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Remembering the Berkeley Heliport

An SFO helicopter takes off from the Berkeley Heliport in this Berkeley Chamber of Commerce photo from the early 1960s.

It seems quaint and even hard to imagine in these days of national security and air travel safety restrictions, but Berkeley once had its own heliport where airline passengers could board an SFO 10-passenger Sikorsky helicopter bound for San Francisco or Oakland international airports. Some airlines included the service at low or no cost as part of the airfare.
The heliport was located on the waterfront west of the Eastshore Freeway (Interstate 80) just north of University Avenue and operated from 1961 to 1974, when San Fracncisco Oakland Helicopter Airlines relocated its operation to the roof of the new Holiday Inn in Emeryville.
The Berkeley facility was part of a network of heliports that included downtown Oakland, downtown San Francisco, central Contra Costa and Marin County, and at one time was touted as the most patronized system of its kind in the United States.
The Berkeley Heliport, which the Chamber of Commerce took the lead in attracting and promoting, broke ground in September 1961 and opened later that year. It was touted as a certain economic boon for the city, particularly in attracting conventions.

Dignitaries at the groundbreaking for the Berkeley Heliport in September 1961.

Along with the attraction of avoiding Bay Area freeway traffic and free parking, it offered the novelty of getting to fly over the area in a copter.
A low point for the Berkeley facility came in 1972, when an armed man entered the heliport and demanded to be taken via helicopter to the airport, where he intended to hijack a plane to Cuba. He was eventually talked out of those plans by a Berkeley police sergeant.

Coverage of the attempted 1972 helicopter hijacking in Berkeley.

Dignitaries arrive at the Berkeley Heliport in 1962.

SFO Helicopter Airlines was touted as the world’s busiest in 1962.

Berkeley Chamber of Commerce map of sightseeing destinations includes the heliport (No. 2).

Along with passengers, priority mail was ferried by helicopter to Bay Area airports.

A 1973 ad for SFO Helicopters.

Delta Airlines promoting helicopter service in 1967.

The era of the Berkeley Heliport ended in 1974, when SFO relocated it to Emeryville. SFO ceased operations in 1976.

Chris Treadway