Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields:
California - San Rafael area
© 2002, © 2015 by Paul Freeman. Revised 2/1/15.
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Hamilton Field / Hamilton AFB / Hamilton AAF (revised 2/1/15) - San Francisco Bay Airport (revised 5/10/08)
San Francisco Bay Airport, San Rafael, CA
37.96 North / 122.5 West (North of San Francisco, CA)
The earliest depiction that has been located of the San Francisco Bay Airport was a 1946 aerial view.
San Francisco Bay Airport was a little general aviation field
that served the residents of San Rafael, the largest city in Marin County.
It was apparently built at some point between 1944-46,
as it was not listed among active airfields in the 1944 US Army/Navy Directory of Airfields (courtesy of Ken Mercer).
The earliest depiction which has been located of the San Francisco Bay Airport was a 1946 aerial view.
It depicted the field as having a single northwest/southeast unpaved runway,
with several small buildings & several light aircraft on the south side of the field.
The earliest reference to the San Francisco Bay Airport which has been located
comes from George Harper, who recalled, “I continued my flight training at this airport.
I started on 11/22/47. I received my private & commercial ratings.
My instructors were R. F. Knapton & H. O. Talefson.
Note Talefson also in 1947 gave many check flights to Hamilton Field Air Force Pilots for their civilian pilot's licenses.
The aircraft we used for flight training were: Aeronca Champs & Chiefs, Piper J-3 Cubs, Super Cubs,
Super Cruisers, a Stinson Voyager, Taylor Craft, Stearman PT-17, a Vultee BT-13 and a Ryan PT-22.
I got to fly them ALL!
On 2 occasions we flew over Larkspur, a nearby city, to release rose petals over their Rose Festival Parade.”
San Francisco Bay Airport was not yet depicted on the 1947 USGS topo map.
The 1949 USAF Urban Area Chart depicted San Francisco Bay Airport as having a single northwest/southeast runway.
The 1950 USGS topo map depicted the San Francisco Bay Airfield as having a single northwest/southeast runway.
San Francisco Bay Airport, as depicted on the 1951 San Francisco Sectional Chart (courtesy of Jonathan Westerling).
The 1951 San Francisco Sectional Chart (courtesy of Jonathan Westerling),
described San Francisco Bay Airport as having a 1,900' paved runway.
An undated photo, captioned "Frank Lynch of Sausalio emerges from the cockpit of his twin engined Piper Apache,
based at San Francisco Bay Airport" (photo by Bob Hax, courtesy of the Marin County Library, via Jonathan Westerling).
An undated photo of Bill Mulhern, proprietor of the San Francisco Bay Airport Cafe,
serving coffee to Pilot John Williford, left, and Jimmy Rusch, airport manager & maintenance specialist.
Photo: by Bob Hax, courtesy of the Marin County Library, via Jonathan Westerling.
According to Jonathan Westerling, San Francisco Bay Airport was owned by Jimmy Rusch.
It had full services along with a small café on the south east side of the airstrip.
Flight lessons were offered by a Mr. & Mrs. Bob Short,
and several young pilots were trained there.
The airstrip served as home-base for several small businesses
including an aerial photography firm
and an air-ambulance service which imported patients from Northern California
seeking the more advanced medical facilities of the bay area.
When filming the movie "Blood Alley", John Wayne based his Cessna at the San Francisco Bay Airport.
The 12/8/52 issue of the Marin Independent Journal (courtesy of Jonathan Westerling)
reported that a single-engine Cessna 195 en route to Detroit
crashed into the canal adjacent to San Francisco Bay Airport.
Killed in the crash was Charles Kleinclaus Jr., part owner of the San Francisco Bay Airport.
USGS topo map 1954, showing the San Francisco Bay Airport at its heyday (courtesy of Jonathan Westerling).
It depicted a single hangar, located south of the east side of the runway.
An undated photo of a nice Grumman G44 Widgeon in front of a hangar which had “S.F. Bay Airport” painted on the roof
(photo courtesy of the Marin County Library, via Jonathan Westerling).
A short article about this airport appeared in the 3/26/55 issue of Marin Magazine
(thanks to Jocelyn Moss of the Marin Historical Society Library).
