Planning and construction
The origins of Shea Stadium go way back to the Brooklyn Dodgers' and the New York Giants' relocations to the U.S. west coast, which left New York without a National League baseball team for the next three years.
Prior to the Dodgers' departure, New York City official Robert Moses tried to interest owner Walter O'Malley in the site as the location for a new stadium, but O'Malley refused, unable to agree on location, ownership, and lease terms. O'Malley preferred to pay construction costs himself so he could own the stadium outright. He wanted total control over revenue from parking, concessions, and other events.
New York City, in contrast, wanted to build the stadium, rent it, and retain the ancillary revenue rights to pay off its construction bonds. Additionally, O'Malley wanted to build his new stadium in Brooklyn, while Moses insisted on Flushing Meadows. When Los Angeles offered O'Malley what the City of New York wouldn't—complete ownership of the facility—he left for southern California in a preemptive bid to install the Dodgers there before a new or existing major league franchise could beat him to it. At the same time, Horace Stoneham moved his New York Giants to San Francisco (although he originally considered moving them to Minneapolis), ensuring that there would be two National League teams in California, and preserving the longstanding rivalry with the Dodgers that continues to this day.
In 1960, the National League agreed to grant an expansion franchise to the owners of the New York franchise in the abortive Continental League, provided that a new stadium be built. Mayor Robert Wagner, Jr. had to personally wire all National League owners and assure them that the city would build a stadium.
On October 6, 1961, the Mets signed a 30-year stadium lease, with an option for a 10-year renewal. Rent for what was originally budgeted as a $9 million facility was set at $450,000 annually, with a reduction of $20,000 each year until it reached $300,000 annually.
In their inaugural season in 1962, the expansion Mets played in the Polo Grounds, with original plans to move to a new stadium in 1963. In October 1962, Mets official Tom Meany said, "Only a series of blizzards or some other unforeseen trouble might hamper construction." That unforeseen trouble surfaced in a number of ways: the severe winter of 1962–1963, along with the bankruptcies of two subcontractors and labor issues. The end result was that both the Mets and Jets played at the Polo Grounds for one more year.
A game at Shea during the 1964
It was originally to be called "Flushing Meadow Park Municipal Stadium" – the name of the public park within which it was built – but a movement was launched to name it in honor of William A. Shea, the New York attorney who brought National League baseball back to New York.
After 29 months and $28.5 million, Shea Stadium opened in 1964 on April 17, with the Pittsburgh Pirates beating the Mets 4–3 before a crowd of 50,312. There were no prior exhibition games or events, and the stadium was barely finished in time for the home opener. Because of a jurisdictional dispute between Local 3 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Local 1106 of the Communications Workers of America, the telephone and telegraph wiring was not finished in time for opening day. The stadium opened five days before the 1964-65 New York World's Fair, across Roosevelt Avenue. Although not officially part of the fair grounds, the stadium sported steel panels on its exterior in the blue-and-orange colors of the Fair. The panels were removed in 1980.
In accordance with New York City law, Shea Stadium was dismantled, rather than imploded. The company with the rights to sell memorabilia was given two weeks after the final game to remove seats, signage and other potentially saleable and collectable items before demolition was to begin. The seats were the first ($869 per pair plus tax, a combination of '86 and '69, the team's two World Series championship years), followed by other memorabilia such as the foul poles, dugouts, stadium signage, and the giant letters that spelled out "SHEA" at the front of the building.
Demolition in progress. Top photo: close-up view of the stadium during demolition. Bottom photo: demolition as viewed from the IRT Flushing Line
with Citi Field
visible in the background.
After salvaging operations concluded, demolition of the ballpark began on October 14, 2008. On October 18, the scoreboard in right field was demolished, with the bleachers, batter's eye and bullpens shortly thereafter.
By November 10, the field, dugouts and the rest of the field level seats had been demolished.
Plaque commemorating the location of Shea Stadium's home plate, now in Citi Field's parking lot.
On January 31, Mets fans all over New York came to Shea Stadium for one final farewell. Fans took a tour of the site, told stories, and sang songs. The last remaining section of seats was demolished on February 18. Fans stood in awe as the remaining structure of Shea Stadium (one section of ramps) was torn down at 11:22 that morning.
The locations of Shea's home plate, pitcher's mound, and bases are marked in Citi Field's parking lot. The plaques feature engravings of the neon baseball players that once graced the exterior of the stadium.
On October 9, 2013, the New York City Council approved a plan to build a mall and entertainment center called Willets West in the Citi Field parking lot where Shea Stadium stood, as part of an effort by the city to redevelop the nearby neighborhood of Willets Point. However, in 2015, the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court ruled that the site, considered parkland, could not be used for commercial development without permission from the New York state government.