The neighborhood devastated by the Sept. 9 gas pipe explosion was — and remains — a place where everybody pretty much knew everybody else.
Known as Crestmoor Park or Crestmoor Two, the hilltop residential tract just outside the fog belt contains many homes occupied by their original owners from the mid-1950s or their offspring, according to several real estate agents in town.
"It is a solid middle-class neighborhood where people really get to know each other," said Larry Franzella, mayor of San Bruno from 1999-2009 and a 36-year agent with Prudential California Real Estate. "I grew up in that neighborhood. I hope I don't get choked up talking about it, but the reaction to all this within that area is nothing less than what you'd expect. Everyone wants to help each other."
The pipeline blast left at least four people dead, 49 homes destroyed, hundreds homeless and thousands emotionally shaken. But longtime San Bruno denizens said Crestmoor's wind-blown spirit will not be broken.
"It's pretty unbelievable the way the situation has been handled and is still being handled by the people who live up there," said Anne Oliva, a Realtor for 28 years at Bob Marshall Realty, named after her father. "The people from out of the county have heard about how the community support was so immense. I think the leaders should be commended along the with first responders, the politicians and everyone who poured in to see what they could do."
Oliva said Crestmoor is a working-class section of town with a smattering of white collars among the blues. A significant portion of the neighbors are graduates of Crestmoor High School, which was closed in 1980 (the local public high school is now Capuchino High). There are lots of police officers, real estate agents, tradesmen and tech workers who live there, and many retirees have passed along homes to a second generation or just stayed put.
Amy Fink, a past president of the Rotary Club, said Crestmoor is one of the better neighborhoods in the city and "feels almost like a gated community the way it's set up. It's a very exclusive area of San Bruno because of that. If it's not the highest real estate values in the city, it's close."
The melting pot of San Bruno more than doubled in size during the 1950s as the hillsides were turned into tract homes, boosting the city from about 12,500 residents to more than 29,000. It was the largest population boom in the city's history, which dates to its incorporation in 1914, and truly established the city as a stereotypical bedroom community for San Francisco commuters.
Crestmoor, with about 2,500 homes, is on the threshold of upper middle class. According to information from real estate websites, almost all the destroyed homes were built between 1957 and 1959 and most were between 1,150 square feet and 1,500 square feet. Despite the modest sizes, the average home values are in the range of $650,000 to $700,000, down about $100,000 from their peak prices a few years ago. During the Eisenhower administration, most were first sold for between $8,000 and $15,000.
The destroyed homes were on streets with British-sounding names such as Fairmont, Claremont, Glenview, Concord and Earl, but the inhabitants of Crestmoor are much more diverse. Racially "it's a real mix," Oliva said. "Hey, it's San Bruno. We're full of everything. We're San Brunians."
"You have a good mix there, but you also have an incredibly close-knit community," said real estate agent Joseph Capote from the Alain Pinel office in Burlingame. "I've lived here 16 years and loved it. Everyone looks out for each other and that's one of the reasons it's one of the more desirable places in San Bruno."
Fink, a 33-year San Bruno resident and wife of City Councilman Ken Ibarra, said the fact that so few people died despite the widespread inferno during the dinner hour is a testament to how involved people are in town activities.
"It was back-to-school night at St. Robert's (Catholic School) and there was baseball going on at the park, so a lot of people weren't home," she said. "I'm still happily dumbfounded at how few people lost their lives considering the extent of the damage. Looking at the footage, you would think at least one person from each (destroyed) home would be lost."
At Lunardi's Market, at nearby Skycrest shopping center on San Bruno Avenue, store director Wilson Yee said the grocery store became a meeting point for families during the disaster.
Many were happy to see that the market wasn't damaged, especially considering initial reports on Thursday that an airplane and crashed nearby, Yee said.
"It's a very close neighborhood, and we know a lot of the customers on a first-name basis," he said. "The people are very friendly, and this has been a very sad situation."