"The Airport is located at the end of Railroad Avenue
which runs north from San Francisco Boulevard at California Park.
It is managed by Jimmy Rusch who also has charge of maintenance.
Rusch reports that right now, pleasure flyers outnumber business flyers
who are also using the airport & their number is growing constantly.
Many flyers, however make an effort to combine business & pleasure,
something that they wouldn't have time to do if they traveled by automobile."
An undated (circa 1950s?) aerial view looking east at San Francisco Bay Airport (courtesy of Steve Mahaley),
showing a single runway with several small hangars along the south side.
The photo was found in 2007 hanging along the wall in the San Rafael City Hall.
A street map from the mid 1950s,
showing how streets had sprung up surrounding the little San Francisco Bay Airport (courtesy of Jonathan Westerling).
By the mid 1950s, a street map showed that streets had closed in the airport,
leaving it a very narrow strip of property along the runway.
The little airport closed in 1960,
no doubt due to the pressures of surrounding development.
Within a few years of its closing, the airport property succumbed to an industrial development.
San Francisco Bay Airport, labeled "Aband arpt"
on the 1965 San Francisco Local Aeronautical Chart (courtesy of Jonathan Westerling).
A 1987 aerial photo showed that dense development had covered the site,
with not a trace remaining of the former airport.
An article entitled "Canal dredge reveals plane engine" by Jennifer Upshaw
in the 5/5/04 issue of the Marin Independent Journal (courtesy of Jonathan Westerling)
described how barge workers dredging private docks in the San Rafael Canal
scooped up an airplane engine with its propeller still attached.
This most likely was the remains of a Cessna 195
which crashed in the canal adjacent to the San Francisco Bay Airport in 1952,
killing the airport owner.
A circa 2006 aerial view shows not a trace appears to remain of the San Francisco Bay Airport.
Thanks to Jonathan Westerling for pointing out this airfield.
Hamilton Field / Hamilton AFB / Hamilton AAF (SRF), Novato, CA
38.06 North / 122.5 West (North of San Francisco, CA)
An aerial view looking west at Hamilton AAF
from The Airport Directory Company's 1937 Airports Directory (courtesy of Bob Rambo).
This large military airfield was located along the northern shore of San Francisco Bay.
It was known at first unofficially as the Marin County Air Field, as Marin Airfield,
as Marin Meadows Air Field, and "Air Corps Station, San Rafael".
With formal development beginning, it was named Hamilton Field in 1932.
Construction at Hamilton Field had begun in 1932,
with the airfield being originally designed to accommodate four bomb squadrons & their personnel.
Captain John M. Davies' 70th Service Squadron arrived that December
as the first squadron assigned to the base.
No airfield was yet depicted at the site of Hamilton AAF on the 1933 San Francisco Airway Map (courtesy of Chris Kennedy).
In 1934, the 7th Bombardment Group arrived to take station, having been transferred up from March Field.
The new base was designated that year as General Headquarters of the 1st Pursuit Wing.
The original construction program was completed on May 12, 1935,
at which time the field was ceremonially handed over to Brigadier General Henry 'Hap' Arnold,
commanding the 1st Wing, by Governor Merriam of California.
The earliest depiction which has been located of Hamilton Field
was in The Airport Directory Company's 1937 Airports Directory (courtesy of Bob Rambo).
The aerial photo in the directory depicted 7 large hangars adjacent to the runway.
It described Hamilton Field as having a 3,500' landing mat running parallel to the hangars,
as well as 2 shorter graded runways.
An undated (circa 1937-40) promotional photo of the solo prototype of the Boeing XB-15 bomber at Hamilton Field (courtesy of John Voss).
A 1939 photo of a Douglas B-18 Bolo bomber being towed from Hamilton's Hangar 9.
Hamilton Field, as depicted on the 1939 Sectional Chart (courtesy of Dann Shively).
Hamilton Field was described in 1940 as "looking more like a modern residential suburb
of Spanish California homes than the Army's Pursuit Base for northern California."
It had by that time received $5 million in development.
