Sunday, August 02, 2009

California Collision: Angel Island

Even highly visited tourism destinations such as San Fransisco have overlooked gems. Such is the case with the island north of Alcatraz, Angel Island. We hadn't planned on visiting it, but when the only ferry trip to the former prison-island that wasn't sold out included a stop at Angel Island, we immediately snapped up three tickets, which included a tram tour of San Francisco Bay's largest island.

In my post "San Francisco and the military," I wrote, "Perhaps more than any large city, San Francisco's ties to the military are deep."

Solidifying my point: After California became a state, most of Angel Island was used for cattle ranching. But to assist in defending San Francisco from a Confederate attack, one that never came, the army established Camp Reynolds, pictured on the right, in 1863.

At the turn of the last century, Fort McDowell was established on the east side of the island, some distance from Camp Reynolds. Pictured on the left is where the officers were housed. Eventually Fort McDowell took over the island.

Well not entirely. A mile away from Fort McDowell was the Angel Island Immigration Station. One million immigrants, most of them from Asia, were processed there. Processed, but not necessarily admitted into the United States. Beginning with the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, Chinese, then all Asians, were barred from legally entering the America.

There were a few exceptions. For instance, Asians born in the US and children whose fathers who were US citizens were allowed to return. Easy? No. San Francisco's vital records were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire, and interviewers gave returnees tough questions designed to trip them up. Such as "How many stairs are there on the front porch of your father's home in Chinatown?" When writing relatives, people usually don't include such mundane information.

On the right is the Immigration Station Administration Building, which has recently been restored.

Adjacent to the immigration station was an unusual World War II prisoner of war camp that held Italians, Germans, and Japanese.

After World War II ended, the military didn't view Angel Island as necessary for the defense of our country, with the exception of a Nike missile base near the Fort McDowell complex. The base was dismantled in 1962 and the island became a California State Park that same year.

I didn't see them, but there are two Coast Guard station on Angel Island.

Last year there was a major fire on the island, it consumed 20 percent of Angel, but I saw no evidence of the blaze during our tram tour. Click here for some amazing photos of the fire taken by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Like the San Francisco peninsula, the shoreline of Angel Island is pretty rocky, except for the patch of sand pictured on the left.

But who comes to San Francisco to swim? Well, if you are desperate enough, you might feel compelled to brave the chilly waters and deadly currents of the bay.

Next: Alcatraz

Earlier posts:

San Francisco's Chinatown
Fisherman's Wharf
Harvey Milk's Camera Shop
San Francisco's Union Square
The Painted Ladies
San Francisco and the military
Mission San Francisco de Asís
San Francisco's sea lions
San Francisco's blues mural
San Francisco: Cable cars
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