Bruno’s Creamery: Sunnyside’s Legendary Midcentury Corner Soda Fountain

For thirty-five years, Sunnyside had a well-loved and well-patronized restaurant at the corner of Monterey Boulevard and Foerster Street, famous for its opinionated but kind-hearted owner, Bruno Cappa (1911-1984). Bruno’s Creamery Fountain Restaurant counted among its many customers a few of the city’s minor luminaries, but mostly it was a favorite of locals and kids. The place was famous for serving curly fries, forty years before they were on the menus of fast-food chains. Although he was a bit gruff, Bruno is fondly remembered to this day by many people who ate there or just hung out.

Bruno Cappa in front of Bruno's Creamery, about 1960. Photo courtesy Marilyn Cappa Kennedy.
Bruno Cappa in front of Bruno’s Creamery, 599 Monterey Boulevard, San Francisco. About 1960. Photo courtesy Marilyn Cappa Kennedy.

The Shop

The restaurant was an unpretentious place, a narrow space with a counter on the right and pinball machines in the back. Along the left wall were news racks that also held the comic books that were prized as free reading material by local kids. As the years passed, the shop acquired a grill and a donut fryer, along with the special machine for producing his famed curly fries. Behind the counter there were racks with small items like bromo-seltzer and sweets, and on the walls (depending on the décor that year) there were small posters for soda or ice cream.

Interior, Bruno's Creamery, about 1940, shortly after he took over the shop. Bruno Cappa is on the right, and Eva is seated at the counter. Photo courtesy Marilyn Cappa Kennedy.
Interior, Bruno’s Creamery, about 1940, shortly after he took over the shop. Bruno Cappa is on the right, and Eva is seated at the counter. Photo courtesy Marilyn Cappa Kennedy.

The Service

Bruno and his wife Eva stood behind the long counter—he took your order for a burger, and she cooked it up. They both worked hard, putting in 16- or 17-hour days, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Eva was always quiet, but Bruno often gave unasked-for, if well-intended, advice—like telling an unemployed customer to get a job and feed his family. But then Bruno would send him on his way after a meal with a bag of groceries—under that rude exterior he had a big heart.

Kids came in to play the pinball machines in back, and read the comic books Bruno had for sale. Longtime Sunnyside Frank Koehler recalls that Bruno would say ” ‘Hey, you guys, if you want to read them, you gotta buy ’em’—but since we were regulars, Bruno never enforced the ‘you gotta buy ’em’ rule….But he’d always mention the rule before he ignored it.”

Bruno kept tabs on regulars. One person told me about how if Bruno hadn’t seen you for a while, he would send someone around to your house to make sure you were okay.

“Bruno was truly a unique individual and quite a character.”[1]

Bruno Cappa behind the counter. Bruno's Creamery, about 1965. Photo courtesy Marilyn Cappa Kennedy.
Bruno Cappa behind the counter. Bruno’s Creamery, about 1965. Photo courtesy Marilyn Cappa Kennedy.

“Bruno was a pain in the neck!”[2]

Continue reading “Bruno’s Creamery: Sunnyside’s Legendary Midcentury Corner Soda Fountain”

The Contractor with a Heart of Gold

One of a series of articles about the Poole-Bell House in Fairmount Heights, San Francisco. This story contains references to sexual abuse of a minor, drug use, and attempted suicide.

The Poole-Bell House had become a bit dilapidated by 1956, its Victorian charm not much cherished in that era of modernist tastes. That year a contractor named Joe LoPresti bought it, one of his many fixer-upper projects. He renovated the large building, removing some of its period features in the process; it took the Gilmores in the 1980s to restore its original appearance. It wasn’t yet the time for San Francisco to rediscover the beauty of its old houses.

LoPresti was a character about town; just before he bought the Poole-Bell House, he got entangled in a public scandal—not as a perpetrator of vice, but as a kind of savior to a “fallen woman.” It was a renovation project, played out on newspaper pages and Herb Caen’s column, that was not destined to end well. The story was built for the 1950s, full of secret sin and dope fiends, public outrage and salvaged female virtue—a tale to put fear into the straight-laced parents and make them worry about their teen daughters—or the seemingly innocuous house on the corner in their middle-class neighborhoods, as a few houses in the city were revealed to actually be prostitution venues.

