Where did the local dairies go?

December 9, 2010 | By | Comments (6)

A visit with John Santana III of Peninsula Creamery Dairy Store & Grill

Earlier in the year, we scoured the San Francisco Peninsula looking for a local dairy that would let us do a cow share. We finally lucked out and actually bought a cow at Claravale Farm, southeast of Hollister, but as for the local part, they’re a good two hours-plus from us. I had heard there used to be dairies right near Sunset, and wondered where they went.

Well, I asked the right guy, John Santana III, owner of Peninsula Creamery Dairy Store & Grill in Palo Alto, a few miles away.

John John Santana III

The Peninsula Creamery was founded in 1923 by his dad, John Santana II, and J.B. Howell. John Santana III grew up in the business and remembers the time when every county in California had its own small dairies and dairy products.

Black-and-white photos inside the restaurant bring back the Peninsula Creamery’s heyday, when they owned their own herds, a milk bottling plant, a fleet of 60 home-delivery trucks, an ice cream-making facility, a soda fountain restaurant, and the dairy store—all in Palo Alto.

CreameryStaffThe Peninsula Creamery staff circa 1928

“Our Guernsey cows grazed at Troutmere, a ranch that ran from the Stanford [University] barn to El Camino, where Stanford Shopping Center is today,” Santana remembers. “We kept the yearlings off of Alpine Road [now a multi-lane road]. When I was young, I remember driving the herd from there to Stanford land; of course, it was no problem to close down the whole street. It was a nice, peaceful community.”

MilkLocallyProducedA poster showing the creamery’s historical facilities in Palo Alto

Sanders rolls off the names of local dairies from those days: Piers, Altamont, Golden State (later Foremost, in Menlo Park, near Sunset’s offices), and others. He remembers a raw milk dairy, too, located in San Jose and run by a guy named Clarence Claravale.

“Claravale would come up here with his excess milk for ice cream, even if it was just three cans. He couldn’t bear to waste it.”

Then, things began to change.

“Post World War II, Stanford decided to build the shopping center, and we moved the herd to San Jose,” Sanders says. “That was when the dairies started disappearing. Then the land in San Jose got turned into houses, and we moved the herds to Gilroy. All the [local] dairies moved there, to Gilroy.”

It’s hard to say which took a bigger toll on the local dairies—people and housing, or a change in milk processing laws.

“Back in the ‘30s, to sell milk in a county, you had to process it there,” Santana explains. Then the big grocery store chains managed to overturn that law around 1950. “That was the beginning of the end of the creamery companies.”

Eventually, Peninsula Creamery moved their herds to the Central Valley, sold them, and in 1985, closed down the milk bottling plant in Palo Alto.

The ice cream part of the business continued until 1994. “That was the best ice cream,” Santana remembers fondly. “Great ingredients. We got Gimbels’ peppermints from San Francisco and Marshall strawberries (frozen) from Washington state.” But when the city of Palo Alto told Peninsula Creamery they’d have to replace their ammonia freezing technology with freon (to the tune of a couple million dollars), they closed the ice cream plant too.

“All we have left of the dairy business is property,” Santana says—several ranches, some in-town properties including the Palo Alto Creamery (site of the Peninsula Creamery’s soda fountain, which they lease), and the Dairy Store, a ’50s-style breakfast-lunch grill run by Santana’s son, James, and serving 12 flavors of ice cream (made in Sacramento).

“That’s progress,” Santana says with a wry smile. “Palo Alto was a wonderful place to grow up. It’s still a wonderful town.”

  CreameryWindows Peninsula Creamery Dairy Store & Grill today


  1. Christine Erikson

    yeah the developers and the gentrification and classiness efforts ruined it.

    June 24, 2017 at 2:36 am
  2. Lacey J Berns

    I grew up next to the Santana family in the 1960s! They lived on Guinda, Jane, Sally and Mark Santana! What a treat when my grandmother would get milk and cream delivered to her home at 795 Seale Ave! They moved to Waverley a few years later, and would bike over there to play with the kids– wow! great interview!

    August 5, 2015 at 4:41 pm
  3. IGtgnFBNpTa

    111431 752219Some truly howling work on behalf of the owner of this website , dead great subject matter. 538568

    October 10, 2012 at 4:03 pm
  4. Sharon S.

    My elderly brother is looking for a recipe which was published in Sunset Magazine during the late 60’s or early 70’s. He thinks the recipe was from a store located in the Stanford Shopping Center. It was a vanilla Sorbet or Gelato and the article mentioned Peninsula Creamery. I am looking for the recipe as he misplaced it and would love to have it again. Thank you.

    July 10, 2011 at 5:39 pm
  5. Elaine Johnson

    Hi, Kathy. Yes, Peninsula delivered, and if you go to the link at the top of this post for their web site, click on their history tab and you can see milk trucks from different eras–fun!
    Also, you might be interested to know that Palo Alto now has Michal the Milkman, who delivers. You can read about him by clicking on the link “local dairies from those days” above.

    December 18, 2010 at 4:18 am
  6. KathyG

    I remember Peninsula Creamery, from growing up in the Bay Area (Los Altos) in the 50’s and 60’s. I also remember getting milk delivered to our front porch when I was a kid, though my memory says the bottles said Carnation? Did Peninsula deliver? Anyway, I absolutely adore the idea of milk showing up on my doorstep. In my ultimate fantasy, it is raw! Thanks for this reminder of a happy childhood experience.

    December 14, 2010 at 6:02 pm

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