Tag Archive | California Park System

California Road Trip: Monterey State Historic Park

On our way back to the hotel after visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium, we took a look around a few of the buildings of the Monterey State Historic Park.  A little history lesson: Monterey was first established in 1770 by Father Junípero Serra and explorer Gaspar de Portolà.  Spain had begun colonizing Alta California, in 1769, and the San Carlos Borromeo Mission de Monterey followed a year later.  When Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821, Monterey came under Mexican rule.  I didn’t know it then, but Monterey was actually California’s earliest capital city (from 1777 to 1846 – under both Spain and Mexico) and the site of the state’s first constitutional convention.  Monterey changed hands again in 1846 during the Mexican-American War, and once it was in American hands, the capital was moved away from Monterey.

Pacific House Museum - Built 1847 - Adobe Architectural Style

Pacific House Museum – Built 1847 – Adobe Architectural Style

The Monterey State Historic Park consists of several buildings located throughout the downtown area, built at various times in the 1800s.  Most are only open on the weekends, so Jon and I didn’t get to tour the inside of any of them, but we were able to check out the outside of the Custom House, the Pacific House (which contains the museum) and the Cooper-Molera Adobe.  The Custom House is the first government building in California, built in 1827, and it is the First California Historic Landmark!

Monterey Custom House - Built 1827 - Adobe Architectural Style

Monterey Custom House – Built 1827 – Adobe Architectural Style

We were able to stop in at the Cooper-Molera Adobe garden and gift shop.  They have one room of the home open daily, so you can get a little of the feel of the home.  One of the outbuildings contains information on the families that lived there. This adobe was built in 1823 by Captain John Rogers Cooper, a New Englander who sailed to Monterey on a trading mission.  He met and married a member of one of California’s most well-connected Mexican families.  After John Rogers Cooper’s death, he left the home and property to his wife, and it was eventually passed down to Cooper’s granddaughter Frances Molera.

Upon Frances Molera’s death in 1968, the property was willed to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, who leases it to the California Park System.  It has been restored and furnished with period furnishings left by the family.  The room that we were able to visit contained several beautiful pieces from the late 19th century – it would be interesting to see the rest of the home!

Historic Barn at the Cooper-Molera Adobe

Historic Barn at the Cooper-Molera Adobe

Well at the Cooper-Molera Adobe

Well at the Cooper-Molera Adobe

At the Cooper-Molera Adobe (or the other Monterey SHP buildings when they are open) you can pick up a brochure detailing a walking tour around town showing the locations of the twelve buildings of the Monterey State Historic Park, as well as several other historic buildings (55 in all) in Monterey.  The route is about two miles, and there are little medallions embedded into the sidewalk that show the route.  Touring these homes and buildings will certainly be on my list for my next trip to Monterey!

California Road Trip: Alcatraz Island Federal Penitentiary

In my last post, I explored the history of Alcatraz Island prior to its time as a federal maximum security prison.  But no visit to The Rock would be complete without seeing the prison building.  The cell block that visitors see today was constructed between 1909 and 1912, and became home to federal prisoners in 1933 when the Army Fortress was deactivated and transferred to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

Alcatraz Island Penitentiary Sign

Alcatraz Island Penitentiary Sign

When you visit, you receive an audio tour (available in several languages) with headphones to wander around the prison and hear about the various areas of the prison. The audio tour also gives you information about some of the prisoners that were housed at Alcatraz, their daily lives in captivity, and details about the building itself.  The tour is narrated by several of the former guards and inmates, and informational posters give you some details on these men.

A Few of the General Population Cells

A Few of the General Population Cells

Me During My Incarceration

Me During My Incarceration

The prison had over 600 cells during its military prison days, but during its time as a federal prison there were 336 regular cells, 36 segregation cells and 6 solitary confinement cells in use. The rest were used as storage. The regular cells were 9 ft. by 5 ft.; smaller than the segregation cells which were 9 ft. by 7 ft.  The general population lived in cells along two main corridors, and there were 3 stories of cells looking out onto each corridor.  At one end was a gun gallery where guards had a clear view of the corridors and the fronts of the cells.