At that time the field housed the 45th Air Base Group, the 20th Pursuit Group (Fighter),
the 35th Pursuit Group (Interceptor), and the 82nd Observation Squadron,
totaling over 4,000 officers & men.
A 1941 photo of dozens of Curtiss P-40 fighters in front of a Hamilton hangar.
During WW2, Hamilton Field was rapidly expanded to a wartime status,
with construction of additional barracks, mess halls, administration buildings,
warehouses, Link trainer buildings, schools, hospital & other structures.
A beautiful 1943 portrait of a Bell P-39 Airacobra at Hamilton Field (courtesy of National Air & Space Museum).
The original caption read, "Airacobra training at Hamilton Field, California, for the 357th Fighter Group
before shipping out to England to join the Eighth Air Force in July 1943.
Group CO Col. Edward S. Chickering's P-39 is being started by the ground crew the hard way -
with the hand crank to get the inertia starter going."
The April 1, 1944 US Army/Navy Directory of Airfields (courtesy of Ken Mercer)
described Hamilton AAF as having an 8,000' hard-surfaced runway.
According to the 1945 Army Inventory List (courtesy of Rex Ricks),
at that point Hamilton's property consisted of a total of 1,599 acres,
and it had auxiliary fields at Napa, Montague, & Willows.
A 1945 aerial view looking west at Hamilton depicted the exponential growth which the base experienced during WWII.
Dozens of Douglas C-54 Skymaster transports lined the parking ramp with a few other types.
The area to the lower right of the runway was known as the "pea patch" and showed the parking dispersal hardstands for fighter planes.
These revetments were designed to allow fighters to survive an initial attack and launch to defend the base.
In later years the "pea patch" was where mechanics performed engine tests on afterburner-equipped jet interceptors.
In the postwar era, Hamilton Air Force Base was modified to accommodate jet aircraft.
The base went through a series of command redesignations during this period -
to the Continental Air Forces in 1945, and to the Air Defense Command in 1951.
The 1952 San Francisco Local Aeronautical Chart (courtesy of Jonathan Westerling)
depicted Hamilton as having a single 6,400' paved runway.
This was over a thousand feet shorter than previous (or later) depictions, inexplicably.
A 1954 aerial view of Hamilton (courtesy of George Miller).
USGS topo map 1954.
A formation of F-89 Scorpions over the Golden Gate,
from the 1958 Hamilton AFB Directory & Guide (courtesy of Jonathan Westerling).
A trio of Hamilton's F-104 Starfighters (two F-104As & a 2-seat B-model) over Marin County,
from the 1958 Hamilton AFB Directory & Guide (courtesy of Jonathan Westerling).
A circa 1950s photo of an F-104 Starfighter inside an alert shed at Hamilton (courtesy of Bill Eaton).
In 1959 Hamilton's runway was upgraded to accommodate F-101 & F-104 fighter operations.
A 1961 aerial view looking southeast along Hamilton's massive ramp, showing T-33 T-Birds & F-101 Voodoos galore.
In 1961, Hamilton's 83rd & 84th Fighter-Interceptor Squadrons were both equipped with the McDonnell F-101B Voodoo.
In the foreground are 8 Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star proficiency trainers, also known as "T-Birds",
used by staff officers to use in their spare time to remain on flight status & thus get their flight pay.
A 1964 photo by Ben Brown (courtesy of Bill Eaton) of a Douglas A3 Skywarrior, probably from NAS Alameda,
just after arrival at Hamilton for the May 1964 open house.
In the words of Bill Eaton, "It is parked abeam either Hangar 3 or 5.
Note the checkerboard on the roof of the hangar - very 1930s.
The crew has placed their helmets ('bone domes') atop the canopy.
One gust of wind and they'd roll off & go 'crunch' on the ramp.
But it's May & there was probably little or no wind on such a gorgeous Spring morning in the Bay Area.
Think of how fun it was to fly up the Bay from Alameda in your A3 at maybe 1000 feet
on such a beautiful morning, then make a low pass down runway 30 at Hamilton,
pitch up, land, and taxi in while people ran over to take a picture.
Then your wife & kids drive up from Alameda in the 1963 Ford Country Squire & spend the day at the airshow with Dad -
in his flight suit looking like Steve Canyon."
