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China Clipper: 1936

China Clipper: 1936

July 22, 1936. "Aerial view of Pan American Airways 'China Clipper' (Martin M130 Flying Boat) over San Francisco with Coit Memorial Tower at left. Clyde H. Sunderland, commercial and aerial photographs, Oakland, Calif." View full size.


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Re: Gas Tank

The gas tank at Powell and Jefferson is (barely) identifiable in this 1955 photo. Look along the low area of the S.F. waterfront visible between the Bay Bridge's concrete support pier and one of the towers.

Another gas tank farther west at Bay and Laguna Streets is easier to spot.

Gas Tank

tterrace and Timz both make interesting comments but I am wondering if this is not the corner of Laguna. Its near what is now labeled as GAS HOUSE COVE, I wonder if the name has any significance, There are a number of wharfs shown on Mapquest and if one of threes could be one of he ones sown in the photograph. I now question lactating it on Powell and Jefferson, that's Fisherman's wharf, it doesn't look like Fisherman's Wharf to me. I think the street car faked us out and lead us astray.

[Note the sign on the largest pier: "General Steamship Corp." Harbor directories from 1936 list it on Pier 41, located at the foot of Powell St. It's since been reconstructed as a smaller ferry slip in the same location. You can't see Fisherman's Wharf proper because it's off the picture two blocks to the right.]

Powell St Cable Car

StanFlouride points out the cable car to the left of the large tank is Powell St. and the this is the end of the Powell-Market cable car line. This not quite correct, it's the end of the Powell-Hyde Street line. Powell also goes to Mason, a little further left (east). It is interesting to note that the Buena Vista Bar sits at this corner where the tank formally sat and that Ghirardelli Square and the Chocolate Factory now occupies much of the area to the right and up hill from the tank. A row of art galleries now runs right and down Beach street from Hyde-. Well, things do change with time.

[The Powell-Hyde line terminus and the Buena Vista Cafe are five blocks off to the west (right) from the edge of this photo, at the corner of Hyde and Beach. This tank was at the corner of Powell and Jefferson. -tterrace]

Powell St

That is indeed Powell St just east of the gas tank, so must be a streetcar we see at the end of it. Looks like the cable car shifted Powell to Mason to Taylor St in 1936 same as it does now.

Grace Denied

Having crossed the Pacific too many times in a DC-6, I can say that low altitude propeller flights of many hours don't leave you in a state of grace but rather a state of turbulent numbness.

Also a state of propeller lag.

A tragic end

NC14716 had a tragic end just 9 years later, crashing in Trinidad and killing 23.

Aviation Safety Database

During the second try, the Martin descended too low and contacted the water at more than normal landing speed and in a nose-low attitude at a point 1,25 miles short of the intended landing area. As the plane came to an abrupt stop in the water, the hull broke in two at a point about three feet aft of the hull step and the rear part of the hull was forced up and forward. Water poured into the cabin and major portion of the flying boat sank immediately.


I believe that I see an open window, just aft of the starboard sponson.
Rather nice on a Summer day.

The round tank below the nose

of the plane is a town gas or coal gas storage tank. They were very common near rivers and lakes of U.S. cities from about 1900 until LP or natural gas started taking over about the time of World War II. Made as a byproduct of coke production and much more volatile than its successors, the use of coal gas lasted decades longer in Britain than it did here.

Guam stopover

The China Clipper used to stop in Guam, there's plaques on the pier where she tied up. I remember standing there and imagining what her era of air travel was like.

While in the military I transferred to Guam from Hawaii, the flight took something like 8 hours on a commercial jet. Spending days crossing the pacific while hopping from island to island must've been a surreal adventure.

Totally Agree

With those British gents. Now the trip from L.A. to Sydney takes just 14 or so hours compared to the days required in the 1930's. This is Grace and Pace, American style.

Clipper memories

In 1970 I was having lunch in the dining room of the Bangkok international airport. Near enough to me to hear their conversation were four very British gentlemen. They were deploring the then current state of air travel. They longed for grace, comfort, and pleasure of the Clippers. "It was such a civilized way to travel", I overheard.

M130s met unhappy ends

All three Martin 130s met unhappy ends. One hit a mountain in California, one broke up in a botched landing in the Caribbean and the third vanished over the Pacific.

Powell St. Cable Car

The street just to the left of the large tank is Powell St. and the end of the Powell-Market cable car line. There's one parked there at the end in the picture. The large pier in the center is Pier 41 and the narrow one to its left is Pier 39, now a shopping and entertainment complex and home a very large sea lion population.


Built when flying had class. It was one of three ''Clippers'' built by
Martin for Pan American Airways delivered on Oct. 9th, 1935.
It is interesting to note the that the long lost Fred Noonan was one
of their Navigators.

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