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Blog: What Was Once a Cow Pasture

The closest major airport to Redwood City is San Francisco International (SF)

The closest major airport to Redwood City is San Francisco International.

Approximately 16 million passengers traverse SFO each year, making it one of the busiest airports in the United States.

However, this central international hub had a very humble beginning.

The land it rests upon was originally part of the Ogden Mills estate, named after Mills' grandfather Darius Mills, where the city of Millbrae got its name.

In 1927, the City of San Francisco leased 150 acres of land from Mills as a temporary experimental airport project. On May 27, the project went from being experimental to being official. Thus, officials conducted a dedication ceremony announcing it as the "Mills Field Municipal Airport of San Francisco." It took place in what was a cow pasture at the time.

Later the same year, Charles Lindbergh flew to Mills Field, which brought notoriety to the fledgling airport. He was honored in a huge celebration in downtown San Francisco.

In 1930, the City of San Francisco purchased the airport property and additional surrounding land, expanding the size to over 1,100 acres. In 1931 the name of Mills Field was dropped in favor of San Francisco Airport.

At the end of World War II, "International" was added to the official name, which is what it is known as today.

Initial carriers that began service included Western Air Express, Maddox Airlines, and Century Pacific Airlines. United Airlines, whose roots trace back to Walter Varney and his flying school in Redwood City, began service in 1934 and quickly became the key carrier at the growing airport with the McDonald-Douglas DC-3.

In July 1937, a new passenger terminal was opened.

In WWll, the airport was used by the Coast Guard and Army Training Corps. During this period, it was known as "Naval Auxiliary Air Facility Mills Field and Coast Guard Air Station San Francisco."

Pan Am relocated its operation to San Francisco International after WWll, because Treasure Island, which it had been using, was expropriated by the military.

A major expansion took place in 1954 with an extensive new terminal.

Since then, additional expansion has taken place, providing multiple terminals and BART commencing operations in 2003.

Needless to say, it's come a long way since being a cow pasture.

Everything else is just history 

Some of the photos used in this blog are courtesy of the Local History Room, Redwood City's best-kept secret. The Local History Collection covers all aspects of Redwood City's development, from the 1850s to the present day, with particular emphasis on businesses, public schools, civic organizations, city agencies, and early family histories. The Local History Room is not affiliated with the Redwood City Public Library, but it is inside it. 


Dan Calic

About the Author: Dan Calic

A product of Goodwin (JFK), Henry Ford, Roosevelt, Sequoia High and Canada College, Dan has deep Redwood City roots. He’s witnessed Redwood City transform from a sleepy peninsula town into a thriving high-tech hub.
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