One of the General Population Cells at Alcatraz - 5 Feet by 9 Feet

One of the General Population Cells at Alcatraz – 5 Feet by 9 Feet

We got to see “The Hole” – the solitary confinement cells where prisoners were housed when they got unruly. In the hole, you were alone and confined in the dark for 24 hours each day – no exercise, no entertainment, no nothing.  You didn’t even get a toilet or a sink – just a hole in the floor – YUCK…  It was different than I expected though – I thought those cells would be in a basement or dungeon. Instead, they were right on the main floor with all the other cells – it only got dreary once they put you in that room and closed the window in the door.

The tour doesn’t talk about this, but legend has it that a malevolent presence with glowing red eyes terrorized prisoners in “The Hole” – supposedly one man screamed throughout the night about this entity, but when guards checked to see if he was alone they found nothing with him. However, in the morning the man had stopped screaming and was found dead, with hand marks around his neck. Guards are said to have counted an extra inmate that morning at role call; the dead man was seen in the lineup and then disappeared.

"The Hole" Cells in Cell Block D - the Treatment Unit.  No Inmate Could Be Assigned to The Hole for More Than 19 Days

“The Hole” Cells in Cell Block D – the Treatment Unit. No Inmate Could Be Assigned to The Hole for More Than 19 Days

And of course, the tour details the escape attempts. During the life of the federal prison, there were 14 escape attempts involving 36 prisoners. Of these prisoners; 23 were recaptured, 6 were shot and killed, 2 drowned and 5 are missing and presumed dead.  Three of these men dug out of their cells using homemade tools and spoons, climbed up the pipes through the utility corridors to the roof, made it down to the ground, and set out in homemade rafts and were never seen nor heard from again.

The Cell that John Anglin Dug Out of in 1962.  He Made it Off the Island, But Was Never Heard From Again, and Presumed Drowned.

The Cell that John Anglin Dug Out of in 1962. He Made it Off the Island, But Was Never Heard From Again, and Presumed Drowned.

The most famous of the escape attempts is called the Battle of Alcatraz, and it occurred in 1946.  A group of 6 prisoners (there were 3 ringleaders), managed to overpower a guard while he was searching an inmate who was returning to his cell.  They then used a homemade bar spreader to spread the bars that protected the gun gallery (the thinnest inmate starved himself so he could fit between the bars).  At this point, they were armed and thought they had the keys to let themselves out.  However, a brave guard had handed over all the keys, except the one they needed.  He had hidden that one key in the toilet of the cell where he was being held hostage.  They were trapped.

The Actual Bars and Bar Spreader From the Battle of Alcatraz in 1946

The Actual Bars and Bar Spreader From the Battle of Alcatraz in 1946

Meanwhile, other guards were returning to the cell block from duties guarding the prisoners working during the day, and they were captured one by one as they returned.  When they didn’t check in, another guard was sent to check… and another… and another…  After some time, the inmates had nine guards held hostage.  The inmates were frustrated at this point because without the key to the door, there was no escape, so they decided to kill the guards who could testify against them.  They fired into the cells were the guards were being held.  Five were wounded, three seriously, and one guard, Bill Miller, later died of his wounds.  At that point, 3 of the inmates figured they should distance themselves from the situation and returned to their cells; the other three decided they wouldn’t surrender.  They got up on top of the cell block to fight it out.

The other guards had figured out what was going on by this point, and entered the gun gallery – a massive firefight occurred – one guard was killed and four others were wounded.  Prison officials then cut the electricity and waited for night to fall.  Guards went back into the gun gallery to provide cover for several other guards who entered the cell block unarmed in order to free the captive guards.  The guards in the gun gallery couldn’t get a clean shot at the inmates perched on top of the cell block though, so after the captive guards were freed and evacuated, they called in some heavier firepower – The Marines.  The Marines shelled the prison, and drilled holes in the roof and dropped grenades in to corner the inmates.  They were eventually trapped in a utility corridor.

