Coastside WWII: Navy Abandons Air Strip: “One of the ‘secret’ installations”

From the Half Moon Bay Review

The year was 1945

“Mills field navy installations totaling $5,000,000 are to be turned over to San Francisco and 85 acres of the property will be promptly leased to Pan American Airways as its Pan-Pacific terminus.

“The explanation was made by Capt. Bernard M. Doolin, airport manager, in clarification of the navy’s announced intention to abandon its facilities at the field.

“At the same time the navy further announced it will the north of Half Moon By air strip, one of the erstwhile secret installations of the war.

“Both actions are expected to take place by June 1946.

“According to earlier agreements, Doolin said, the navy has agreed to hand over to the city property and $5,000,000 of improvements within two years after the war. The contract for lease of the acreage to Pan American has already been signed.

“The arrangement was unique, said Doolin, and was done because the city wanted Treasure Island as an airport and the navy demanded it as a base. The army made similiar use of the field with the same understanding. The government paid for $10,000,000 worth of improvement, Doolin said. In November, San Francisco taxpayers will vote on a $20,000,000 bond issue to complete the Mills Field expansion program.

“Installations at Treasure Island, declared surplus, meanwhile, will either be offered to another naval bureau or air operations will be reduced, said naval spokesman.

“Local naval authorities were unable to disclose disposition of the Coastside air strip, which is operated as an auxiliary to the Alameda base….”


Around the same time the “blackout resolution” was repealed by the County War Board.

Dream Machine’s* On Sunday At The HMB Airport: Meanwhile


(Photo: L-R, Burt Blumert and “Big Daddy” Don Garlits.)

Friends of ours hosted a birthday party for Burt Blumert, at a home over the hill, on February 11, 2008. Earlier in the day we met “Big Daddy” Don Garlits in San Francisco where he was at a big car show signing autographs for fans at Moscone Center.

Burt has known Garlits for many years. When he told Don about the birthday party, and invited him to come along. Don Garlits said, “Sure. Pick me up at 5:30.”

Burt went to pick Don up, and while I was waiting for them at the party, I began to worry because they were late–and then they were really late.

Meanwhile they were having a wild ride all over San Francisco.. Don Garlits, the world famous drag racer, who won races right here at Princeton, sat in the passenger seat as Burt got lost, almost hit a pedestrian and ran a red light.

Here’s the true story:

“I picked him up at the Holiday Inn in Chinatown,” Burt says. “Don hadn’t been in the Bay Area for almost 20 years and I decided to give him a little sight-seeing tour before we headed down the Peninsula for the party. The sight-seeing tour didn’t go well. The second time we passed the Palace of Fine Arts, Garlits asked me, ‘Haven’t we seen this before?’

Burt said, “Yes, but that was the other side of it.”

When Burt realized he was about to cross the Golden Gate Bridge, he made a sharp, illegal u-turn and told Garlits, “We don’t want to do that.” Meanwhile he was lost in San Francisco

Poor Garlits, who spent his drag racing career surviving terrorizing moments, never experienced anything worse than Burt Blumert’s sight-seeing tour of San Francisco.

“We were lost for 45 minutes. I didn’t know where I was. I was on the Great Highway, I was in the Avenues, I was at the top of Twin Peaks….”

Finally when they arrived at the party, Burt was exhausted and Don Garlits seemed happy to be alive.

In the late 1950s & early 1960s “Big Daddy” Garlits and his famous drag-racing rival, Don Prudhomme, drew record crowds, and all the locals, to watch them compete at the Half Moon Bay Airport near Princeton-by-the-Sea.

Be sure to stop by the Annual *Dream Machine event on Sunday, April 27–the drag strip is no more but let your imagination take you back to the 1950s when the great Don Garlits entertained so many.

To get info about June Morrall’s book, “Princeton-by-the-Sea,” which includes a chapter with vintage photos about Big Daddy’s drag-racing exploits at the Half Moon Bay Airport, please click here

Dear June



Thanks for all the info re the HMB area. I spent many hours roaming the
airport grounds as a kid. You may not be aware that the airport was
often used as an alternate to SF Intl when SF Intl was fogged in. It
was quite an event to see a DC-6 or DC-7 land on that very short runway.
Some of the airlines kept equipment at the airport to handle passengers
when needed.

There were a number of old buildings that were left over from the WW 2
period. They were abandoned and I used to wander through them. They
were at the North end of the airport just off the hwy.

We used to buy produce from japanese farmers who farmed the many little
canyons. Strawberries were a very popular purchase.

We lived in SF in the Castro Street area and every weekend we’d drive to HMB
so my Dad could work on his airplane. He was rebuilding one in a little
shack at the south end of the airport. I hated the ride down Devils
Slide! It really scared me as a kid. I was always greatly relieved
after we passed it.

My dad spent a great deal of time working on the rebuilding of his
plane. He manually rebuilt the wings. The fusilage of the airplane was
kept outside waiting for him to complete the wings. One day, the
airport management decided to do a controlled burn of the weeds and
accidentally burned up his fusilage! He was heartbroken! He was able
to sell the beautiful wings to another guy who came to pick them up in
his truck. Just as he was pulling out on to the hwy, he was broadsided
by another car! The wings were totally destroyed. I guess they were
never meant to fly.

The airport was managed by a Frank Sylvestri. He operated a maintenance
facility too.

I find it hard to believe that the area is so built up now. Having a
Ritz Carlton there really blows my mind! I always thought the weather
was terrible…it always seemed cold and overcast.

John Flynn
Downers Grove, Illinois