An undated (circa 1960s) photo of USAF F-101B Voodoo interceptors in front of a Hamilton hangar.
In 1966 Hamilton's 349th Military Air Wing converted from the C-119 to the C-124,
and shortly thereafter a large Air Force Reserve C-124 maintenance hangar was built on the southeast end of the ramp.
A 1966 aerial view looking northeast towards Hamilton's control tower (courtesy of Rex Ricks).
A VC-121A Constellation was parked on the left/west side of Hangar 7.
The Transient Aircraft line on the ramp side of Hangar 9 at upper left had visible 2 T-38 Talon trainers, a T-33 trainer, and an F-102 interceptor.
At far left were 2 C-47s & a C-131 transport.
At far right on the ramp were several T-33s belonging to Hamilton's 78th Fighter Wing.
A 1967 time-lapse photo of USAF maintenance vans circling an 84th FIS F-101B Voodoo interceptor at Hamilton.
The cover of Hamilton's 1968 base yearbook (courtesy of Bill Eaton),
showing an F-101 Voodoo crew performing a scramble from their alert shed at Hamilton.
Hamilton was reassigned to the Aerospace Defense Command in 1968.
A 1972 photo of an 84th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron Convair F-106A Delta Dart,
slowing to taxi speed on Hamilton's Runway 30 with the help of a drag chute.
In September 1973 the F-106s of Hamilton's sole remaining squadron, 84th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, relocated to Castle AFB,
thus bringing to an end a glorious era in Marin County history.
Hamilton was reassigned to the Air Force Reserve in 1973.
A post-1973 aerial view looking southeast at Hamilton,
showing only a few aircraft still visible on the ramp.
Carl Kangas recalled, “My old squadron, the 336th TAS, was the last flying squadron (C-130s) at Hamilton.”
Hamilton Air Force Base was decommissioned in 1974.
The airfield was transferred to the Army as Hamilton Army Airfield,
the housing to the Navy & a 411-acre parcel to the General Services Administration (GSA) for public sale.
The Pacific Strike Team of the Coast Guard occupied 2 of the historic hangars.
A series of 3 photos (courtesy of Carl Kangas) of the last Air Force flight from Hamilton on 1/9/76, by a 336th TAS C-130 Hercules.
Carl reported the 1st photo shows “the briefing in front of base operations.
Left to right: Unidentified, Lt. Col. W. Craig (squadron commander), Capt. Bob Shepherd (aircraft commander), Capt. L. Reisinger (co-pilot).”
The 2nd photo shows “the crew of 61-971: Left to right: Capt. B. Shepherd (AC), Capt. L. Reisinger (CP) , Load Master [unverified], Sgt. C. Kangas (FE).”
The 3rd photo shows “the heavy tractor being loaded to be flown to March AFB.
After take off Bob Shepherd came around for a low pass for the cameras & pulled up to about a 50 degree angle.
All the while I am hoping the load master did a good job of chaining down that tractor.
When Hamilton was slated for closure, the squadron was moved to March AFB.
This was the last load of squadron equipment that we flew down.”
The 1980 USGS topo map depicted Hamilton's massive airfield,
but did not label it at all, strangely.
A 411-acre Hamilton parcel was sold by the General Services Administration in 1985.
The Hamilton airfield evidently saw very little use in its last days,
as a 1987 aerial view showed Hamilton's huge ramps completely devoid of even a single aircraft.
A 1988 airport diagram of Hamilton, its last year of operation.
The 1988 Base Realignment & Closure (BRAC) closed the Hamilton airfield.
Extensive aviation facilities remained, including a wide 8,000' long runway,
a smaller crosswind runway, numerous dispersal parking pads,
extensive ramp areas, and 9 large hangars.
Controversy over future civilian use had developed between those supporting
its adaptation into a major civilian airport, those bitterly opposed to its continued use as an airfield at all,
and those holding varying intermediate degrees of opinion.
Hamilton AAF, as depicted on the 1990 San Francisco Sectional Chart (courtesy of Dann Shively).
Tim Tyler visited Hamilton Field in 1990.