The Gun Gallery at the End of the Cell Block - Where Armed Guards Kept an Eye on Inmates

The Gun Gallery at the End of the Cell Block – Where Armed Guards Kept an Eye on Inmates

The Marines entered the building and fired into the utility corridor at intervals throughout the day – the three inmates were killed in the corridor.  The three other inmates who had returned to their cells had been identified by the guards, and were tried for their roles in the escape attempt and the murder of the two guards – two were executed and the third received an additional life sentence.  As a result of the Battle of Alcatraz, security was increased and there was not another escape attempt until 1956.

The prison was closed in 1963, because operating costs on Alcatraz were more than three times what it cost at other federal prisons in the country (more than $10 per prisoner per day vs. $3 elsewhere).  Additionally, residents of San Francisco were becoming increasingly frustrated with the sewage being discharged in the bay from the prisoners and the guards and families that lived there. The last prisoners were moved to other correctional facilities around the country.

All in all, Alcatraz is a very lonely place.  Inmates in the early years were not allowed to talk, and throughout the prison years, inmates could have one visit from family once a month.  Inmates typically worked during the day, but outside of work, inmates were only allowed one hour each day of recreation.  The day we were there, it was very cold, and that was on an unseasonably warm, sunny March day in San Francisco.  It must have been brutally cold there in winter.  During the history of the federal prison, 15 prisoners died of natural causes, 5 committed suicide and 8 were murdered. 3 guards were also murdered during escape attempts.

Even though there are tons of people everywhere inside the prison, the tour is pretty good at moving you through efficiently, so it isn’t as claustrophobic as you might imagine. Jon is frequently annoyed around crowds, and Alcatraz didn’t bother him at all. And of course the other areas of the island are not crowded at all, because people really just want to see the prison.  We really enjoyed our visit and it was well worth getting up so early in the morning.  If you have the opportunity – GO!  But do buy your tickets online, well before your visit!

California Road Trip: The History of Alcatraz Island

On our full day in San Francisco, we started out by getting up really early to go to Alcatraz Island.  I was really looking forward to this part of the trip, and it almost didn’t happen.  You see, I looked at the website, and it told me that during the peak season, tickets could sell out a week in advance.  No worries, I thought – we were going in March.  On a weekday.  But I didn’t know quite which days we would be in San Francisco and what else we would be doing there.

So, when I went to book the tickets, they were sold out…  For the next nine days…  I was really bummed!  But I did some sleuthing and found some internet rumors that you could purchase same day tickets on a walk-up basis for the first boat each day.  You had to get in line early, because they were first-come, first-served.  Once the 40 or 50 tickets were sold, the rest of the people in line were out of luck.

Luckily, Jon loves me, and agreed to get up super-early to get in line for the Black Friday of Alcatraz Island tickets.  Since we were walking, we had to head out from the hotel for the 1.7 mile walk to the pier – at 6:00 am!  How’s that for nerdly dedication!  The ticket booth opened at 7:30, and we got there at 6:40 – we were the second couple in line, behind a dental student from Los Angeles and his wife (they were friendly and we had a lot of time to chat).  The internet rumors were true, and they did have the promised holy grail of walk-up tickets.  So, we had tickets on the first ferry to go out to the island at 8:45 am, but you have to get ready to board the boat at 8:20 am.

We got on the boat with about 150 of our closest friends and headed out.  The trip over to the island was nice; we got some good views of the city and I was able to get some good photos. It was pretty cold though – San Francisco was warm that day – about 65 in the afternoon, but I had to wear my winter coat, gloves and hat during the trip (granted it didn’t help that we had been standing around in the cold for a couple of hours at that point).  Alcatraz is about 1.5 miles out from the mainland, so it didn’t take long and the ride was pretty smooth.

