Angel Island (California)

Angel Island (California)
Angel Island

Angel Island
Location San Francisco Bay
Coordinates 37°52′N 122°26′W / 37.86°N 122.43°W / 37.86; -122.43Coordinates: 37°52′N 122°26′W / 37.86°N 122.43°W / 37.86; -122.43
Area 1.2 sq mi (3.1 km2)
Highest elevation 788 ft (240.2 m)
Highest point Mount Caroline Livermore
United States
State California
County Marin County
San Francisco County
Population 57
Density 18.35 /km2 (47.53 /sq mi)

Angel Island is an island in San Francisco Bay that offers expansive views of the San Francisco skyline, the Marin County Headlands and Mount Tamalpais. The entire island is included within Angel Island State Park, and is administered by California State Parks. It has been used for a variety of purposes, including military forts and immigration centers. The Immigration Station on the northeast corner of the island processed approximately one million immigrants and has been designated a National Historic Landmark.[1]



Port of Angel Island

The highest point on the island, almost exactly at its center, is Mount Caroline Livermore at a height of 788 feet (240 m). The island is almost entirely in Marin County, California, although, there is a small sliver (0.7%) at the eastern end of it (Fort McDowell) which extends into the territory of San Francisco County. The island is separated from the mainland of Marin County by Raccoon Strait. The United States Census Bureau reported a land area of 3.107 km² (1.2 sq mi) and a population of 57 persons as of the 2000 census.[2]


Ayala Cove, on the north side of Angel Island.
Angel Island as seen from Tiburon.
San Francisco skyline & Alcatraz from Angel Island

Until about ten thousand years ago, Angel Island was connected to the mainland; it was cut off by the rise in sea levels due to the end of the last ice age. From about two thousand years ago the island was a fishing and hunting site for Coast Miwok Native Americans. Similar evidence of Native American settlement is found on the nearby mainland of the Tiburon Peninsula upon Ring Mountain.[3] In 1775, the Spanish naval vessel San Carlos made the first European entry to the San Francisco Bay under the command of Juan de Ayala. Ayala anchored off Angel Island, and gave it its modern name (Isla de los Angeles); the bay where he anchored is now known as Ayala Cove.

Like much of the California coast, Angel Island was subsequently used for cattle ranching. In 1863, during the American Civil War, the U.S. Army established a camp on the island (now known as Camp Reynolds or the West Garrison), and it subsequently became an infantry garrison during the US campaigns against Native American peoples in the West.[4]

Fort McDowell

In the later nineteenth century, the army designated the entire island as "Fort McDowell" and developed further facilities there, including what is now called the East Garrison or Camp McDowell. A quarantine station was opened in Ayala Cove (which at the time was known as Hospital Cove) in 1891. During the Spanish–American War the island served as a discharge depot for returning troops. It continued to serve as a transit station throughout the first half of the twentieth century, with troops engaged in World War I embarking and returning there.

During World War II the need for troops in the Pacific far exceeded prior needs. The facilities on Angel Island were expanded and further processing was done at Fort Mason in San Francisco. Prior to the war the infrastructure had been expanded including building the Army ferry General Frank M. Coxe, which transported troops to and from Angel Island on a regular schedule.

Japanese and German POWs were also held on the island, supplanting the immigration needs which were curtailed during the war years.

The army decommissioned the island in 1946, but returned to the southern point in the 1950s when a Nike missile base was constructed. However, this was decommissioned as obsolete in 1962.

Immigration station

Camp Reynolds (West Garrison) on Angel Island.

From 1910 to 1940, the Angel Island Immigration Station processed approximately 1 million Asian immigrants entering into the US, leading to it sometimes being referred to as "The Ellis Island of the West". Due to the restrictions of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, many immigrants spent years on the island, waiting for entry. A fire destroyed the administration building in 1940, and subsequent immigration processing took place in San Francisco.

In 1962, the Chinese American community successfully lobbied the State of California to designate the immigration station as a State Landmark. Today, the Angel Island Immigration Station is a federally designated National Historic Landmark. It was renovated by the California State Parks,with a re-opening February 16, 2009.

