held such notable criminals as Al Capone and Robert Franklin Stroud, the Birdman of Alcatraz. The penitentary was closed for good on March 21, 1963. The prison closed because it was far more expensive to operate than other prisons of the time. It was easier to build a new, traditional land-bound prison than to pay for all the upkeep and support the Alcatraz prison required.
During its 29 years of operation, the penitentary never logged any official successful escapes. All attempts were either ultimately unsuccessful or tragic, where the attemptees were either shot dead or drowned in the frigid San Francisco Bay waters. Three escapees, Frank Morris and brothers John and Clarence Anglin, disappeared from their cells on June 11, 1962. This attempt, popularized in the motion picture Escape from Alcatraz was the most intricate ever devised. Though only some evidence was found that they died in their attempt, they are officially listed as "missing and presumed drowned." It is very likely that they did die in their attempt as, after all these years, no one has surfaced claiming to be or even seen the escapees.
In 1969, a group of Native Americans attempted to reclaim the land saying that an 1868 federal treaty allowed Native Americans to use all federal territory that the government wasn't actively using. After nearly two years of occupation, the government forced them off.
The island is also known as 'The Rock', and it featured in a movie of the same name.
Image from the GIMP photo library.