San Francisco from the Alcatraz Ferry

San Francisco from the Alcatraz Ferry

I’m sure that you all know that Alcatraz was a federal prison for thirty years, from 1933 to 1963. But you may not know that Alcatraz has a history that extends much further back. Alcatraz was first formed when it pushed up into the Bay about 10,000 years ago.  The local Indians believed that the island was cursed, but there is some evidence that they traveled out to the island to collect bird eggs. Spanish explorers first “discovered” it in 1775 and named it La Isla de los Alcatraces (the island of the pelicans). The Spanish built a few buildings on the island but didn’t do much else with it. The Americans purchased the island in 1850 and set about creating a military garrison post there; in order to shore up the coastal defenses protecting San Francisco.

The U.S. Government also decided that it would be a good place for a lighthouse to guide ships into San Francisco Bay. So Alcatraz Island became home to the first lighthouse on the West Coast of the United States in 1854.  The original lighthouse was built with a third order Fresnel Lens.  The first keeper was paid $750 a year – barely enough to cover his food.  Unsurprisingly, he was dismissed because he was absent for long periods from the lighthouse – probably because he had a second job…

The lighthouse currently on the island replaced the original lighthouse in 1909, because when the Army decided to build the current cell house structure, it became apparent that the original lighthouse would not be tall enough to be seen over the structure and the buildings and sheds were considered unsightly.  The current lighthouse is 84 feet tall and constructed from cement.  It was automated in 1963, and is still in use today, operated by the U.S. Coast Guard.

The Warden's House Ruin and the Lighthouse on Alcatraz Island

The Warden’s House Ruin and the Lighthouse on Alcatraz Island

While the first lighthouse was being constructed, building was also going on for the military garrison. Eventually the garrison would house about 200 men.  During the Civil War, Alcatraz was used to house war prisoners, which was its first use as a prison. During this period, building continued, and by the end of the Civil War, they realized that the defensive technology being utilized at Alcatraz was largely being rendered obsolete by new advances. It was at that point that officials decided to change the focus of Alcatraz from a defensive structure to a detention site. A brick jailhouse was built in 1867, and the island began being used as a long-term detention center for military prisoners in 1868 (confederates caught on the west coast were among the first military prisoners housed there). It just grew from there.

Alcatraz Island - Buildings (L to R): Lighthouse, Warden's House Ruin, Cell Block Building, Barracks/Apartments

Alcatraz Island – Buildings (L to R): Lighthouse, Warden’s House Ruin, Cell Block Building, Barracks/Apartments

The Spanish-American War gave the island a whole new crop of military prisoners, expanding the population to about 450. The 1906 earthquake generated the first batch of civilian prisoners, when prisoners from the mainland were transferred there after the earthquake to ensure that they would not escape. During World War I, conscientious objectors were imprisoned at Alcatraz.

Alcatraz Island  - The Cell Block Building is in the Upper Left

Alcatraz Island – The Cell Block Building is in the Upper Left

The Island contains several buildings from before the federal prison era  – some are still intact and some are in ruins.  The original brick barracks, built in the 1860s, were added onto in 1905, resulting in the structure that is seen today right next to the dock.  During the prison era, the soldiers’ barracks were remodeled into apartments for the guards and their families.    The Chapel was built in the 1920s, but despite its name, it wasn’t used as a chapel.  Instead, it was living space for single officers and workshops.  The Post Exchange/Officers Club was built in 1910, and was a general store where soldiers could buy goods.  During the prison era, it functioned as a recreation hall with a dance hall and bowling alley.

