Through McCarty and Gray, Christopher learned that Walter O'Malley of the Brooklyn Dodgers had been flirting with the idea of moving west for some time. It stood to reason, the mayor concluded, that O'Malley would not go west alone and that Horace Stoneham of the New York Giants, stuck with an antiquated stadium in a declining neighborhood, might join him. In fact the Giants were seriously considering a move to Minneapolis, where they had a Triple A farm team. Christopher started calling on the two New York owners regularly. "We'd have those all-night sessions," he recalls. "I'd leave on Friday, check into some obscure hotel in New York, and we'd go at it all weekend." It soon became apparent that O'Malley was staking out Los Angeles for himself. "Well," says Christopher, "I thought if he's taking L.A., I know darn well somebody's coming to San Francisco." That would be Stoneham.
The stadium remained a dilemma. Stoneham would move, but he would agree to play only temporarily in Seals Stadium. Ultimately, he would insist on a 40,000-seat ballpark with 12,000 parking spaces, convinced as he was that parking was absolutely essential to the operation of a big league ball club. At the Polo Grounds he had virtually none. "Now where in hell are you going to find 12,000 parking spaces in San Francisco?" Christopher asked himself, knowing from experience that the city had always had parking problems. Downtown sites for a ballpark were explored, particularly in the area immediately southeast of Market Street, within walking distance of the financial district and the city's two major newspapers, the Chronicle and the Examiner. But land there was difficult to acquire, and the acquisition process, Christopher knew, might take years. There was also stiff opposition to a downtown ballpark from the major department stores, whose proprietors feared that traffic congestion would hurt their business. The Examiner and the Chronicle, whose editors today are loudly calling for a downtown ballpark, supported the stores, their principal advertisers.
Gray thought of somebody who might have an answer. He knew Charley Harney, a multimillion-dollar contractor, through business contacts and the Dons Club, a University of San Francisco boosters group. Harney was an aggressive, irascible, impetuous, egotistical and, at least as far as USF was concerned, entirely generous man. He also owned 41 acres of land on Candlestick Point, which he proposed to sell to the city at a bargain price—80� per square foot, as opposed to the $25 per square foot it would cost downtown—for a stadium, on the condition that he build it. The Giants had announced the move west in August of 1957. The city had less than two years to get a ballpark built before the bond issue expired. So a deal was struck—an especially controversial one, it turned out.
Long before the first fly ball was tortured there by the wind, there was turbulence on Candlestick Point. Harney signed the contract on July 24, 1958 to build a stadium designed by John Bolles, a well-known San Francisco architect. Harney had never built a stadium before, and Bolles had never designed one. There was trouble from the start between these two opposites, the rough-hewn builder and the patrician architect. The Giants had hoped to move in sometime during the 1959 season, and they became particularly anxious about it after they got off to a brisk 43-33 start that year. How about opening up the new ballpark with a World Series? It was not to be.
The Giants eventually faded, and Harney fell well behind schedule. He started work on the stadium more than a month late, then endured, in succession, a Teamsters strike and a shattering blow to his ego. Harney accused Bolles of adding another $750,000 to the original plans. Bolles said Harney was only "dragging his feet" because he was pouting about the name given the stadium. Indeed, Harney had been operating under the misapprehension that the stadium would be named after him. After all, he reasoned, it was being built by him on land he owned. So convinced was he of the tribute that would soon be his that he had his trucks painted HARNEY STADIUM. Instead, in a contest held to name the stadium, an overwhelming proportion of the 15,000 newspaper readers who participated suggested " Candlestick Park." Harney fumed. "When he learned the stadium wasn't going to be named after him things just stopped dead," said Bolles. Charles McCabe, then a columnist for the Chronicle, suggested a compromise: Harney should change his own name to Charley Candlestick.
