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Angel Island is an island in San Francisco Baymarker that offers expansive views of the San Franciscomarker skyline, the Marin Countymarker Headlands and Mount Tamalpaismarker. 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 Stationmarker on the northeast corner of the island processed approximately one million Asian immigrants and has been designated a National Historic Landmark.


The highest point on the island, almost exactly at its center, is Mount Caroline Livermore at 788 feet (240 m). The island is almost entirely in Marin County, Californiamarker, although, there is a small sliver (0.7%) at the eastern end of it (Fort McDowell) which extends into the territory of San Francisco Countymarker. The island is separated from the mainland of Marin County by Raccoon Straitmarker. 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.


Angel Island as seen from Tiburon.
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 Mountainmarker. In 1775, the Spanishmarker naval vessel 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 ( ); 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.

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 (then 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.marker Coxemarker, which transported troops to and from Angel Island on a regular schedule.

Japanesemarker and Germanmarker 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

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 Schoolmarker. 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 Labormarker and Bridges was freed.

In 1954, the State Park Commission authorized California State Parks to purchase 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 Defensemarker personnel withdrew in 1962, turning over the entire island as a state park in December of the same year.

There are two active United States Coast Guard lighthouses on the island, one at Point Bluntmarker and the other at Point Stuart.


The state of the fire about 10 p.m. on October 12, 2008 (picture taken from the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco)
The fire at about 7 a.m. on October 13, 2008

On October 12, 2008, a large fire broke out on the island, starting at approximately 9 p.m. PDT. The fire was visible from all around the San Francisco Bay.By 10 p.m., the fire was still going and engulfed an estimated . By 8:00 a.m. on October 13, the fire had scorched  — a third of the island — and was at 20% containment. Firefighters ferried over from the mainland were protecting the historical buildings. Helicopters began to drop water and fire retardants beginning at dawn. The fire was contained on October 14, 2008 at around 7 p.m.

Extirpation (root and branch) of the non-native Eucalyptus trees is underway in an effort to restore the original oak woodland and grassland biome. Prior to the removal of the eucalyptus, the only recorded fires were structural. However, since then, there have been two fires; one in 2008 described above, and an earlier one in 2006.


Access to the island is by private boat or public ferry from San Franciscomarker, Tiburonmarker or Vallejomarker. Ferry service is 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


Further reading

  • Him Mark Lai, Genny Lim, and Judy Yung, Island: Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island, 1910-1940, 1980. ISBN 0-295-97109-6.

External links

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