HANGAR SURVIVES BULLDOZER
by Nancy Allison Wright
Try locating an genuine U.S. Air Mail Service
hangar anywhere along the old transcontinental route, and you
ll meet disappointment at every turn. You ll discover that material
signs of aviation s golden age have gone the way of the dodo
bird and the passenger pigeon; sadly replaced by shopping centers,
strip malls and parking lots.
Only last year -- as reported in AMP News
spring 2000 -- the Bryan, Ohio airmail hangar was reduced to
rubble. A shortsighted owner could see no reason to retain the
Yet one hangar has survived the onslaught
the airmail hangar at Crissy Field in San Francisco.
It stands perched but empty at its original
site, the extreme east end of Crissy Field in San Francisco
s Presidio. Beautifully located, it looks across the bay to
the Golden Gate Bridge.
First Crissy Field Air Mail hangar
When the Post Office scouted for a suitable
landing field in San Francisco, none presented better possibilities
than the Army Air Service airport, then called the Flying Field
at the Presidio.
Major Henry "Hap" Arnold led the successful
effort to change the name to Crissy Field in honor of Major
Dana H. Crissy, who crashed and died in October 1919 in a de
Havilland 4-B during an Air Service transcontinental reliability
Under the auspices of the Air Mail Service,
San Francisco and Crissy Field gained fame as the site of many
early aviation milestones.
On September 11, 1920, airmail pilot Edison
Mouton, flying the final leg of the first transcontinental
run, landed at San Francisco s Marino Field. (One year later
the Post Office moved from Marino Field to the Army s Crissy
Field.) The date was September 11, at 2:20 p.m. The actual flying
time for the bold experiment, 34 hours and 5 minutes, elapsed
time 75 hours and 52 minutes. Upon landing, Mouton was greeted
by eager dignitaries and a bevy of flashing camera bulbs.
Anticipation gripped San Francisco and the
nation on February 21, 1921, the day of the experimental first
day/night transcontinental. At 4:30 a.m. two planes departed
from New York and two from Crissy Field, piloted by Farr Nutter
and Ray Little. Two and one half hours later, after crossing
the 18,000-foot Sierra Nevada range, Nutter and Little landed
in Reno. Their successful effort, in combination with that of
the other east and westbound pilots, launched Air Mail.
Crissy Field played a major role in trial
night flying. On August 21, 1923, the first day of the four-day
demonstration of the transcontinental service, airmail pilot
Clare K. Vance completed the west-bound flight, landing at Crissy
Field at 6:24 p.m.
In 1928, after the Post Office contracted
airmail routes to private carriers, Crissy Field was turned
into a barracks for ROTC students. By 1941 it had been transformed
into the Army s intelligence language school for training Japanese/American
Today, the school s former students honor
the site as a historical monument. A plaque commemorates the
Japanese/American contribution to WWII as America s first class
of interpreters. An outgrowth of the language school is the
Defense Language Institute, located in Monterrey, CA,
In 1994 Crissy Field came under supervision
of the National Park Service. Its fate now rests in the hands
of the Presidio Trust.
Aviation history buffs and journalists who
troop to the site will see no acknowledgment of the hangar s
humble origins. No sign at its entrance indicates that it was
once used to house U.S. Air Mail Service aircraft.
This is not the case for other Crissy Field
buildings. The Crissy Field Aviation Museum Association has
undertaken an extensive restoration/preservation project to
preserve, what they call, "the long and rich history of aviation
at Crissy Field."
They plan to turn the Park Service site into
a waterfront showpiece, featuring a museum, offices, gift shop,
extensive grass area, picnic facilities and large parking lot.
The DH-4 that Major Crissy was flying when
he crashed is now being reconstructed and will highlight the
new exhibition site.
Your editor conferred by phone yesterday with
a well-known San Francisco architect named Gerald Takano. He
heads an organization whose goal is to renovate and preserve
the Crissy hangar. You may wonder why.
Takano and his group want to turn the building
into an interpretive center, complete with photos and text,
honoring its ultimate occupant the Japanese/American language
He was unaware of the building s origin as
an U. S. Air Mail Service hangar. After I told him why the building
was built in the first place, he enthusiastically proposed that
AMP join his lobbying and fund-raising efforts.
In your editor s opinion, Crissy Field offers
a rare opportunity to create a physical memorial to the Air
Mail Service. I accepted his offer with pleasure.
As the plan stands, once we secure rights
to the property, photographs and text will trace the building
s history from its Air Mail days to its WWII Army past and finally
its use as the Japanese/American school.
Takano submitted a formal proposal but doesn
t expect to hear from the Presidio Trust until late in the summer.