Military Chapel Building - Built 1910 - Mission Revival Architectural Style

Military Chapel Building – Built 1910 – Mission Revival Architectural Style

Sadly, the Post Exchange, Warden’s House and the Lighthouse Keeper’s Quarters were burned in a 1970 fire during the Indian Occupation of the Island.  The light tower was also damaged by the fire.  There is still some dispute about the cause of the fire; the official story is that it was accidental.  I do find it curious though, because the Post Exchange isn’t near the Warden’s House and Lighthouse; and the Military Chapel is in between and it didn’t burn.

I really enjoyed wandering around the island and checking out the ruined structures; and we hadn’t even been inside the prison yet!  I’ll post about that next!

And on to Sonoma Valley

The next day of our wine tour we decided to go to the Sonoma Valley, which is just southwest of Napa Valley.  Napa focuses on Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, where Sonoma focuses more on Pinot Noir and Zinfandel.  We decided to make our first stop Cline Cellars.  We tried a Cline Syrah from the grocery store on our first night, and we were so impressed that we had to make a visit.  They have very reasonably priced wines, starting at $11 a bottle.  We stopped by at 10:30 on a Tuesday morning, and this place was hopping!  There were already almost a dozen people tasting, including a local character who had the whole tasting room laughing.  Our server, Rene, was excellent – personable, down to earth and he knew a lot of the wines.   I did stump him though, when I asked questions about one of the rare varietals.  I liked that he admitted he didn’t know the answer, instead of trying to pretend.  And then he pulled out an awesome book with every grape varietal known to man!  Their Syrahs were good, their Zinfandels were very good, and Jon and I both enjoyed their Mourvedre and Carignan (a varietal that I have not heard of before).

Cline Cellars

After our tasting, we enjoyed a picnic lunch at their picnic table with wine, cheese and pepperoni that they also sell onsite.  We toured the grounds, which included a fishpond complete with turtles and frogs, and two mini-donkeys that the kids can feed carrots.  And to top it all off, they own replica models of the 21 California missions.  These models were made for the 1939 World’s Fair using the original blueprints for the missions.  It seems that when they were going to be auctioned off piecemeal, Cline’s owner bought them all, and then built a museum on the grounds to display them.  They were very cool – an unexpected treat.  We will certainly be back again!

After Cline, we went across the street to Jacuzzi Winery.  They are owned by the same family, but while Cline focuses on Zins and Syrahs, Jacuzzi focuses on the Italian varietals, some of which I had never even heard of.  They did have some good wines, but unfortunately, the experience we had there didn’t make their wines worth it.  Our server barely looked at us, and when I asked him which he thought were the best wines to taste (you get to choose 5 from the list), he informed me, “I can’t tell you what you’ll like.”  Well, duh, but surely you can tell us which ones are your best wines.  It irked me, because any winery that doesn’t specialize is going to have some that are better than others.  The snooty server also said, “I won’t tell you that our wines are better than Cline wines, but they are.”  Wow, selling out your own partner winery just isn’t cool.  That said, we liked their Pinot Noir, and their Dolcetto, but left without buying anything.  We tried to taste their olive oils, but it was so busy and crowded there, we gave up.  All in all, I thought Jacuzzi was a dud.

After Jacuzzi, we went into Sonoma’s downtown for a bit, and toured the Sonoma Mission.  It was the last mission built in the string of 21 California missions, founded in 1823.  It was only a religious mission for 11 years.  In 1834, the Mexican government secularized the missions and put General Vallejo in charge of Sonoma.  He founded the town on Sonoma around the mission, and they used the mission as a parish church for a time while the mission started to fall into disrepair.  It was mostly crumbled after the 1906 earthquake.  Fortunately, they started restoration in 1909, and the mission became a museum in 1913.  It is one of two missions that are part of the California Park System.  It is a neat mission and well worth the $3 fee, and is easily toured in about 20 minutes, unless you want to watch the 20 minute video.  You can also see the Barracks, and General Vallejo’s home.

It is certainly worth the visit – it is interesting to imagine what life was like during the period.