l.a. times story about our building
Front-page story of Our Times,
a Westside section of the Los Angeles Times.
Sunday, Aug 27, 2000
From Eatery to Eternity
Bruno's Ristorante - long known for its cathedraleaque interior - will soon be gone, but its building will be taken over by a Christian church.
By JEFF ADLER
It's cool inside Bruno's Ristorante, with the light seeping through the tawny stained glass windows casting a warm glow over the busts of Roman emperors Aurelius and Caracalla - both used in the MGM epic "Ben-Hur."
For more than 30 years, the pair have reigned atop the marble colonnades, gazing imperially at the restaurant's patrons below.
Their rule, however, will come to an end when the family-owned business closes its doors on Sept. 24. In an ironic twist, Bruno's vaulted ceilings and Baroque architecture, which feel more like a church than an Italian restaurant, will complete a long metamorphosis from a doughnut shop into a truly hallowed institution when the Vineyard Christian Fellowship Westside assumes ownership of the Mar Vista establishment later this year.
After a stint with the U.S. military in the Korean War, Italian emigre Bruno Tesari came to Los Angeles, where in 1956, he and wife Ilse leased the tiny Spudnut Doughnuts shop at the corner of Centinela Avenue and Venice Boulevard and renamed it Bruno's Inn.
As the restaurant evolved into a successful pizzeria, Bruno Tesari, a former painter, began drawing the mental blueprints for his Palazzo dining room. After years of planning, the addition opened in 1969 featuring sculptures of centaurs (also scavenged from a MGM auction of "Ben-Hur" paraphernalia), a large stained-glass window and a chandelier weighing more than half a ton.
"Our house looked like a warehouse because he had so much stuff collected in there," says son Chris Tesari, 42, of the odds and ends that his parents discovered on antique hunts throughout Southern California that were eventually used to decorate Bruno's.
The restaurant continued to expand until a heart attack brought on by a bout of pneumonia killed Bruno Tesari unexpectedly in 1980 at the age of 53. Suddenly, Bruno's, which had become a Westside institution, was without its namesake.
Although mother and son have successfully operated the restaurant for the past 20 years (despite a period when it only catered to private parties from 1989 to 1994), Chris Tesari, the current proprietor, admits that the long hours have taken their toll and that it's time to sell the building, which sits on some prime real estate.
Not wanting to see Bruno's razed to the ground, the Tesaris found an obliging buyer in the church, described as contemporary "come as you are" by Pastor Brad Bailey. The church's members have been on an odyssey of their own for the past 13 years, drifting from schools to movie theaters to other churches, in search of a permanent meeting place.
"I think [the Tesaris] were really touched that they were passing it on not to some corporate group that would tear it down, but to people who greatly appreciate the building," said Bailey, who added that the primary architecture will remain the same, although plans are in the works to remodel parts of the restaurant into a children's center and coffee shop.
"It just breaks your heart to see a unique place like that close," said Al Tomei, 56, a longtime member of the Singles Ski Club, which has held regular meetings at the restaurant since 1994. "They treated us very well there."
Although the Tesaris are well aware of how much they have invested in Bruno's, they are confident with the decision to sell and believe that if the restaurant's namesake were still alive, he would understand.
"He always used to say, 'History's changing, things change, circumstances change, our lives change,"' Ilse Tesari said. "I'm only glad that someone who's taking over isn't tearing it down. If I'm homesick, I can go and look at it."
After the closing, Bruno's Ristorante is hosting a cash-only wine sale from noon to 4 p.m. on Sept. 30 and an auction of light fixtures on Oct. 15 at the restaurant, 3838 Centinela Ave., Mar Vista. For more information or to make a reservation (recommended) before Bruno's closes its doors, call 397-5703.
Auctions of Bruno's bric-a-brac will be on Oct. 12 and 29 at A.N. Abell, 2613 Yates Ave., City of Commerce. For more information, call (323) 724-8102.