"Back then, many of the old buildings were intact,
including a large number of decrepit looking wooden barracks apparently left over from the WW2 era.
That area was marked as 'Off Limits' and probably scheduled for demolition.
The airfield was looking pretty rough, but there were some Army/National Guard UH-1s on the ramp.
It was still somewhat of a military installation back then,
but mostly used to provide housing for the military service members
assigned to various active military installations (mostly Navy) that were still active in the Bay Area then."
The last photo which has been located showing the massive Hamilton airfield still intact was a 7/9/93 USGS aerial view looking north.
Although the field remained intact, no aircraft were visible.
Note the multiple WW2-era fighter dispersal pads east of the runway.
A circa late 1990s aerial view looking northeast at Hamilton's hangars, ramp & runway.
In the late 1990s, the Hamilton Field property was redeveloped by the local government,
with all of the aviation facilities to be removed.
Given the extent of the aviation infrastructure at this base (which was all paid for by the taxpayers),
it is a shame to see it completely destroyed.
A 2002 photo by Tim Tyler of the line of hangars which remain standing at Hamilton Field.
A 2002 photo by Tim Tyler of a sign for Hamilton Landing.
A 2002 photo by Tim Tyler of the "Future Home of the Hamilton Field History Museum".
Tim observed, “I came out to the old Hamilton AFB to see how much it'd changed since I last visited it in 1990.
Twelve years later, the base had changed a lot. First of all, it's no longer a base.
Many structures have been removed & replaced with a housing subdivision known as Hamilton Landing (nice pun)."
A 2002 photo by Tim Tyler of hangars which remain standing at Hamilton Field.
The hangar on the right has a legend entitled "Air Force Shops".
A 2002 photo by Tim Tyler of Hamilton's Hangars 5 & 6, which have been renovated.
A 2002 photo by Tim Tyler of the gutted remains of Hamilton's control tower.
A 2002 photo by Tim Tyler of the remains of a hangar & the control tower at Hamilton Field.
Tim remarked, “The historic old main hangars were somewhat intact.
Some are now offices, using the shell of the original hangar but completely rebuilt inside,
and others as of my April 2002 visit were empty shells.
Several other old AAF/AFB buildings were intact, and either awaiting destruction, or renovation."
A 2002 photo by Tim Tyler of the sign at the Coast Guard installation which remains at Hamilton Field.
A 2002 photo by Tim Tyler of Coast Guard hangars at Hamilton Field.
Tim observed, “The USCG still has their Pacific Coast Strike Team there,
set up as a quick-response group to deploy to major oil spills or other maritime environmental hazards,
but unlike in the past, the team now can't just have some USCG HC-130s land at the field,
pull up to the CG area & pick up personnel & equipment to transport them to the incident scene."
A 2002 photo by Tim Tyler of the dike which has been constructed along the former airfield area of Hamilton Field.
Tim observed, “The ramp area & runways seemed to be somewhat intact,
though I understand the plan was to flood the area & turn it into a marsh."
Tim Tyler reported again in 2003 of a later visit to Hamilton:
"I went up to the old Hamilton AFB, parked my car by some of the hangars,
hoisted my bike over the seawall thing,
and then merrily rode my bike along the old ramp/runway/taxiway & hardstand areas,
checking out various old buildings & facilities located along the runway area.
It looks like they've got a lot of work to go before they ever just flood the whole area."
A 2003 photo by Tim Tyler, of what presumably was an MA-1 fire control system calibration barn,
located adjacent to the south side of Hamilton's runway.
Tim observed, "The first one is a sheet-metal hangar, attached to a small cinderblock building
and then a sheet-metal shed on the other side of it.
The hangar's aircraft door faced to the West, not to the East, which is the direction of the runway.
Interestingly, I estimate the hangar aircraft door width only being about 40' or 50'
which makes me think of an F-104, although the hangar wasn't long enough to fit an entire aircraft inside.
Some old stenciling read '84th FIS MA-1/ASQ-25 Scheduled Maint. W/C 14322.'"
The AN/ASQ-25 was the 'Airborne Weapon Control System' used by F-101, F-102, and F-106 aircraft.
