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Iconic Landmark Alcatraz Island Reopens to the Public

By Cicero A. Estrella

Alcatraz Island has reopened after being shuttered for a good portion of 2020 and the beginning of this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The improving COVID-19 numbers in recent weeks for the city and county of San Francisco, as well as the state, allowed for the Golden Gate Recreation Area to welcome back visitors starting on Monday, March 15—exactly a year and a day after it originally shut down.

Guests will be required to wear masks and adhere to other social-distancing protocols.

“It is my pleasure to begin welcoming visitors back to Alcatraz Island,” said Laura E. Joss, general superintendent of Golden Gate National Recreation Area. “We have been working closely with our public health partners to align our operations with local guidance and provide access to the island for the first time this year. We expect everyone to follow CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidance, wear a mask, and give each space to safely enjoy the experience at this iconic site.”

The landmark that sits prominently in the middle of San Francisco Bay is one of the Bay Area’s most popular tourist attractions. “The Rock” is known mostly for its time as a notorious federal penitentiary from 1934-63, when it housed such inmates as Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, James “Whitey” Bulger, and Robert Stroud, who came to be known as the “Birdman of Alcatraz.”

But the island also previously served as a fort and a military prison. In 1969, the Indians of All Tribes began its 19-month occupation of the island in an effort to call attention to the Native American civil rights movement.

Alcatraz Island opened to the public in 1973. Prior to 2020, the park had averaged about 1.4 million visitors per year.

Park officials will limit the number of visitors for now, and will collaborate with public health professionals to reevaluate and adjust guest capacity as needed.

Access to the interior of the Cell House will be limited to those who sign up for the Cell House Audio Tour. But everyone will be given access to outdoor areas, including Eagle Plaza, Sally Port, Recreation Yard and historic gardens. Visitors will also be able to view the exhibit “Red Power on Alcatraz: Perspectives 5 Years Later,” which commemorates the Indians of All Tribes occupation.

Shelter-in-place orders forced the shutdown of Alcatraz Island on March 14, 2000. It reopened for outdoors-only tours in August, but a spike in COVID-19 cases closed it down again in December.

Visit Alcatraz Cruises for ticket information. For more information on Alcatraz Island and its reopening visit the Golden Gate National Recreation Area website.

Photos: NPS/Elaine Dearing

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