The Presidio's Crissy Field was City's first airstrip

The Presidio't Crissy Field was City's first airstrip

by Ed Moy

Don Gray spoke about the history of Crissy Field Airstrip, located  in the Presidio, at a meeting of the San Francisco History Association on July 26.
Gray, a volunteer at the National Park Service's (NPS) visitor center, also helped found the Crissy Field Aviation Museum Association, which is currently working to establish an aviation museum in one of the original hangars at Crissy Field.
According to Gray, his presentation on the aeronautical history of Crissy Field took years of research and accumulation of materials, including his collection of 50 photographs and his knowledge of related aspects of San Francisco aviation history.
As a volunteer with the NPS, Gray has been taking visitors on aviation walks at Crissy Field for many years. 
Gray points out in his tours that from 1921 – 1936, Crissy Air Field served in various active operational activities, includ­ing forest fire patrols, artillery spotting,  Bay Area military reserve flying,  various speed and distance record-setting attempts and a visit by the "round the world cruisers" in 1924. 
"You could say that anything you could do at an airbase was done here," Gray said.
Among the highlights of Crissy Field airstrip's vibrant history, Gray pointed out the 1912 – 1915 Panama Pacific Inter­national Exposition, which "lays the groundwork and establishes an aviation precedent for flight on the north shore of San Francisco." Crissy Frield was officially established as an operating air station in 1921.
Gray's presentation also focused on the June 1919 formal endorsement of the future Crissy Field site as a "coast defense air station," along with the October 1919 death of Major Dana H. Crissy during the first "transcontinental reliability and endurance test."
However, by July 1936, Crissy Field was officially closed as an operational air station with the transfer of the 91st Observation Squadron and the 15th Photo Section to Ft. Lewis, Washington. Fixed wing aerial operations ceased and the runway closed in February 1974, although limited helicopter operations were still allowed, according to Gray.
Because he tries to emphasize the field's "flying' history," Gray said he only briefly touches on what happened after 1974, when the area became a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
In 2000, National Park Service historian Stephen Haller and Gray joined forces to create the non-profit Crissy Field Aviation Museum Association.
Gray, a former marine, persuaded the Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, Va., to provide a very rare 1917 De Havilland (the U.S. Army's premiere scout and observation plane in World War I and thereafter) to their museum project.
Although planes no longer land at the Crissy Field Airstrip, it remains a part of history and the GGNRA spent about $33 million to restore the grassy landing strip, which reopened to the public in May 2001.
For those interested in learning more, Gray suggests Stephen Haller's book "The Last Word in Airfields," which is sold by the NPS, usually at the visitor's center, but now only at the warming hut at Crissy field as the Officer's Club complex is undergoing renovation.
The San Francisco History Association (SFHA) also offers various guest speakers at its monthly meetings on the last Tuesday of every month at St. Philip's Church, located at 725 Diamond St. (between Elizabeth and 24th streets).
For more information about the Crissy Field Aviation Museum Association, visit its website at For additional information about the National Park Service, visit its website at To learn more about The San Francisco History Association, visit its website at