Hamilton Army Air Field Discontiguous Historic District

Aerial view of a World War II air base.
Hamilton Army Air Field Discontiguous Historic District

By United States Geological Survey,

Quick Facts

Hamilton Army Airfield, in Novato, California, was built as a bombardment base and the headquarters for the 1st Wing of the Army Air Corps, one of only three bases established for this purpose nationally. The base was utilized for the defense of the western section of the country until 1940. Hamilton Field played a significant role during World War II in training and national defense by serving as an overseas staging area, acting as one of three major bases of the West Coast wing of the Air Transport Command's Pacific Division and for its role in the Operational Training Unit Program. Construction of Hamilton Airfield commenced on July 1, 1932, with the majority of first phase construction completed by 1935.

In a tragic case of mistaken identity, on the morning of December 7, 1941, a squadron of B-17s inbound from Hamilton was mistaken for Japanese attack waves and several were shot down as they attempted to land at Oahu's Hickman Field. For the duration of the war, the Fourth Fighter Command flew regional patrols for coast defense and closely monitored heavy air and naval traffic throughout the bay from the base's situation room. Hamilton's strategic location in the Bay Area was an ideal point of departure for Pacific-bound air troops, and for the majority of the war Hamilton was designated the official point of departure for bombardment air units bound for the Pacific. After November 1943, Hamilton was responsible for processing heavy bombing aircraft and crews for overseas combat. The arrival of all these transients at Hamilton created critical housing problems. To accommodate the transient crews, temporary housing was constructed all over the base.

After the base's contributions in WWII the base was reassigned several times until buildings and land were transferred to the Navy, Army and Coast Guard. Now deactivated, Hamilton Field, now called Hamiltown, has been redeveloped into a variety of mixed-use commercial and residential projects. Architecturally, Hamilton Airfield is significant for its deviation in form and style from other airfields heretofore in existence. The development of the base as a planned community was an innovative approach in construction of Army bases which had only been adopted in the mid-1920s. Hamilton Field represented a growing trend in construction that reflected the climate, topography and history of the region in the architectural style of the base. Hence, the airfield was designed in the Spanish Eclectic style, with buildings of hollow tile or reinforced concrete construction, stucco exteriors and Mission tile roofs. Much of the old Spanish Mission Revival architecture has been preserved, including housing, barracks and hangars, as well as the base hospital, firehouse and theater. Built in 1932, the old firehouse is undergoing renovation to house the Hamilton Field History Museum, scheduled to open in 2006. The 350-seat Hamilton Theater is slated for transfer to the City of Novato, but as yet there are no plans for its reuse.

Hamilton Army Air Field Discontiguous Historic District is located primarily on the southwest part of Hamilton Army Air Field in Novato. The community is accessible from the Alameda de la Loma and Bell Marin Keys Blvd. exits from Hwy. 101. Much of deactivated base was transferred to the city, and Hamilton Field is now a residential community, Hamiltown. For further information, please visit the community's website

Discover more history and culture by visiting the World War II in San Francisco Bay Area travel itinerary.

Last updated: September 15, 2020