Crissy Field in San Francisco


Crissy Field, San Francisco

I’m a planner, so when I travel I’m usually intentional about seeing places that relate to my professional history interests. But every now and then I stumble upon a place that was somehow off my radar. Such was the case recently when I visited a friend in San Francisco. It was a beautiful day and I had no agenda, short of getting outside and enjoying the weather and my friend’s company. He had not lived in the city long, so did not know it well. We decided to hike around the Presidio and take in views of the Golden Gate bridge and sailboats in the bay. We parked at Crissy Field. The broad expanse of grass along the bay was dotted with giant steel sculptures by Mark di Suvero, a temporary exhibition mounted by SFMOMA. At the edges of the field were low buildings that looked like airplane hangars. My friend’s wife had requested that he check out an indoor trampoline park located in one of them.



Crissy Field, original hangar buildings

Only when I stopped to read a historic marker did it hit me. This is the famous Crissy field, the most intact 1920s Army airfield west of the Mississippi River. Minus the buzz of aircraft and cheers of crowds, the grass field and several original buildings offer a glimpse of the early years of aviation when “airmindedness” was the rage. Many of the pioneers of aviation passed through Crissy field.

Crissy Field 1920s

In 1919 the army sent 61 planes on a test flight across the continent. Fifteen planes left from this field heading east. Forty-six left Long Island, New York heading west. Only nine planes finished the flight, including Captain Lowell Smith, later commander of the world flight. Major Dana Crissy was among those killed in the attempt and the commander of the Presidio airfield, Major Hap Arnold, requested the field be named for Crissy.

220px-Lincoln_Beachey_cph.3a49742Crissy Field, completed in 1921, was constructed on the site of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Lincoln Beachey, called the father of aerobatics, thrilled Exposition crowds with his daring maneuvers. Sadly, he died in a spectacular crash during a show at the Exposition in front of almost 250,000 people.


World Cruisers at Crissy Field, San Francisco

World Cruisers at Crissy Field, 1924 National Air and Space Museum Archives

I’m currently writing a book about the 1924 Army Air Service round-the-world flight. Beginning in Seattle, the flight of four Douglas World Cruisers traveled west, becoming the first across the Pacific and the first across the China Sea, and ultimately the first around the world. Five other countries set out to challenge them and it became a race for national prestige. Flying long distances was no easy feat; one of the planes crashed into a mountain in Alaska (both crew members miraculously survived) and one ended up at the bottom of the North Sea (again, the crew survived). When they reached Boston, they began what was essentially a victory lap across the United States toward the finish line in Seattle. At Crissy Field, thousands of people greeted them.


In 1925, the Navy attempted a flight to Hawaii. Two seaplanes left the bay by Crissy Field, one faced engine failure early and safely returned. The other ran out of fuel near Hawaii and eventually reached Kauai by sailing there with sails made from the plane’s canvas wings. Test your navigation acuity with an interactive about this flight from the National Air and Space Museum.

Today Crissy Field is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area run by the National Park Service. More information on Crissy Field at the National Park Service website.

My book about the grand adventures of the world flight is for ages 10-14 and will be published in spring of 2015.

About Tim

Author, public historian, and consultant. Author site: - My fifth book, Star Spangled: The Story of a Flag, a Battle, and the American Anthem, was published in May 2020. Consulting site: I specialize in exhibition development, interpretive planning, education strategy, and history relevance. I'm passionate about helping history organizations of all sizes and kinds make history more relevant for their communities and the people they engage with. I'm happy to consider many types of writing projects for informal learning organizations. Reach me at or
This entry was posted in 20th century, city/town, national park, West. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Crissy Field in San Francisco

  1. Nancy Roebke says:

    Interesting, will share with my Chrissy! Waiting for the AL post…will you do it for Tuskegee when you come back…haha


  2. Pingback: First Flight Around the World, finalist for nonfiction award | historyplaces

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