The Cunha brothers are back in Half Moon Bay.
At the intersection of Kelly Avenue and Main Street in downtown Half Moon Bay, large photo murals adorn the otherwise white fence. One black and white image shows Arnold and Harold Cunha at a gas station pump; the other is a shot of the gas station they owned at the exact location where the photos are currently displayed.
The two photos, printed as 7-foot-by-9-foot and 7-by-14-foot vinyl banners, were erected by a team of local volunteers led by longtime Coastside resident Joe Brennan on Oct. 21. Brennan hopes this public installation, a “Peek-at-the-Past,” will be the first in a series of graphic representations dedicated to local history. Many local residents know Brennan through his work as head of the Half Moon Bay Odd Fellows. Brennan, who will be president of the Rotary Club of Half Moon Bay next year, is well-versed in the history of the Coastside.
This idea came to Brennan at a reunion. In 2013, he attended his 50th Half Moon Bay High School class reunion at the I.D.E.S. Hall. There, he saw the pictures displayed in the hall. They belonged to Robin Cunha, the daughter-in-law of one of the brothers. Five years later, he saw the murals again at the 55th class reunion. He realized photos revealed an important piece of Coastside history, and he thought more people might be interested in local history if the photos were publicly displayed. Specifically, he thought they should go on the fence right in front of Cunha’s Country Grocery, which was founded by the Cunha family in 1924. The brothers were cousins of Bev Cunha Ashcraft, who owned the store for many years before selling it in 2007.
Next to each photo is a small printed label with information about the brothers and their impact on the history of the Coastside. Though the photos are not specifically dated, it’s estimated they were taken some time in the 1950s. In the Cunha brothers’ heyday, this intersection was known as Cunha Corner, with the store and automotive station serving as popular community hubs.
Brennan first got permission from property owners Ozella and Sharlene Cardoni and then went through the city of Half Moon Bay’s Planning Commission to get a sign permit.
“We realized people would be going by there on vehicles as well as just walking by,” Brennan said. “So, if we made the images large, they would register more, compared to if they were tiny.”
To print the photos, volunteers paid out of pocket to have the images sent digitally to a company in Riverside, Calif., to print the vinyl banners. Brennan said Jim Rudolph of the Odd Fellows has a background in graphic design and knew how to arrange for the best quality resolution.
“Given that we weren’t working with negatives, we were working with just prints, they came out pretty well,” Brennan said.
The next photos displayed could come from archives at the Odd Fellows, Brennan said. He thinks the selection of older photos of
Main Street, one from 1915 and another from 1922, would work well. Alternatively, he said more photos could come from the expansive collection of the San Mateo County Historical Society.