Peter Shea, whose family firm built homes in 11 states, dies at 88

Peter Owen Shea Sr., whose family construction firm helped build Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge, U.S. freeways and tens of thousands of homes in 11 states, has died. He was 88.

The last survivor of three engineers who built a multibillion-dollar construction and homebuilding business in their grandfather’s name passed away Monday at his home in Newport Beach after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease, the Orange County Register reported.

Shea had served as vice president of Walnut-based J.F. Shea, the successor to a plumbing and heavy construction empire founded in 1881 by his grandfather, John Francis Shea, in Portland, Oregon. 

The original company helped erect the Golden Gate Bridge, the San Francisco Bay Bridge, Hoover Dam and the Interstate Highway System.

In 1961, Shea joined his cousin John Shea and older brother Edmund Shea Jr. as co-owner of the newly dissolved and reincorporated J.F. Shea. He later served as president of J.F. Shea Construction.

J.F. Shea soon expanded into homebuilding, commercial real estate development and venture capital investing. 

Its Shea Homes, founded in 1968, built more than 123,000 homes in 11 states, according to the company. Builder Magazine ranked it as the nation’s 27th biggest home builder last year, with 3,428 homes sold and $2.98 billion in revenue.

Shea Properties, based in Aliso Viejo, now owns and manages 10,000 apartments and 6 million square feet of office, industrial and retail space in California, Colorado, and Washington, according to its website.

In 2015, Forbes estimated the Shea family fortune at $2.5 billion.

Shea was born on May 29, 1935, in Los Angeles. His father, Edmund Sr., had just overseen construction on the piers for the Golden Gate Bridge. He attended Loyola High School, earned a degree in business at UC Berkeley and an engineering degree at USC.

He grew up around construction sites, and held a life-long love of khaki pants, a buttoned-down blue shirt and muddy boots, according to the company.

He served on the Association of General Contractors board and the board for the Paul Merage School of Business at UC Irvine.

“Peter was a very kind, smart, and humble man,” Shea Homes President and CEO Bert Selva told the Register. “He was also very quiet, but when he did share his thoughts, it was always incredibly valuable insight that was spot on.”

Peter Shea outlived his two founding partners. Edmund Shea died at his San Marino home in 2010 at age 80. John, of Pasadena, served as J.F. Shea’s CEO, then as board chair until he died at age 96 in October last year. 

Shea’s son, Peter O. Shea Jr., succeeded John as company CEO.

He is survived by his wife, Carolyn; daughters Sarah and Catherine Shea Johnson; son Peter Jr.; sister Mary Elizabeth Callaghan; brother Henry; eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held Nov. 11 at Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church in Newport Beach.

— Dana Bartholomew

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