History of J.F. Shea Co., Inc.

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.

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.

  • Photo of John Francis Shea

    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.

  • Construction workers on one of J.F. Shea Co., Inc.'s major sewer and water supply construction sites

    The company expands into major sewer and water supply construction jobs in the Portland area. In 1915, recognizing the company's growing diversity, the name of the company was changed to J.F. Shea Company, Inc.

  • Construction underway on the Portland Seawall public improvement project

    The Shea's are awarded the first of several major public improvement projects — the Portland Seawall. Soon to follow are the Mokelumne Pipeline in the East Bay of San Francisco, and the Owyhee Irrigation Project in Eastern Oregon. These projects put the J.F. Shea Company on the map for major public works projects, particularly in the Western U.S.

  • Charlie Shea reviewing construction progress on the Hoover Dam project

    Drilling begins for the diversion tunnels on the Hoover Dam project. These tunnels divert the Colorado river around the site of the dam allowing the giant barrier to be constructed. Charlie Shea, the eldest son of John F. Shea, leads the company's efforts on the project and is an integral part of the project's success.

  • Construction underway on the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco - Oakland Bay Bridge

    Ed Shea, John's middle son leads the company's efforts on the Golden Gate Bridge. Shea's responsibility on the project was constructing the piers that support the bridge's two towers. It was a large, difficult project complicated by the extreme conditions of the Bay. Soon to follow would be Shea's work on the construction of the San Francisco - Oakland Bay Bridge.

  • Construction underway on the Los Angeles aqueduct

    The J.F. Shea Company moves its headquarters from Portland, Oregon to Los Angeles where John Shea's youngest son, Gil, leads the company's work on the Los Angeles aqueduct, the first of many water and tunneling projects for the Metropolitan Water District.

  • Construction underway on a dam project

    The company continues to grow as it participates in a series of government funded "New Deal" projects, including dam projects like Bonneville and Grand Coulee on the Columbia River, Shasta on the Sacramento River and Parker Dam on the Colorado River.

  • Interior view of construction work in progress for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)

    The company works on the first of many East Coast projects with tunneling work in New York and Baltimore. This was soon to be followed by dam work for the Tennessee Valley Authority. (TVA)

  • A Liberty Ship in the process of being built

    Anticipating the pre-war build-up, the J.F. Shea Company, as part of the Six Companies, enters the ship building business. By the end of the war, they helped build 1800 ships or about 25% of the Maritime Commission's total program, including 40% of the Liberty Ships used in the war.

  • Corporate photo and professional portrait of Charlie Shea

    This year marked the passing of Charlie Shea who had transformed the company from being a small plumbing contractor to a key player in some of the largest public work projects in history. During the war construction projects continued although labor and material shortages made progress nearly impossible in some instances.

  • John Shea, Edmund Jr. Shea, and Peter Shea

    Gil's son John and Edmund's son Edmund Jr. cut their teeth as laborers on projects like the Clear Creek Tunnel and Big Cliff Diversion Tunnel. Edmund's brother Peter was still in school but would soon join his older brother and cousin.

  • Interior views of tunneling projects in progress

    The next generation of Shea's re-incorporate as the J.F. Shea Co., Inc. The entity that is still in place today. With John Shea as President and Edmund and Peter as Vice Presidents, they establish themselves as one of the nation's preeminent tunneling contractors but also work in other areas such as highway construction.

  • Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system

    The Shea's are part of a successful bid for 6 projects on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system. The largest of these was the Berkeley Hills tunnel. They also helped to construct the Powell Street Station.

  • Interior and exterior views of various Shea Homes

    The Shea's make their most important diversification decision and enter into homebuilding. This capital intensive business effectively puts to use the capital being generated by the tunneling projects. Lacking expertise in this industry, their initial role is that of a financial partner.

  • Wall of framed stock purchase letters for various companies

    Also in 1968, the Shea's make their first investments as venture capitalists. Led by Edmund and taking advantage of his proximity to Silicon Valley, their investments read like a who's who in technology. Companies like Apple Computers, Adobe, Altera Computers, Genentech and AES corporation are among the over 250 companies receiving investments from Shea Ventures.

  • Exterior view of pool and cabanas at City Lights at Town Center apartment complex

    In 1969, Shea Properties begins development of industrial and office parks, retail centers, and apartment communities eventually leading to annual revenues of more than $250 million.

  • Aerial view of Southern California

    During the 1970s the Shea's were building homes in Southern California, Northern California and Nevada. Their growth was slow but steady as they developed the talent and expertise to compete in this new market.

  • Aerial view of Mission Viejo and Aliso Viejo, California

    Shea Properties and Shea Homes acquire the remaining assets of the Mission Viejo Company which included 900 acres of land in Mission Viejo and Aliso Viejo, California, and 22,000 acres of land in Highlands Ranch, Colorado.

  • Trilogy at Ocala Preserve community

    Shea Homes enters the Active Adult homebuilding arena eventually leading to the award-winning Trilogy communities.

  • Aerial view of Denver Technological Center/Meridian International Business Center

    Shea Properties acquires the successful Denver Technological Center and Meridian International Business Center in metro Denver, expanding their portfolio and commercial expertise.

  • Emerald Heights at Blackstone community

    Building on an already stellar reputation, Shea Homes is named Builder of the Year by Professional Builder magazine and one of America’s Best Builders by the National Association of Homebuilders.

  • Inside the MTA No. 7 Line Extension Tunnel

    The team of J.F. Shea Construction, Skanska USA Civil, and Schiavone are awarded Construction Project of the Year by the NY Society of Professional Engineers for their work on the MTA No. 7 Line Extension Tunnels.