The story starts in 1954, with a young woman named Paula Winters. That was her prostitution pseudonym—her real name was Shirley Grimes of Daly City. Continue reading “The Contractor with a Heart of Gold”

The Detroit Steps: Some historical images, and a vignette

The public stairway in Sunnyside called the Detroit Steps is currently the focus of an art and landscaping project. The stairway runs along the route of a planned street that was never built due to the steep hillside. In other places in Sunnyside, such unbuildable “paper” streets—that is, streets that only existed on maps—were simply excised altogether. (More about that here.)

Stairway beauty spots, decorated with art and landscaping, free of cars, and perhaps with a view, are a longstanding San Francisco tradition, given the impracticality of building roadways on various blocks of the city’s steep hills. From the high-buzz tourist attraction at 16th Avenue—to the many undecorated and largely unknown stairways such as Mandalay Steps or the Detroit Steps—this is a city full of wonderful public stairways.

The Detroit Steps Through Time

The present-day concrete stairs were installed at the Lower Detroit Steps (south of Monterey) the 1930s, and the Upper Detroit Steps (north of Monterey) in the 1960s. Like many of the steeply sloped blocks on either side of Monterey Boulevard, the nearby lots went undeveloped for a long time, as the photos below well show. It took the apartment-building boom in the 1950s-1970s to fill out Monterey’s unbuilt hillsides (and thereby deprive the neighborhood kids of some adventures). The great increase in density along Monterey makes the preciousness of any public open space away from traffic all the more important now. Continue reading “The Detroit Steps: Some historical images, and a vignette”

Fazekas, Redux

If you haven’t already, please read the original post about Anton Fazekas and his little invention: The little sculpture affixed to your house: Anton Fazekas and the making of a midcentury San Francisco sensation.


My post in July 2020 about Anton Fazekas and his house-number sensation turned out to be a minor sensation itself, bringing visitors to this blog in great numbers. Thank you for all the tweets, Reddit posts, and other links that spread the word. Attention to this minute part of the domestic built environment seems to have been a little anodyne in an age of upheaval.

In this follow-up post there are more photos, many from readers, taken in San Francisco and other Bay Area cities. I show some rehabilitated units, and some rare and odd finds. Also, I address the pressing issue of where to get replacement bulbs and numbers, with a link for the technical info you need to replace a bulb. And we get a peek at a 3D printed reproduction of a Fazekas.

If you have additional information, tips for renovation, or images to share, please write me. In particular, if you have a resource for unattached refurbished Fazekases for sale, please let me know.

Continue reading “Fazekas, Redux”

Monterey Boulevard shops: Some midcentury photos

The covid-19 pandemic has put a temporary halt to my history walks, including the one that highlights Monterey Boulevard shops, restaurants, and businesses of decades past. But here are some photos, most never seen before, showing businesses from the 1950s to the 1970s. From the San Francisco Office of the Assessor-Recorder Photographs Collection, at the San Francisco History Center.

Many businesses on the boulevard came and went without ever being recorded visually in the public record, such as the old Safeway (1942-1972) that was located in the parking lot of the current Safeway. Or Bruno’s Creamery Restaurant, at Foerster Street, site of many happy hours for local kids.

The big push to plant street trees in the 1970s has changed the look of the street completely, as these photos well show. Photos are ordered from 400s to 700s, Edna Street to Ridgewood Avenue, with each followed by a present-day photo. Do you have a photo taken on Monterey to share? Write me.

1955. 429 Monterey Blvd. Jack Specialty Barber Shop, mid-1940s to early 1980s. San Francisco Office of Assessor-Recorder Photographs Collection, San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library sfpl.org/sfphotos/asr
1955. 429 Monterey Blvd. Jack Specialty Barber Shop, mid-1940s to early 1980s. Note 25MPH speed sign, before it went to 30 in the 1970s. San Francisco Office of Assessor-Recorder Photographs Collection, San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library sfpl.org/sfphotos/asr

Continue reading “Monterey Boulevard shops: Some midcentury photos”

The little sculpture affixed to your house: Anton Fazekas and the making of a midcentury San Francisco sensation

Don’t miss the follow-up post to this article, including more photos and renovation information.


Most houses in the city have numbers on their fronts; there are a small part of the house’s exterior decor and often escape notice. On my recent socially distanced neighborhood walks I’ve been looking at them. Many houses in Sunnyside, as well as neighborhoods all over the city, have numbers encased in little frames like these.

There turns out to be an interesting history behind these numbers that begins with an artist named Anton Fazekas (1878-1966).

