Candlestick Park a Symbol of Crony Capitalism

Candlestick Park a Symbol of Crony Capitalism

On Monday, the 49ers played the last regular season game at Candlestick Park in San Francisco by defeating the Atlanta Falcons 34-24. The game marked an end to the famed stadium that was also a symbol of the worst of crony capitalism in sports. 

Consider what has been referred to as The “Candlestick Swindle“:

— A ball park, billed as costing the taxpayers $5 million, skyrocketed to $15 million in the year of its construction.

— Henry E. North, foreman of the San Francisco grand jury at the time, conducted an investigation and called it a scandal. His grand jury issued a scathing report.

— The local press doctored, then buried, the story for good.

— Critics who warned of calamity in the choice of the cold, windy, distant location were hooted down by Mayor Christopher’s administration.

— North was pressured unmercifully until he called off his attack on the swindle. He died a broken man.

According to an investigative report published in 1972, in 1953 San Francisco Mayor Elme Robinson “asked the Board of Supervisors to approve a $5 million bond proposition to construct a new stadium. Among the supervisors in approval: George Christopher, soon to become mayor; Gene McAteer, headed for the state senate; Francis McCarty, a future judge; Harold Dobbs, restaurateur and budding Republican candidate for mayor, and John Jay Ferdon, future district attorney.”

The proclaimed Major Leauge Baseball would bring wealth, which it did not, and lured the New York baseball Giants to move to San Francisco. 

Then, in July of that year, “a local multi-millionaire contractor named Charles Harney purchased 65 acres of land at Candlestick Point from the city of San Francisco for $2,100 an acre.” In 1957, “Harney sold back 41 acres of the parcel he had purchased from the city in 1953 at $2,100 an acre. The 1957 price the city paid to Harney for its own former land was $65,853 an acre,” making a cool “$2.6 million on the four-year land ownership switch.”

Then, Mayor George Christopher administration’s operated a dummy corporation so it could “bypass the voters to raise more money. Had it not been for the creation of Stadium, Inc., the Christopher administration would have been required to hold open, competitive bidding for the contract, and voters would have seen the price tags. By operating through Stadium, Inc., Christopher was able to evade the city charter and arrange the contract in a privately negotiated deal.”

That is how the administration “was able to float another $5.5 million bond issue without voter approval. The interest rate on these bonds was set at 5% whereas the interest on the original $5 million bond issue was only 2.4%, a difference that would eventually cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Interestingly, a company by the name of “Stevens California Enterprises” got “the food and beverage concession at the ball park” and initially “bought all its milk” from the mayor’s milk company, Christopher Dairy Farms.

Henry North, “a Republican and a conservative member of the San Francisco business community,” went on a crusade against Candlestick because he “had a strong sense of civic duty, however, and the Candlestick Park deal smelled to him of garbage.” North ultimately issued a report, after a Grand Jury investigation, that was scathing and described as “potential dynamite” in detailing all of the crony capitalism behind the ball park. 

Read more here and here.