Crissy Field, circa 1920s. PARC, GGNRA.
Crissy Field Established in 1921
In 1921, the U.S. Army established the Crissy Field Air Service Coast Defense Station the only military airfield on the west coast specifically built as a coast defense air station. The Crissy Field pilots of the 91st Observation Squadron provided assistance to the on-the-ground Coast Artillery soldiers by flying overhead, spotting and ensuring the batteries’ fire and target practice. The army constructed several airplane hangars, large buildings that offered protected storage space for the planes as well as an assembly area for airplane maintenance. Even though the army chose Crissy Field for its excellent strategic location, the site posed many flying challenges: the notorious San Francisco wind and fog made take-off and landings treacherous and the landing field itself, unsurfaced until the late 1930s, was flooded and muddy during the winter rains and dusty in the summer.
Land and Sea Plane Hangars
The army constructed hangar buildings and other maintenance facility buildings all along the edges of the airstrip. In 1921, they constructed hangar buildings 926 and 937 at the west end of Crissy Field, both large enough to accommodate up to 16 planes at a time. Each of the 17,000 square foot steel and concrete structures had huge, barn-like doors that faced the airstrip and a long monitor window that ran the length of the building, providing natural light. The soldiers would pull the giant doors, tracked on strong metal pulleys, in the open position to allow for the airplanes to motor inside, out of the elements. Building 926 was designated as a Landplane Hangar and housed De Havillands, Curtiss JNS-I “Jenny” training planes and Douglas O-2s. The army constructed Seaplane Hangar Building 937, and is associated seaplane ramp, close to the San Francisco Bay. The army had originally planned to use Crissy Field as a combined land and sea plane base, taking advantage of the sturdy Leoning COA Amphibian planes. However, the bay’s rough currents caused sand build up on the seaplane ramp, making take-off and landings unpredictable. Ultimately, the army only stored three “flying boats” in Building 937 and used the rest of the tremendous space for extra storage.