Modern use

Aerial view of Angel Island

In 1938, hearings concerning charges of membership in a proscribed political party against labor leader Harry Bridges were held on Angel Island before Dean James Landis of Harvard Law School. After eleven weeks of testimony that filled nearly 8,000 pages, Landis found in favor of Bridges. The decision was accepted by the United States Department of Labor and Bridges was freed.[citation needed]

In 1954, the State Park Commission authorized California State Parks to purchase 37 acres (15 ha) around Ayala Cove, marking the birth of Angel Island State Park. Additional acreage was purchased four years later, in 1958. The last federal Department of Defense personnel withdrew in 1962, turning over the entire island as a state park in December of the same year.

There is one active United States Coast Guard lighthouse on the island at Point Blunt. The lighthouse at Point Stuart has been disestablished.

2008 fire

The fire at about 7 a.m. on October 13, 2008
A helicopter, faintly visible amid smoke near center of image, drops water on the wildfire in the morning on October 13, 2008.

On October 12, 2008 at approximately 9:00 p.m. PDT, a fire visible from all around the San Francisco Bay broke out on the island that spread to an estimated 100 acres (40 ha) within an hour.[5] By 8:00 a.m. the next morning, the fire had scorched 250 acres (100 ha) – a third of the island – and was 20 percent contained.

Firefighters were ferried from the mainland and helicopters dropped water and fire retardants to protect the historical buildings and extinguish the fire that was fully contained by October 14, 2008 at approximately 7:00 p.m.[6]

Root and branch extirpation of non-native flora is underway in an effort to restore the original oak woodland and grassland biome. Prior to the introduction of the relatively flammable eucalyptus, the only fires recorded were on building structures. Since then, there have been several other fires including one in 2005 that burned 25 acres (10 ha), and a smaller 2–3-acre blaze in 2004.[7]


Access to the island is by private boat or public ferry from San Francisco, Tiburon or Vallejo. Ferry services are reduced during the winter.

Bicycles can be brought to the island on the ferry and used on the island's main roads. Bikes and Segways can also be rented. Dogs are not allowed. Roller skates and skateboards are prohibited. No wood fires are allowed but there are designated barbecue and picnic areas available to use. A few campsites are also available for reservation. Night travel on the island is prohibited in some areas for reasons of park security and public safety.

See also


  1. ^ The National Register of Historic Places (Thursday, 16 August 2007). "Celebrating Asian Heritage". National Park Service. Retrieved 11 June 2010. 
  2. ^ "Detailed Tables: Block Group 3, Census Tract 1242, Marin County; and Block 1068, Block Group 1, Census Tract 179.02, San Francisco County". American FactFinder. United States Census Bureau. 2000. Retrieved 11 June 2010. 
  3. ^ C. Michael Hogan (2008). "Ring Mountain - Carving in United States in The West". The Megalithic Portal. Retrieved 11 June 2010. 
  4. ^ John Soennichsen (Sunday, 13 January 2008). "Historic California Posts: Fort McDowell (Camp Reynolds, Post of Angel Island)". The California State Military Museum. Retrieved 11 June 2010. 
  5. ^ Adam Jackson (Monday, 13 October 2008). "Angel Island San Francisco on Fire! (links)". Adam and Laura Go West. Retrieved 11 June 2010. 
  6. ^ Demian Bulwa; Kevin Fagan; Jim Doyle (Tuesday, 14 October 2008). "Wildfire transforms Angel Island". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 11 June 2010. 
  7. ^ Mark Prado; Jennifer Upshaw (Monday, 13 October 2008). "All-out attack as firefighters work to save Angel Island". The Marin Independent Journal. Retrieved 11 June 2010. 

Further reading

  • Lai, Him Mark; Lim, Genny; Yung, Judy (1980). Island: Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island, 1910-1940. Seattle: University of Washington. ISBN 0295971096. 
  • Soennichsen, John (2005). Miwoks to Missiles. Tiburon, California: Angel Island Association. ISBN 0966735226. 

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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