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  • Presidio Army MuseumPresidio Army Museum San Francisco, California
    The Presidio of San Francisco, at first called El Presidio Real de San Francisco or Royal Presidio of San Francisco is located on the northern end of the San Francisco peninsula in San Francisco, California and sits in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The location has been a fort since 1776, when the Spanish made it their military hub for expanding into the region. It became part of Mexico, then the United States in 1847. Congress voted to close the Presidio in 1989 as part of its military reduction program, but in 1994, ownership was given to the National Park Service, which thereby ended 219 years of military usage and started another phase, that of mixed commercial and public use lands. The Presidion Trust was started in 1996, to handle 80% of the park lands, while the National Park Service would take care of the other 20%. The Congress also mandated that the Presidio Trust must become completely self-sufficient by 2013, but it was able to do it 8 years early. It is a marvelous park with woods, hills and beautiful scenic views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay. It was made a National Historic Landmark in 1962 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places list in 1966. The Presidio Visitor Centers are found at the Presidio Visitor Center, Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary Visitor Center, Fort Point and Battery Chamberlain. The Presidio was a Spanish fort first, sited by Juan Bautista de Anza in 1776, and built by a group of men led by Jose Joaquin Moraga later that year. By 1783, the garrison numbered only 33 men.  The US army seized the Presidio in 1846, and reopened it in 1848, eventually becoming home to many army headquarters and units, with the final one being the US 6th Army. A few famous generals were stationed here that included; John Pershing, William Sherman and George Henry Thomas. For 218 years, the Presidio was an army post for three countries; while local and world events, from military campaigns to the growth of aviation, World Fairs to earthquakes and more have left a mark on this prestigious post. Here you can visit the last cemetery in the city, one that is national in scope, a historic airfield, woods, beaches and fantastic views. The museum houses many exhibitions that contain relics and various documents that show how the military helped the city of San Francisco grow. 

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  • AlcatrazAlcatraz San Francisco, California
    Alcatraz is an island sitting in San Francisco Bay, a mile and a half from shore from San Francisco, California and often called the Rock. It was an early lighthouse, then a military installation, military prison and finally a Federal Bureau of Prisons prison until 1963. In 1972, it became a national recreation site and was designated a landmark in 1976 and 1986. This historical site is maintained by the National Park Service, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and open for tours. You can get to the island by ferry, from Pier 33, by Fisherman's Wharf. In 2008, the country's first hybrid propulsion ferry started taking passengers back and forth from the island. The Rock has been featured in numerous TV show, movies, books, comics, games and cartoons. The earliest recorded owner of the island was Julian Workman, who was given the island by Mexican governor Pio Pico, with the understanding that Julian would build a lighthouse there, in 1846. Later that year, Military Governor of California, John C. Fremont, paid $5000 for it in the name of the United States government from Francis Temple. How Francis came to own the island from Workman is not known, but one of Workman's daughters did marry a Pliny Temple in 1845. In 1850, President Millard Fillmore ordered the island be set aside for military purposes due to the gaining of the state from Mexico after the Mexican-American War. Fremont expected some recompense for his initiative in purchasing the island for the US, but it instead invalidated the sale, which caused Fremont and later, his heirs to continue the battle in court, which proved quite unsuccessful, but did go on until the 1890s. Since the island was isolated from the outside, by strong, cold and dangerous currents in the waters of the bay area, it was used to hold prisoners of the Civil War early in 1861. After the Civil War, the army wanted to use the island for defense, and thought about leveling the landscape of the rock, but by the mid 1870s hadn't done more than make a level parade ground. Abandoning the use of the island for coastal defenses, the army decided the best use of the island would be for detention, so in 1867, a brick jailhouse was built and the next year, it was officially designated a long-term detention facility for military prisoners. In the 1870s, some of those that were held here included Hopi Native Americans. In 1898, the Spanish-American war brought the population from 25 to more than 450. After the 1906 Frisco earthquake, many civilian prisoners were transferred to Alcatraz for safer confinement and by 1912 there was a bigger cellhouse, and in the 1920s a big 3 story structure was almost full. In 1907, it had been made the Western US Military Prison, then the Pacific Branch US Disciplinary Barracks in 1915. The fortress was deactivated as a military prison in 1933 and transferred to the Bureau of Prisons. In World War I, the prison was used to house conscientious objectors, one of whom was Philip Grosser, who later wrote a pamphlet called Uncle Sam's Devil's Island, about his time there. During its 29 year history of being a federal prison, it held such notables as Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud who was known as the Birdman of Alcatraz, George "Machine Gun" Kelly, James "Whitey" Bulger and Alvin Karpis, who became known as the longest serving inmate at the island prison. There was sufficient housing for the prison staff and their families, although it was not the best place to be raising a family, only if it were the last place to get work. During that 29 year period, no one ever escaped, although there were 36 prisoners involved in 14 attempts, two inmates trying twice, 23 caught, six shot and killed and three lost at sea and never found. The most violent attempt was on May 2, 1946, when six prisoners tried to escape and started the Battle of Alcatraz. It is a story well worth reading and by going to the island, should be considered one of the oddest places anyone ever went to for an attraction.

January 11, 2011