In the 49ers’ locker room at Candlestick Park on Tuesday, Michael Gay reminisced that when he first took a job there 35 years ago, the then-tenant Giants were contemplating building their own stadium.
“That started the first week I was here. My boss said, ‘Don’t worry about that, they’ve been talking about it for years. It won’t happen,’” Gay remembered. “Well, it kind of did.”
Now the Candlestick Park stadium chief, Gay gave a tour to media in light of Monday’s last regular season game at the Stick for the 49ers, the first major sports team founded in San Francisco to move out of The City.
The football team’s move to Santa Clara and the stadium’s demolition a year or so later will leave only memories for those who have visited Candlestick over the decades.
Gay, who works for the Recreation and Park Department, recalled that the Stick at one time had the world’s largest escalator, and that it was one of the first stadiums to convert from natural grass to artificial turf. He spoke of the unique features of its tall light towers. He was also reminded of how fortunate staff members felt when the 1989 earthquake caused no major damage to the popular venue.
But the best thing about the Stick, Gay said, was that it was the first multipurpose stadium. It served the Giants from 1960 until the baseball team moved to AT&T Park in 2000, and the 49ers since 1971.
“I missed the teams but I didn’t miss those 24-hour conversions,” he said.
From the upper deck in 1982, when Dwight Clark caught his NFC championship-winning touchdown pass from Joe Montana, Gay remembered hearing “The Catch, The Catch, The Catch.” Another major highlight over the years at the Stick was the Beatles' final full concert in 1966.
“It’s sad to lose an iconic part of San Francisco’s history. So many wonderful things have happened here,” said Recreation and Park Department General Manager Phil Ginsburg. “But quarterbacks and stadiums all have a shelf life.”
The Stick is the second oldest stadium in the National Football League.
“You start to realize,” said 49ers Vice President of Stadium Operations and Security Jim Mercurio, “that what really makes it are the people.”
Though the Giants have already said goodbye to the Stick, they haven’t said goodbye to the memories, said Mario Alioto, the club’s senior vice president of business operations.
“It’s not the perfect house, but that is the house you grew up with and that is the house the fans will miss,” he said.
At the end of the tour, Bob Mallamo, 66, who has been the 49ers’ locker room manager for 13 years, followed his game-day ritual at the entrance of the tunnel leading to the field.
“I’m one of the last ones here and I lock these doors,” he said. “When I lock them on Monday, it will be my last time.”
Candlestick to see slate of events following departure of 49ers
Regardless of the 49ers’ postseason run, the Recreation and Park Department has scheduled some amateur sports games, special events and a final fan fest at Candlestick Park over the next eight to 12 months. The Stick is not slated to be demolished until fall 2014 or early 2015 for a proposed large development project that includes retail and thousands of homes.
Candlestick Park Stadium Chief Engineer Michael Gay has seen other stadiums get imploded, but after hearing demolition plans for the San Francisco landmark, he doesn’t know if he can bare to watch.
“Here I’ve been trying to maintain it, keep it looking good, and here these guys are talking about, ‘Well, we can bring this thing down in 100 seconds,’” he said on Tuesday.
The 49ers may be playing their last home game on Monday, but the Stick won’t be disappearing in the immediate future.
“This place will not be going dark after the last regular-season game,” Recreation and Park Department General Manager Phil Ginsburg said. “This is a pretty important game and a home playoff game is still a possibility.”
Ginsburg said of the development proposed to replace the Stick: “This will be one of San Francisco’s robust neighborhoods in the next generation.”
The department is in talks with several big names for final concerts to continue the Stick’s tradition of popular events such as the Beatles’ last show.
As for a rumored Paul McCartney performance, Ginsburg said: “We are in discussions with his team about the possibility.”