Showing posts with label San Francisco Bay. Show all posts
Showing posts with label San Francisco Bay. Show all posts

Saturday, October 5, 2013

San Francisco Bay and History Come Together

San Francisco is the city of misty ocean bay sites, fishing boats, art, and technology. From sour dough bread to dark chocolate, it has a history of survival. Walking along the pier it is easy to see the charm, as trolley’s flow through streets and lively patio dining are commonplace. Like Paris, it affords a unique opportunity to watch the multitudes of people from all of the world come to experience the tours, eat their fill, and enjoy the nightlife. Walking up the shop lined streets you may even find a local art vendor willing to part with their masterpiece for a few dollars. Its history is as international as its people. 

Sir Francis Drake first saw the bay in 1579 and took note of it as he moved on to explore other opportunities. It stayed untouched by European hands until the expedition by Gaspar de Portola who founded the Presidio Army Base and a Catholic Church in the area around 1776. The goal was to enslave and convert the local Ohlone population and set up a Spanish outpost.  The area moved into Mexican hands after their independence and then to the U.S. in 1848 after the Mexican-American War.

The Presidio Army Base continued as a military outlet until 1989 when the military reductions turned it into a park that eventually became self-sufficient. A total of 219 years of military service with three nations were operating at that base in various forms and times. The government set up a trust and it is now a national park with hundreds of thousands of visitors annually. 

Under the Spanish, the base hosted a garrison of only 33 men.  In 1848, the U.S. made it a headquarters for a number of military units ending with the 6th Army.  It was a jumping off point for the invasion of the Philippines and was a key defense point during WWII. It hosted medical staff during the civil war as well as the Potomac Army. It was America’s longest running base dating back generations and throughout the history of the area.

During the Gold Rush of 1848, San Francisco’s population exploded from around 1,000 people to 25,000 people. The growth was so large that the infrastructure could not keep up which is why the small streets are still the norm continuing to cause traffic problems today. It maintained for over a century a very large Chinese population that sought to seek their fortunes and is of the largest populations outside of China totaling nearly 1/5th the city’s population. 

During the mad population explosion committees of vigilance where created to deal with crime and corruption. They arrested, and sometimes killed criminals, as well as forced a number of local politicians to resign. It was an era where rapid explosion and wealth created corruption and damaged the lives of its citizens. The people took the law into their own hands.

Somewhere around the 1890’s the city became known as the Paris of the West. It was home to famous artists like the author Mark Twain and an international community of creative thinkers. Streetcars were built and the nightlife was at the top of its game. It was a place where people frequented to create and invent while enjoying socializing with others from diverse backgrounds. 

Today, San Francisco is the 12th largest U.S. city. It has a technology hub that has helped gentrify poor neighborhoods. Likewise, rent is still considered high and people live a life that would be uncommon for those in the rust belt. Yet despite these drawbacks it is still a city where travelers from the entire world come to see the sites, where companies bud, and where people freely express themselves. It is unique in its cultural and social atmospheres.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The History of Alcatraz "The Rock"

The story of Alcatraz starts in 1775 with the discovery by Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala who called the 22-acre island “La Isla de los Alcatraces” which means “Island of Pelicans”. President Millard Fillmore in 1850 reserved the island for the Army. With the advent of the Gold Rush and increased growth in the area both a lighthouse and the 100 cannon Fort Alcatraz was built. 

Like many forts in the U.S., the island never came under attack or needed to defend the area. In the 1860’s the island became a prison for treason under the Civil War and hosted 300 people with room for 500 for over a 100 years. A 1906 earthquake brought more prisoners who were commissioned to build a prison. 

The prison became the Pacific Branch, U.S. Military Prison, Alcatraz Island where discipline to military members was the common call of the day. It also trained them in vocational and military skills. This was the time Alcatraz was known as “The Rock”. As a minimum-security prison, it became a place of baseball, boxing, and gardening. By 1930, Alcatraz was closed due to the cost of importing its supplies.

In 1934 it was purchased by the Federal Bureau of Prisons and became a maximum security prison for the worst of the worst. In the spirit of the change it was renamed Uncle Sam’s Devil’s Island. People like Al Capone spent some time on the island. It was a harsh environment with minimal rights that included food, healthcare, and not much else. Some of the inmates were sent to solitary confinement with only a bread and water. Others may have carried with them a ball and chain.

Over the years, there were 14 escape attempts by 36 people. Almost everyone was caught and a number were shot in their escape attempt. Five inmates made it to the water where they are believed to be perished due to hypothermia.  The bodies of those who escaped were found as far as the Golden Gate Bridge. 

The swim is only 1.25 miles and is certainly possible for a person to make the trip. Over the years, a number of teenagers as well as adults actually made the swim. Yet they needed a level of conditioning and the ability to withstand 55 degree Fahrenheit water.  Yet many people have swum over a mile for recreation in similar waters and it is surprising inmates couldn’t make this trip. 

Over a million people come to the island every year. It is a national icon of our historic past and the history of California. There are many rumors and stories of the island with famous inmates such as “bird man”.  For about $28, you can take a ferry both under the Golden Gate Bridge as well as around the Island. The San Francisco Bay can be cool so take a light jacket if you are outside the summer season.