The 84th FIS seems to have been at Hamilton from the late 1940s until 1973, when it moved to Castle AFB.
Tim observed, "I believe the small metal hangar & support building I came across at Hamilton
was the MA-1 (Fire Control System) Calibration Barn.
It would have been isolated from the alert hangars in order to not interfere with their MA-1s,
which might have been kept in standby mode while the aircraft were on alert."
Tim continued, "There were several old carbon dioxide 300cf bottles
inside the old hangar & small cinderblock building which connected the hangar
(based on the hangar door, complete with center notch for a vertical stabilator) with the shed/workshop type building.
There were a couple static discharge ground connections built into the concrete flooring,
at least one had a date of 'Sept 88' stenciled on it,
though there is a good chance the date is (19)68 instead of (19)88."
A 2003 photo by Tim Tyler, of the exterior of a concrete blockhouse
located adjacent to the south side of Hamilton's runway.
A 2003 photo by Tim Tyler, of the interior of a concrete blockhouse
located adjacent to the south side of Hamilton's runway.
Tim observed, “Just 10 or 15 yards to the southeast of [the hangar on the south side of the runway]
was a fairly large, single story concrete blockhouse,
which had an air conditioning/water chiller/power room on the end,
and several large, open rooms inside.
Though long-abandoned & with lots of graffiti inside,
everything but the old AC/chiller room on the end was still secured.
I don't know what this structure was used for, but it's the only thing I saw which may fit the basic 'signature'
of being an old ADC/NORAD Operations type building."
Richard Vedas (stationed at Hamilton from 1960-65) reported in 2003,
"the large concrete block house on the south end of the runway…
This was the Armament & Electronics building which housed the Radar, Com Nav,
Data Link, and Instrument shops in the 1960s.
The F-101s used the MG-13 fire control radar, F-102s were equipped with the MG-10 weapons system
while the F-106s were MA1 systems.
All were built by Hughes Aircraft.
MG-10 & 13 systems were almost identical, while the MA1 system was more advanced.
The radar mockup windows faced to the east where we used radio antennas on the east side of the bay for targets.
The small building looks like a F-106 nose dock used for system calibration.
We did calibrations on the F-101s in the hangars."
A 2003 photo by Tim Tyler.
"The operations building, Building 30, had a 552nd AEW&C GROUP emblem on the exterior door.
The 552nd was classified as a Group only between 1974-76."
A January 2006 aerial view by Ian Carisi looking northwest along the remains of Hamilton's massive runway,
showing the unusual layout of the airfield.
Also note the hundreds of new houses which have been constructed right up to the hangars.
A 2006 photo by Scott Murdock of several gutted former Hamilton hangars.
A 2006 photo by Scott Murdock of the gutted former Hamilton control tower.
A 2006 photo by Scott Murdock of the fully-restored Hamilton Hangar #5.
A 2006 photo by Scott Murdock of the beautifully maintained former Hamilton Protestant Chapel.
According to Brent Peircy, “To my knowledge it is one of the few original buildings that remained operational & didn't fall into disrepair.
I lived on the base from 1966-68 & we attended that Chapel,
and when I visited again in the summer of 1990,
the Chapel was still operational & in fine condition unlike most other buildings on the base which were in terrible condition.”
A February 2007 aerial view by Ian Carisi looking north at the redevelopment of Hamilton.
Nine hangars still stand.
The middle of the runway has been flooded, but significant portions remain on either end,
as well as numerous dispersal pads.
A circa 2008 photo of the restored Hamilton Field control tower.
A 2012 photo by Carl Kangas of the logo for the Hamilton Field History Museum,
located in the former Hamilton Field Fire Station.
A 2012 photo by Carl Kangas of the restored Hamilton Field hangars & control tower.
Carl Kangas reported, “All the old hangars have been renovated & converted into a business park;
by the number of cars in the parking lots it looks like business is thriving. The tower has been restored.”
A 1/2/14 aerial view by Ian Carisi looking at the site of Hamilton Field.
Amazing to see such a massive airfield completely removed.
Ironically, in April 2014 dikes were intentionally breached to let large portions of the Hamilton Field site be flooded,
to restore wetlands from the previous century.
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