As the San Francisco 49ers’ regular season winds down, many sports fans and longtime city residents are preparing their goodbyes to Candlestick Park, which hosts its final regular season game next week and is set to be demolished after more than five decades of use.
Next season, the 49ers will step out of Candlestick and into the state-of-the-art Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, a $1.3-billion project that is about 80 percent complete, stadium operations manager Jim Mercurio said today at a media tour of the aging San Francisco facility.
Candlestick Park, situated at the southeastern end of the city in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood, is set to be deconstructed and then demolished by the end of 2014 or early 2015, San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department general manager Phil Ginsburg said.
The 49ers have been playing at the stadium since 1971 and previously shared the space with the San Francisco Giants, who moved in 2000 to their own baseball stadium along the Embarcadero, now named AT&T Park.
The Oakland Raiders used the behemoth structure for their 1961 season.
San Francisco’s parks department has managed the stadium and its operations for the past five decades. San Francisco-based developer Lennar Urban will become the landowner after the team’s last game of the season.
The last game to ever be played at the storied stadium could come Monday when the Niners host the Atlanta Falcons at 5:40 p.m.
There is a small chance, however, that the 49ers will host a playoff game in the NFC Championship, which would make that the final game at the stadium.
The ‘Stick, as it is affectionately known, is full of memories dating back to its opening day in 1960.
Ginsburg said he and other parkS department staff are starting to “get sentimental” about the fast-approaching closure.
“This place has touched so many people,” he said, noting that there have been “lots and lots of iconic moments” beyond sports, including the final full Beatles concert in 1966 and other performances by bands such as Metallica, the Rolling Stones and Ray Charles.
Pope John Paul II stopped by in 1987 and the first pitch at a San Francisco Giants game was thrown in 1960 by then-Vice President Richard Nixon.
Ginsburg recalled his first visit to the park for a Giants baseball game and arriving unprepared in shorts and a T-shirt for the stadium’s notorious windy and cold conditions.
Although the stadium will soon be shuttered for football games, in the next eight months the parks department will continue to host activities and events there, such as concerts and youth programming, he said.
A final community farewell event will be held next summer, with details forthcoming, Ginsburg said.
Locker room manager Bob Mallamo said the Santa Clara stadium will provide upgraded facilities for fans and players, but “it doesn’t have the history.”
Mallamo, who is in charge of the 49ers’ locker room and the visiting locker room next-door, said “it’s hard to walk away from this” and admitted he’s having a difficult time with the transition.
The move will be bittersweet, he said. The new visitors’ locker room will be two times bigger, putting an end to the common complaint that there’s “no place to relax,” he said.
He called the new space “phenomenal.”
In San Francisco, quarters are cramped for the players, with equipment stored in the showers. The new stadium will be “more professional,” he said.
Mercurio said “it’s time” for the move to Santa Clara, where the weather is warmer and the facilities will be more welcoming based on its layout, public transit and parking.
“It’s quite an experience for fans and players,” he said.
However, Mercurio said “a lot of character and history” at Candlestick will be missed.
Even with the team playing in Santa Clara, Mercurio said, “It won’t negate the fact that we love San Francisco.”
Mike Gay, the stadium’s chief engineer, said operations this season have been too busy to dwell on the upcoming move and staffing changes.
He led a tour of the dugout, field and stands, pointing out the spot in the north end zone where “The Catch” occurred in 1982, when Joe Montana threw a winning pass to Dwight Clark in the NFC Championship game against the Dallas Cowboys.
As Gay walked along the field, he noted that even the grass had its own history, switching from artificial turf in the 1970s to Kentucky bluegrass natural grass in 1979 and its latest iteration as more water-friendly Bermuda grass.
Memories of Jerry Rice careening into the sidelines and other football greats gracing the field were mentioned as stadium staff reminisced during today’s tour.
As part of the farewell season, Monday’s game will include a send-off and segue to “what’s coming next” in Santa Clara, Mercurio said.
The 49ers are 10-4 so far this year and would be one of the NFC’s six playoff teams if the season ended today.
The team has also set up a website, www.farewellcandlestick.com, for fans to share their memories of the stadium.
Sasha Lekach, Bay City News