Alcatraz : Growing Up on The Rock

Alcatraz Feature 560x219Imagine it’s the 1940s and you’re spending your childhood around the most notorious prison in American history. Nestled in the San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz Island was once home to not just up to 300 prisoners, but also an equal amount of civilians; the wives and families of prison guards. Planning to travel and looking for hotels in San Francisco near this famous landmark? Enjoy some of this local history to make the most of your trip to The Rock.

A Unique Community

Kids 560x219Like any small town, the civilians living on Alcatraz formed a tight-knit community. It was hard not to, when living on the same 22 acres of land. The 60 families in residence took care of each other much like in any other neighborhood. Those who lived on the island in the 1930s and 1940s typically remember their childhoods fondly, filled with memories of playing ball, fishing and shooting pool. Despite the circumstances, residents of Alcatraz shared quintessential moments with non-island residents. From playing hide and seek (in the prison morgue) to sneaking out to meet up with a teenage love, Alcatraz kids were typical American youth.

Amenities for Everyone

Sew 560x218By all rights, the island of Alcatraz developed a veritable town for its free residents. Officers’ wives could head to the post office or general store to run their errands while kids hung out at the bowling alley or took ballet classes. There was a movie theater on the island, as well, allowing families to catch the latest flick. There was also a social hall for awkward and memorable teenage dances. Despite the amenities provided, families frequently took the boat onto shore to do more extensive shopping, go out to eat or get to school. With ferries making twenty runs a day to and from the island, residents didn’t feel fenced in. However, kids did need to mind their watches–missing the boat was a whole lot worse than missing the bus.

Living With the Enemy

Inmates 560x219Many would be concerned living on an island with 300 convicted criminals at once, including notorious baddies Al Capone, “Machine Gun” Kelley and Robert Stroud (the “Birdman of Alcatraz”). However, many residents felt safe knowing that criminals weren’t on their streets; they were already arrested! Children and families enjoyed caroling for inmates during the holidays and chatting with them while working on the property. Some inmates even cleaned and cooked in the Warden’s house and delivered milk to the families’ doors. Residents felt so safe on the island, in fact, that they were known to leave their doors unlocked. Still, there were a few unique considerations when living in such close proximity to incarcerated men. For example, kids were never allowed to play with toy guns, in the case that a prisoner use one to trick a guard or officer.

Alcatrz 560x219

If you are an Alcatraz aficionado, or just hold an affinity for the history of this unique locale, be sure to book a hotel with a great view of the famous landmark for your trip to San Francisco. Check out any of the hotels on Fisherman’s Wharf, like The Argonaut Hotel or the Hyatt Fisherman’s Wharf. From your room, you can look out on The Rock and imagine what life was once like for the men, women and children who grew up on this scary–and charming–island.


This post was posted by Fiona Moriarty on Hipmunk’s Tailwind blog on 7/23/15