San Bruno

On September 27, the citizens of the city of San Bruno gathered in San Bruno City Park, the crown jewel of San Bruno's parks system, to celebrate their hometowns centennial. Now a thriving city of 40,000, San Bruno incorporated on December 23, 1914, 51 years after the San Francisco to San Jose railroad first came through the area.

San Bruno's celebration was meaningful in part because it had been so hard earned. Only four years have passed since the city's biggest tragedy made global news and left local residents feeling dazed and uncertain. On September 9, 2010, a 30-inch gas pipe exploded in San Bruno's Crestmoor neighborhood. The resulting firestorm destroyed 35 homes and took eight lives, leaving one of the city's most tightly-knit neighborhoods devastated.

This year, on September 9, residents gathered at the corner of Claremont and Glenview Drives to look backward, and to look forward. Four years ago, that corner was the epicenter of a scene of heartbreaking devastation. This year, with 24 homes rebuilt and 10 others under construction, it's the site of an optimistic future.

Optimism is one thing San Bruno has never been short of, dating back to the early 20th-century glory days of its most famous landmark, the Tanforan Racetrack. During its long history, Tanforan was the site of horse racing, auto racing, dog racing and motorcycle racing. In the 1930s, it was the home track of Seabiscuit, one of the most decorated thoroughbreds of all time. Today, The Shops at Tanforan sit atop the former racetrack. Ever wonder why the road leading from the Towne Center to Tanforan is called "Seabiscuit Avenue?" That's why.

Tanforan is also where, during World War II, thousands of Japanese-Americans were temporarily housed while they waited for assignment to internment camps in the California desert. This distasteful chapter of San Bruno history is commemorated just outside the Tanforan mall by a small, somber garden.

After World War II, San Bruno grew by leaps and bounds, expanding from its small downtown and surrounding residential area into the western hills. Classic suburban mid-century neighborhoods sprung up around Crestmoor Canyon, creating a community that, some 60 years later, is still known for its cohesiveness and its well-regarded schools.

San Bruno is a small town in a big place. Its modest downtown features inexpensive ethnic food options – restaurants and grocery stores stocked with foods from all over the world, plus Artichoke Joe's, the only operating legal casino in San Mateo County and a fixture downtown since 1921. Downtown has a Sunday farmer's market and is within walking distance of the local BART station, which opened in 2003.

BART is also a short walk from the shops at the recently remodeled Tanforan center, one of two shopping malls in San Bruno. The other mall, Bayhill, is located near Highway 280 and is also where you'll find the city's biggest employer, YouTube. Almost 600 tech workers spend their workweeks in San Bruno.

San Bruno has a number of city parks including untamed, 100-acre Junipero Serra Park and City Park, which has picnic areas, a community pool and a baseball park, and several smaller neighborhood green spaces. Since 1939 San Bruno has been the site of the Golden Gate National Cemetery, which is also located near the Bayhill Shopping Center.

For all of this, though, San Bruno's calling card is its affordability. In August, the median-priced home in this classic suburb sold for $775,000, well below the county median of $1 million. In San Bruno for this you can find a large, detached single-family home with a yard, a pre-war home near downtown, a condominium in the hills, even a newer home in one of the 21st century subdivisions located near Skyline College at the city's western border.


People who come to San Bruno tend to stay for awhile. This year's Centennial, with its rides, entertainment and food, gave longtime locals a chance to catch up, to reflect on the challenges of past years and to look toward the future with enthusiasm and optimism. It's easy to do that in San Bruno, where civic spirit is a way of life.

Photo by Coolcaesar at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons