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San Francisco Airport Museum and Library

23 June 2010

San Francisco Airport Museum and Library

I almost missed it and if it wasn’t for a large exhibit of jade pieces in the lobby I would have.

I was in San Francisco’s International Airport, in the International Terminal, waiting for my fiancée’s arrival. It was the jade which first caught my eye — twenty cases or so with each displaying elegant art or raw but polished stone. Unknowingly I was stumbling onto one of the country’s most visited art museums, the San Francisco Airport Museum and Library. The museum changes exhibits often and borrows pieces from the variety of other museums in the area. There are displays in most of the terminals and most of them are open to the public before clearing security gates, meaning that there are no entry fees or need for a boarding pass to view the art. I have to say that this art is spectacular and worth flying to see on its own merit.

The actual museum is located within the International Terminal, housed in a modern and gorgeous three story high hall. This is also a destination for an aviation history buff as well as professional researcher.

Propeller from a Pan American Aiways flying clipper — photo by Joe May

The museum’s lobby floor exhibits temporary displays. When I was there I saw various items related to Japanese Air Lines. It is this floor which has a permanent section for the Pan American Airways (PAA) flying clippers with large-scale models having wing spans or about 4 feet (~1.25m) suspended from the ceiling, the large globe from the former PAA terminal on Treasure Island and a propeller from a flying clipper.

Pan American Airways Sikorsky S-42 model — photo by Joe May

Pan American Airways Martin M-130 model — photo by Joe May

Pan American Airways Boeing 314 model — photo by Joe May

The lobby is within an atrium having a second floor surrounding the perimeter and it is this floor that is home to the research library with its books respectfully ensconced behind barrister bookcase panels. From this balcony one can get an eye-level view of two additional aircraft models. The United Airlines DC-3 City of San Francisco and the trimotor Fokker F.VIIb Southern Cross (the first aircraft to cross the Pacific and flew from Oakland California to Brisbane Australia).

United Airlines Douglas DC-3 “City of San Francisco” model — photo by Joe May

Fokker F.VIIb “Southern Cross” model — photo by Joe May

This airport is one of the most enjoyable ones in which to pass a layover in the world. Restaurants with excellent food and coffee abound and the museum has art that can calm as well as inspire. Getting to this museum involves only a landing at the San Francisco International Airport!

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