The Sculptor and the Designs

Fazekas was the designer and manufacturer of these ornamental house numbers, each with a little bulb to light up the digits. He patented three models in the early 1930s. They were solidly fabricated of die-cast iron, and held space for four or five numerals depending on the model, with large, plain, readable numerals made of enameled metal. Later he added italic numerals. The digits slotted into the back and were secured with a little bar that screwed down. The hood protecting the bulb could be removed, allowing the bulb to be easily changed. Continue reading “The little sculpture affixed to your house: Anton Fazekas and the making of a midcentury San Francisco sensation”

One block in Sunnyside: 50 years ago and today

1969c. 679 Mangels. San Francisco Office of Assessor-Recorder Photographs Collection, San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library sfpl.org/sfphotos/asr

Fresh from the new collection of building photographs that were recently transferred from the San Francisco Office of the Assessor-Recorder to the History Center–here is one residential block in Sunnyside. More about the collection here.

On a bright overcast day in 1968 or 1969*, an unnamed photographer from the Assessor’s office appears to have shot every house on the 600 block of Mangels Avenue, leaving an unusually complete record of houses there at that time. Continue reading “One block in Sunnyside: 50 years ago and today”

‘Bulkley-Built’: Midcentury Modern on Monterey

2019. 420-422 Monterey Boulevard, Sunnyside, San Francisco. Photo: Amy O'Hair

On Monterey Boulevard in Sunnyside, there are two unique 3-unit buildings that were designed in 1963 by architect Jonathan Bulkley. Perhaps you have walked by and wondered about the history behind them. Today they stand somewhat altered from their original look. The San Francisco Examiner featured them shortly after their construction.[1] They have unusual triple barrel-vaulted tops and two levels of balconies on the front.

2019. The two 3-unit buildings at 420-422 Monterey Boulevard. Designed in 1963 by Jonathan Bulkley. Photo: Amy O'Hair
2019. The two 3-unit buildings at 420-422 Monterey Boulevard. Designed in 1963 by Jonathan Bulkley. Photo: Amy O’Hair
SF Examiner, 3 Nov 1963. Feature: 420-422 Monterey Blvd.
SF Examiner, 3 Nov 1963. Feature: 420-422 Monterey Blvd. Vaulting over entrances is missing from drawing.

Continue reading “‘Bulkley-Built’: Midcentury Modern on Monterey”

Density on the Boulevard: The Apartment Buildings of Monterey

2019. 160 Monterey Blvd. Photo: Amy O'Hair.

Monterey Blvd in Sunnyside features a good many midcentury to late-twentieth-century apartment buildings, giving the neighborhood’s main street a characteristic look. This type of construction required some minor code changes for the district, which had previously been zoned for single-family and duplex buildings. The new larger structures filled up the numerous lots along the boulevard that had remained unbuilt since the founding of the neighborhood in 1891, which was the result in part of the difficult topography; the land on either side of the street is quite steep and rocky in places. Here are some 1940s photos.

Starting in the 1950s, developers consolidated lots to build large complexes, or constructed multi-unit structures on a single lot. The building could be said to have gone in three waves.

Chart showing construction of apartment and condo units on Monterey Blvd, 1958-1997. Data from SF Planning Dept.
Chart showing construction of apartment and condo units on Monterey Blvd, 1958-1997. Data from SF Planning Dept.

Although this seven-block stretch of Monterey hardly comes close to the density of the Mission District or other more urban areas in the city, Sunnyside differs from nearby neighborhoods such as Westwood Park, Miraloma Park, or Glen Park, where due to their zoning constraints or development history there are no sizable apartment buildings.   Continue reading “Density on the Boulevard: The Apartment Buildings of Monterey”

The radio listening habits of Sunnyside School students in 1948

Photo: otrcat.com

One of a series of articles about Sunnyside School.

In 1948, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on a survey that the Second District PTA made at Sunnyside School to find out about when and how students were listening to the radio — the “wireless” entertainment of the day. The reporter noted that the Sunnyside student body then represented families who were “neither overly rich nor overly poor … a most ideal medium between the two.”

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SF Chronicle, 30 May 1948. Read whole article here. 

The survey asked about 220 students in grades three through six about how many radios they had, when and what they listened to, and what their favorite programs were.

Wireless Distractions

One of the points the reporter harped on was the use of of the radio during studying. Making it sound slightly shocking, he lauded the PTA for revealing this possibly harmful practice as “something that must give educators a morning-after-sized headache.” (Hardly an apposite metaphor to use for supposedly responsible adults!)

1946-Sunnyside-School-class-s-photo
1946, Sunnyside School. Ms Carol White’s third-grade class. Not a particularly diverse school body at that time. Courtesy Bill Wilson.

Continue reading “The radio listening habits of Sunnyside School students in 1948”