The History of Shea, Part 1

by Shea Homes Northern California on August 13, 2012

The Shea family of companies have been passed down through the generations of the Shea family since 1881. They have a rich history deeply rooted in making quality products, pursuing customer satisfaction, and maintaining integrity throughout the company as a whole.

In 1846, Austin Shea emigrated with his family from Ireland to America, and in 1855 John Francis Shea was born in Dayton, Ohio. As an adult, John Francis Shea, a determined and motivated individual, decided to move west in pursuit of good quality work. He made his way to San Francisco, California and landed a job in plumbing. After a year with the company, John decided to pursue his own plumbing company in Portland, Oregon. He moved and in 1881, John Francis Shea opened up his own plumbing shop called the “J.F. Shea Plumbing Company”. This was John’s first attempt at running his own business, and he, unlike many others at that time, found success.

John Francis Shea valued his family, and even in his success, he never forgot about them back in Ohio. In 1891, John’s sister Katie, sent him a letter thanking him for the $20 gold piece he had sent to the family. Speaking of family, John was eager to start his own with his wife Anna, and together, they had 9 children. John taught his children about success and integrity in business and several of those children would go on to further their father’s legacy.

“Diligent and successful in business, he [John Francis Shea] left the deep impress of his individuality upon his work, and he belonged to that class or men who, although modest and unassuming, nevertheless shape the character and influence the development of the communities in which they live. His ability and energy placed him in a position of leadership…[He] owed his prosperity to tireless effort, good management and close conformity to a high standard of commercial ethics…his many good qualities endeared him to all with whom he was associated.” – Shea Times, 1988.

 John Francis Shea

*This is Part 1 in a series of posts chronicling the history of Shea Homes. 



On May 27th, the Golden Gate celebrated its 75th anniversary. This is an especially poignant celebration for Shea Homes, part of the J.F. Shea Company who was one of the key builders of this American landmark. During the 1930’s, travel in the Bay Area was primarily done by ferry. Seeking to increase transportation opportunities in the area and better connect families and cities, the J.F. Shea Company, was commissioned to construct the bridge’s piers and abutments. The vertical load of each pier weighed in at almost 165 million pounds, with 44 feet above sea level and approximately 100 feet below. Industrialization was just beginning and the Golden Gate Bridge project was one of the most complex ever undertaken at that time. The foundations of the bridge were the deepest that had ever been set. Constructing the piers was extremely challenging given the ferocious tides of up to seven knots as well as constantly shifting winds, blinding fog and frequent violent storms that are characteristic of the San Francisco Bay. In fact, this was considered by many on the crew as the most difficult construction of their careers.

The project was also a significant challenge for the company as it was simultaneously building the Hoover Dam and the Bay Bridge along with the Golden Gate Bridge. The building of the Golden Gate Bridge was also notable for several firsts in heavy construction. For the first time, strict safety standards for dress were enforced. It was the first major job on which hard hats were required. Although commonplace today, the construction of the bridge was also the first to use trucks that mixed as well as carried concrete. This architectural gem held the title of longest suspension bridge in the world for many years and is still hailed as a triumph of modern construction.

Although the official anniversary has passed, the celebrations continue all year long, visit the Bridge’s website for more details. If you’re interested in how this seemingly impossible project came to life, you’ll want to see the documentary about the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge at the Fort Point National Historic Site.

Sunsets with the Golden Gate Bridge looming in the background are always special in San Francisco. To view the bridge at the height of light, there’s a sundial map to help you out.

To see more photos of the construction of the bridge, check out the special exhibit: The Golden Gate Bridge – An Icon that Changed Marin at the Marin History Museum through September 1st.

Help Shea Homes celebrate this marvel of modern architecture all month. You have the chance to win a trip to San Francisco in our Golden Gate Getaway just by visiting one of our Shea Homes Facebook pages. We hope wherever you live, you have the chance to enjoy the Golden Gate Bridge this year.