Walter T. Shirley

written by
the Shirley Chamber of Commerce


Walter T. Shirley was born on October 9, 1896 in Brooklyn. At the time of his death on January 29, 1963, he left behind Rose, his wife of 33 years and his son, Walter T. Shirley, Jr. The 'Acreage King' also left a large legacy in the form of the community of Shirley.

Walter Shirley is primarily remembered as a real estate developer and promoter. With over 40 years in the business, most of them on Long Island, it is no surprise that we associate his name with land. A large part of Shirley's success was due to his being a gambler, willing to take great financial risks. He saw the value in the land of Long Island and he took a chance.

However, Shirley's interests were by no means limited to land development. Throughout his life he was fascinated by the entertainment industry and he owned a large collection of celebrity photographs. His fascination undoubtedly stemmed from his meeting songwriter Irving Berlin at Camp Upton in Yaphank during World War I. Shirley was a private who served with the 'Lost Battalion' in Chateau Thierry in France and he was later decorated by the French government.

When he was 17, he started to work as a song plugger for Irving Berlin. Shirley and his piano player, I. Fred Coots, traveled from movie house to movie house in New York City, performing Berlin's songs between the movie's two reels in an effort to promote sales of his music.

In 1922 at the age of 26, Shirley tired of this line of work. He was employed for a short time at a bond brokerage house. He began his real estate career by selling land around Rockville Centre and Oceanside and his first venture into land development was Mastic Acres.

Walter Shirley promoted more than songs and real estate During the early 1950's he served as New York City's Commission of Commerce under Mayor Vincent R. Impellitteri whose campaign Shirley headed in 1950. His assignment was to promote New York City as a place in which to do business. In this capacity he helped procure millions of dollars worth of defense contracts for New York City. At times his promotion of Shirley conflicted with this job, especially when the ads for Shirley advocated getting out of New York!

Mayor Impellitteri also appointed Walter Shirley goodwill ambassador for New York City and dispatched him to meet with the heads of Europe. Shortly before his death, Shirley was named a director of the New York World's Fair Corporation. On a local level he was president of the Shirley Chamber of Commerce and from 1950 to 1963, he was a member of the board of directors at Security National Bank of Long Island.

Walter Shirley found pleasure in both work and play. An acquaintance of his once remarked, 'He had three stated goals in life: 1) make landowners happy, 2) make a profit and 3) make himself happy.' For fun there were the opening nights at the theater and movie premieres to attend, friendships with celebrities and games of god. Shirley had a Lincoln Continental equipped with a telephone and a police and fire radio. When in Manhattan he and his friends would cruise the Upper East Side listening to emergency calls and streaking to the scene, sometimes arriving ahead of the authorities.

Walter T. Shirley undoubtedly made an impact on Long Island with his real estate promotion. As with any major developer both supporters and detractors can be found among his contemporaries and their descendants. Mr. Shirley's impact on the community can be appreciated or denounced but it cannot be ignored.

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