from Sikorsky brochure courtesy of SFO Helicopter Airlines

Did you know Oakland has a Heliport? On top of the Alameda County (ALCO) Parking Garage is a specially-designed landing pad for helicopters. From 1961 to 1976, there was helicopter service from downtown Oakland to SFO. The garage was built in 1962, and the Port of Oakland paid for the extra costs of the heliport, which went into use in 1965 or 1966. 1

There were also heliports in downtown San Francisco, Berkeley (moved to Emeryville in 1974), and Lafayette 4 that were run by the same service. Early plans in 1961 suggested one of 3 locations for the heliport in Oakland: 8th Street near the Lake Merritt channel, the Exposition Building (Kaiser Convention Center) parking lot, or "possibly on a floating pad or raft near the Lake Merritt Boat House." 2 A temporary landing pad was built near the convention center while the garage and heliport were built.

Helicopters tend to be fairly loud, and the large Sikorsky helicopters they used were no exception. In 1966, area residents signed a petition asking the heliport site to be moved to Jack London Square. Agnes Ying, who started the petition, suggested the heliport facilities "be turned into a nice night club." 3

SFO Helicopter Airlines ceased operations in 1976. While the heliport hasn't been used as such for some time, the landing pad is still there, and in the elevator in the parking garage the top button is marked 'H'. In satellite images such as used by Google Maps, the landing marks and a large 'H' are still visible.

Oakland Tribune December 2, 1976 (fair use)satellite image (fair use)

Alas, what goes up sometimes comes down unexpectedly. In April 1965 there were two crashes within 24 hours. First, during a training flight from Oakland to Lafayette, one of the helicopters had an overheating engine, and signaled they were touching down in the Lafayette Reservoir. Unfortunately the helicopter hit a submerged object and tipped over. The pilots were OK, but they spent hours waiting for rescue because they had actually touched down in the Upper San Leandro Reservoir. 10

The next day, one of the helicopters carrying radio broadcaster Ted Taylor had a bird strike, and went down hard on the Embarcadero, narrowly missing the busy freeway. 8.9


CC SA-BY Our Oakland


Jack London Square, 1957 7

The amazing ALCO heliport was not the first rooftop helicopter service in Oakland, however. There was an earlier service from the roof of the El Dorado building (360 - 22nd Street at Webster). It used much smaller helicopters and was started in 1960. It served Oakland, San Leandro, SFO, and Palo Alto. 5 Even before that in 1957, there was a helicopter service between Jack London Square and the Oakland Airport. 6

And did you know that SFO Helicopter Airlines briefly operated a hovercraft service?

Links and References

  1. 'Full Use of Heliport In Year' Oakland Tribune January 29, 1964
  2. Copter Taxi Plans to Link Bay Cities Oakland Tribune January 11, 1961
  3. Heliport Move Asked Oakland Tribune October 26, 1966
  4. Heliport Rejected by BART Oakland Tribune July 19, 1966
  5. Area's First Rooftop Heliport Opens Oakland Tribune July 17, 1960
  6. Heliport Opens in Oakland Oakland Tribune July 4, 1957
  7. 2001.1.138 by Carl Bigelow from The Oakland Tribune Collection, OMCA. Gift of ANG Newspapers

  8. Pilot, Announcer In Copter Crash Oakland Tribune April 16, 1965 (p2)

  9. Copter Crashes Probed by CAB Oakland Tribune April 17, 1965

  10. An historical look back at commercial aviation in Lafayette, 1965 Lamorinda Weekly October 3, 2018