As work progressed spasmodically, another bomb was dropped on the project. A grand jury report in 1958 concluded that the city had gotten a "bad deal" and that Harney had made a killing. Sherman Duckel, the city's director of public works, countered that if anybody had made a bad deal it was Harney. The builder, said Duckel, could have made a lot more money putting an industrial park on his property, as, in fact, he had originally planned to do. The grand jury's foreman, insurance executive Henry E. North, was especially vocal in his criticism of the Christopher administration for rushing the ballpark deal through channels so precipitously. Stung, the mayor replied, "Henry North got drunk and made incoherent statements." North sued Christopher for slander. Benjamin L. Swig, influential owner of the Fairmont Hotel and a principal supporter of Russell H. Wolden, Christopher's opponent in the 1959 mayoral election, got into the act. Swig wanted the stadium downtown. "The mayor," he said, "has spent a huge sum of our money to erect a monument to his own poor judgment." Harney, meanwhile, sued the city for $1.5 million, claiming extra costs. The city sued Harney for damages, claiming he failed to finish the project on schedule and had left work undone. Neither suit was settled before Harney's death in 1962. A year later his firm was awarded $400,000. North and Christopher reconciled one tearful Sunday afternoon, and North dropped his suit. Christopher defeated Wolden in the election. Seven years later, Wolden, longtime county assessor, was convicted of bribery and sentenced to prison.
But the stadium did get built. And then they found out it was cold and windy. A radiant-heating system was installed to warm at least 20,000 seats. When, naturally, it didn't work, famed attorney Melvin Belli sued the Giants for the price of his season box, claiming breach of warranty. To the jury Belli proclaimed that he had been assailed at Candlestick by "the bitterest winds this side of the Himalayas," and that to be comfortable at Candlestick a fan would have to dress warmer than he might for a Siberian expedition. A $55,000 wind study commissioned by the city showed that gusts at the stadium could reach velocities of 62 miles an hour. The weather bureau reported that winds there could shift as much as 180� during a game. As early as 1962 there was talk of doming the place. Buckminster Fuller, designer of the geodesic dome, was approached. He could cap Candlestick, he said, for $35 million, more than three times the cost of the original construction. Improving Candlestick would be "perpetuating a mediocrity," mayor Joseph Alioto said in 1968. And yet it was under Alioto's aegis that the city spent $24 million to enlarge Candlestick by 20,000 seats to accommodate the 49ers professional football team, which moved there from dilapidated Kezar Stadium across town in 1971. The 49ers' press guide even referred to the despised ballpark as the team's "plush new home." Plush? The expansion also included the installation of artificial turf to support the extra wear and tear of two sports. When the 49ers suffered a rash of injuries on the dreadful stuff in the mid-'70s, they asked that it be replaced by the real thing. It was, in 1979.
Through all the Sturm und Drang the Giants played on. Their teams of the '60s were, by any measure, glamorous, boasting three present-day Hall of Famers—Mays, Willie McCovey and Juan Marichal—and at least one future candidate, Gaylord Perry. This is not to mention such only slightly lesser lights as Cepeda, Billy Pierce, Miller and the Alou brothers. In 1962 the Giants won the National League pennant and extended the Yankees to seven games in the Series, losing the final game 1-0 in Candlestick when Bobby Richardson hauled in McCovey's line drive with the tying and winning runs in scoring position. The team drew 1,795,356 fans its first year in Candlestick, a record that still stands, and it averaged 1� million fans, a high figure back then, through the 1967 season.
In 1968 the A's moved in across the Bay, and the Giants were suddenly not the only game in town. And when the great players began to fade or move on, the bottom all but dropped out for the franchise. In 1974 attendance dipped to a San Francisco low of 519,991 and improved only to 522,925 the next season. Stoneham, now in his 70s, wanted out; he was convinced the Bay Area could not support two teams, despite an aggregate population of 5.7 million, now fifth highest in the country. In January of 1976 Stoneham agreed to sell the team to the Labatt's Breweries of Toronto. A court injunction obtained by mayor George Moscone held up the sale, claiming that the Giants' original 35-year lease was unbreakable. Then Bob Lurie, a real estate tycoon and a native of San Francisco, stepped forward at the 11th hour to buy the team for $8 million in partnership with Phoenix meat packer Bud Herseth.
Herseth, who was fond of wearing bloodstained butcher's smocks and of boasting about "slaughtering cows," and the reserved, conservatively dressed Lurie were strange bedfellows, and they stayed in business together only until 1977, when Lurie bought Herseth out for $5 million. Lurie had been on the Giants' board of directors since the team came to San Francisco, and had long been interested in running the show. A shy man, he had lived much of his life in the considerable shadow of his flamboyant father, Louis, a self-made entrepreneur and boulevardier who basked in publicity and enjoyed showing off such show business pals as Maurice Chevalier. His son, even as he approached middle age, was always "my Bobby" to the old man. But the Giants gave Bob Lurie a local celebrity not even his father had enjoyed, and he made the most of it, becoming in his quiet way a man about town.