A Long and Storied Past

The history of J.F. Shea Co., Inc. began in 1881 when John Francis Shea started a plumbing company in Portland, Oregon. As Portland grew, so too did the plumbing company, expanding its scope into pipelines and infrastructure projects like the Portland Seawall, sewers and tunnels. When John’s son, Charlie, took over the business he brought with him a reputation for successfully taking on complex projects. From the mid-1910s until his death in 1942, he led the company through some of the largest and most challenging engineering projects the country has known—the Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, to name a few. The company is now in its fourth generation of family leadership.

The company has strengthened its position by diversifying into a number of related industries, including material production, residential construction, commercial property development and venture capital. This story of remarkable accomplishment can be attributed to firmly established traditions that will remain an important part of the company’s history of growth and prosperity well into the 21st century and beyond.

1880s John F. Shea founded J.F. Shea Plumbing Company in Portland, Oregon in 1881. By the turn of the century, the company had expanded into plumbing installation for large buildings and sewer construction.

1910s John Shea established a partnership with his ambitious son Charlie, and J.F. Shea Company was born. Younger sons Gilbert and Edmund Shea joined the company shortly thereafter.

1920s J.F. Shea Company expanded its operations, building the Portland Seawall on the Oregon coast and the Owyhee Irrigation Tunnels in Idaho. This period also marked the company’s first foray into California with the construction of the Mokelumne Pipeline in San Francisco’s East Bay.

1930s This decade signaled a new era of accomplishment for the company. In 1933, it moved its headquarters from Portland to Los Angeles. A number of ambitious projects were started including pier work on the Golden Gate Bridge and tunnels for the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Metropolitan Water District in Southern California. Dam projects included the Long Valley Dam in California and Hoover Dam in Nevada, which, upon completion, reigned as the world’s tallest dam and largest hydroelectric plant.

1940s Gilbert and Edmund Shea assumed leadership of the company after Charlie Shea’s death in 1942. During World War II, J.F. Shea Company contributed to the war effort by aiding in shipbuilding and canal projects. After the war, the company resumed its dam and tunnel work.

1950s In 1958, stewardship of the company was handed to John, Edmund and Peter Shea, the sons of Gilbert and Edmund Shea. To date, J.F. Shea Co., Inc. had completed over $1 billion in heavy construction projects. In 1957, Redding Sand and Gravel was formed to supply concrete aggregate for the Clear Creek Tunnel project. Shasta Electric Inc. was founded in 1958 and became a full-service electrical contractor for the heavy industrial market.

1960s Within the company, this period is known as “The Decade of Diversification.” Phenomenal success in the tunnel and dam business over the previous 40 years gave Shea the financial base to broaden its interests. With the creation of Shea Homes, the homebuilding industry became its first area of expansion. Today, Shea Homes is one of the most prominent homebuilders in the nation with operations in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Washington. The Venture Capital Division, founded in 1968, has proven extremely successful, providing start-up capital for several top American companies. Over the next 30+ years, the Venture Capital Division’s profits provide significant capital to fund the growth of the Shea real estate operations.

1970s The company’s tunnel business continued to grow as Shea expanded its strategy of diversification. The company also acquired gunite equipment maker Reed Manufacturing.

1980s J.F. Shea’s extensive tunneling projects kept the company busy throughout the decade. Continued growth in the real estate industry provided opportunity for both the Shea Properties and Shea Homes Divisions. Working as partners, the two divisions developed several master-planned communities in California. During this time, Shea Homes enjoyed record sales.

1990s In 1997, the company purchased California-based Mission Viejo Company, a master planned community developer. This purchase included land in Mission Viejo and Aliso Viejo, California, as well as Highlands Ranch in Colorado, one of the most popular communities in the country. In 1998, Shea Homes acquired UDC Homes, giving it a strategic foothold in the high-growth “active adult” market. Diversification efforts continued as Shea Mortgage was formed along with new home design centers in each division. In addition, Heavy Construction acquired Advanco Constructors.

2000s The 21st century brought yet another decade with continued opportunity for the J.F. Shea companies to grow and prosper. Building upon a 120-year tradition of integrity, quality and financial strength, the J.F. Shea companies aggressively pursued opportunities for growth in their markets and opportunities that improved their products and services.

2010s Whether it’s subway extension and underground station projects in New York City and Los Angeles, bridge and turnpike projects in Pennsylvania, tunnels in Indiana and Georgia, or opening new residential communities around the country, Shea continues to innovate and advance the standards in each of its industries.

  • John Francis Shea opens the J. F. Shea Plumbing Company in Portland, Oregon. From these humble beginnings as a modest, one man plumbing shop, the company evolved into one of the nation's largest and oldest privately owned construction companies.