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]

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Sunnyside History in Photos: Places

A collection of photographs of places and things in Sunnyside’s history.

Photos of people in Sunnyside here. Main photo page here.  Do you have a photo to add? Write me.

One of big advertisements that launched the district. SF Chronicle, 26 Apr 1891.
One of big advertisements that launched the district. SF Chronicle, 26 Apr 1891. More maps here.
1904. Sunnyside Powerhouse viewed from the east side near Monterey and Circular. Cooling pool, disused, visible in foreground. Read more about the powerhouse. Courtesy SFMTA sfmta.photoshelter.com
1904. Sunnyside Powerhouse, viewed from the east side near Monterey and Circular. Cooling pool, disused, visible in foreground. Courtesy SFMTA sfmta.photoshelter.com Read more about the powerhouse. 

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In the picture III: more Sunnyside Elementary School class photos

View more class photos here. Read more about Sunnyside School here.

During the 1960s, before court-mandated busing was instituted, Sunnyside was one of two schools where students from the Bayview were bused to, in order to relieve congestion at the overcrowded Bret Harte Elementary School. That meant a greater diversity of kids at Sunnyside, even before the official busing program began in 1973. And it shows in these two sets of photos, from the late-1940s and the mid-1960s.*

I am grateful for the spontaneous contributions of one-time Sunnyside students Anthony Eckstein and Alan Hansen. 

Kindergarten, Sunnyside Elementary School, 1948. Courtesy Alan Hansen.
Kindergarten, Sunnyside Elementary School, 1948. Courtesy Alan Hansen. View larger. 

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In the picture again: more Sunnyside Elementary School class photos

View more class photos here. Read more about Sunnyside School here.

My thanks to Sunnyside resident and one-time Sunnyside ES student Greg Adams.

First grade, Sunnyside Elementary School, 1958. Courtesy Greg Adams. View larger. 
First grade, Sunnyside Elementary School, 1958. Courtesy Greg Adams. View larger.  

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In the picture: Sunnyside Elementary School students through the years

There is nothing quite like kids’ faces! I’ve been fortunate over the years to have been given the chance by several former students to scan class photos from the 1930s to the 1960s. I present them here in reverse chronological order without commentary.* My thanks to Marty Hackett, Mark Sultana, Julie Spalasso Vozza, Bill Wilson, and Greg Gaar for sharing these with me.

View more class photos here. Read more about Sunnyside School here.

Sixth grade, Sunnyside Elementary School, 1964. Courtesy Marty Hackett.
Sixth grade, Sunnyside Elementary School, 1964. Courtesy Marty Hackett. View larger. 
Fourth/fifth grade, Sunnyside Elementary School, 1963. Courtesy Marty Hackett.
Fourth/fifth grade, Sunnyside Elementary School, 1963. Courtesy Marty Hackett. View larger. 

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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!)

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

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1899: ‘Not Enough Seats for the Scholars Out at Sunnyside’

Part of a series of articles about Sunnyside School.

Presenting a feature in the San Francisco Examiner in 1899, detailing the state of Sunnyside’s first school, located in a cottage. More about the difficult early years of Sunnyside School here. 

The conditions for these children were incredible. The house where the school was located was in poor condition and no bigger than most houses here today. Imagine one full of 117 children!

This house still stands at 143 Flood Ave and was recently sold for just over $1M. (How did the house number change?) Despite what the article states, Sunnyside was then largely Irish and German immigrants and their families.

View this article image larger.

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SF Examiner, 21 Nov 1899. From Newspapers.com. Click to view larger. 

 

The Mystery Arcade of Sunnyside School

1938 Sunnyside School. Photo: DavidRumsey.com

Part of a series of articles about Sunnyside School.

Until the mid-1970s, Sunnyside Elementary School had an odd structure that projected into the playground area, called the Arcade. It was about twelve by forty-five feet, one large room, and at least during the 1950s and 1960s housed the school library. What is the story behind this quirky feature?

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1940s. Sunnyside School, viewed from Hearst Ave, showing “arcade” structure. San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.

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Sunnyside School: the first real schoolhouse, 1909 to 1927

OpenSFHistory.org

Part of a series of articles about Sunnyside School.

The first dedicated schoolhouse to be built for the neighborhood was neither big enough nor safe enough to serve the needs of families in Sunnyside in the long term, but for 18 years it was a busy and productive place. During this time, Sunnyside emerged as a vital neighborhood, no longer ignored by City government and able to garner its share of public monies. Community and parental involvement was effective and intense, centered on a newly founded PTA. Then a group of mothers helped bring to the City’s attention the schoolhouse’s dangers and inadequacies. When it came time to build a replacement, rather than drag the process out for a decade, as the City had with the first provisional school in a cottage, that new building went up in just a few years.

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The east face of the first Sunnyside School. Taken in the 1910s. From outsidelands.org, courtesy of longtime Sunnyside resident Ron Davis. There is a link to the photograph at this end of this post.

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