Information for Researchers
Scope and Content
Collection Title: Noël Sullivan Papers,
Date (inclusive): [ca. 1911-1956]
Collection Number: BANC MSS C-B
Number of containers: 135 boxes, 8 cartons
The Bancroft Library
Berkeley, California 94720-6000
Physical Location: Many of the Bancroft Library collections are stored
offsite and advance notice may be required for use. For current information on the
location of these materials, please consult the library's online catalog.
Abstract: Correspondence; manuscripts; diaries; clippings; some legal
and financial papers; cards, announcements and invitations; concert and theatre
programs; address books; snapshots and photographs.
Mainly concerning cultural
and social life in San Francisco and Carmel: his role as patron of the arts,
particularly music; his interest in abolition of the death penalty; his support of
Carmelite monasteries in California; his close relationships with his family and
with his friends, many of whom were prominent Negroes.
Languages Represented: Collection materials are in English
Information for Researchers
Collection is open for research.
All requests to reproduce, publish, quote from, or otherwise use collection
materials must be submitted in writing to the Head of Public Services, The
Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 94720-6000. Consent is
given on behalf of The Bancroft Library as the owner of the physical items and
is not intended to include or imply permission from the copyright owner. Such
permission must be obtained from the copyright owner. See:
Restrictions also apply to digital representations of the original materials. Use
of digital files is restricted to research and educational purposes.
[Identification of item], Noël Sullivan papers, BANC MSS C-B 801, The
Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
Material Cataloged Separately
Materials in Cartons 9, 10 and 1 portfolio have been transferred to the
Pictorial Collections of The Bancroft Library (BANC PIC 1962.009-.010).
The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in
the library's online public access catalog.
(Calif.)--Social life and customs
life and customs
Noël Sullivan was born in San Francisco on December 25, 1890, the youngest
child and only son of Frank J. and Alice Phelan Sullivan, the nephew of Senator
James D. Phelan, and the grandson of John Sullivan who came west in 1844 with the
"Sullivan-Murphy Party." The family was a wealthy and distinguished one. Young
Sullivan attended the Jesuit colleges of St. Ignatius and Santa Clara, but his
interests were musical, not academic. He studied voice abroad and for a number of
years maintained residence in Paris. During World War I he served as an ambulance
driver with the American Field Service in France.
In 1925 his father was stricken with paralysis, and Sullivan returned to take up
residence with him at 2323 Hyde Street, San Francisco. The house had an interesting
history. It had belonged to Mrs. Robert Louis Stevenson and was purchased by
Sullivan's mother as a home for the community of Carmelite nuns who had come to San
Francisco in 1908 at the invitation of the bishop. The Carmelites remained there
until 1914 when they removed to Santa Clara. One of the nuns was Sullivan's sister,
Ada, known in religious life as Sister (later Mother) Agnes of Jesus.
The Hyde Street residence remained Sullivan's home for many years, and it became a
gathering place for the musicians, artists, writers and poets who were his friends.
He pursued his musical interests as a patron of the art, and as a concert singer of
considerable reputation, albeit a local one. Sullivan often described himself as a
"gifted waster," adding, "even a career of intelligent wasting requires some thought
and planning." This was not an altogether fair estimate of himself, however. In
addition to his contributions to San Francisco's musical wealth, he devoted much
money, time and effort, during the early thirties, to the campaign for the abolition
of capital punishment, serving as chairman of the California Committee of the
American League to Abolish Capital Punishment. He was also greatly interested in the
welfare of Negores and many became close personal friends.
In August 1930, James D. Phelan, his famous and wealthy uncle, died, making Sullivan
one of his heirs. The estate, however, yielded little to the residuary legatees
during the early years of the thirties. In order to secure the three to four million
dollars needed for the great number of cash bequests and the inheritance taxes, the
trustees of the estate incurred a heavy indebtedness, deciding not to sell
securities on the depressed market. The interest and payment on the debts, and the
depleted revenue characteristic of the depression, practically wiped out the income
Phelan had anticipated for his heirs. The legend of Sullivan's inheritance, however,
made him the target for financial appeals of all kinds, and those who had profited
from Phelan's generosity in the past naturally looked to Sullivan for a continuance.
The death of his father, in November 1950, and his aunt, Mary Louise Phelan, in
January 1933, in whose estates he also shared inheritances, further complicated his
Despite the number of years he lived abroad, Sullivan remained close to his family,
due undoubtedly to the strong Irish Catholic upbringing. His two married sisters,
Alyce S. Murphy and Gladys S. Doyle, produced families in whose happiness and well
being Sullivan was greatly concerned, and after the death of Mrs. Doyle in July
1933, he assumed considerable responsibility for the upbringing of her five
children, the oldest of whom was ten. His deep affection for his sister, Mother
Agnes of Jesus (and the tradition of the Sullivan and Phelan families), prompted his
continued interest in the Carmelite monasteries in Santa Clara, Carmel and San
Diego, and led to the establishment of a new community in Berkeley.
In the late thirties Sullivan purchased property in Carmel Valley and he made "Hollow
Hills Farm" his permanent home in 1939. There Sullivan, a great animal lover, raised
his dogs and his sheep and goats. He made that home, also, a gathering place for
notables in the artistic world and a haven for his many friends. Continuing his
musical interests, he took an active part in the Carmel Bach festivals, and served
as organist and soloist at the Carmel Mission and as director of the board of the
Carmel Music Society.
In the closing years of his life, Sullivan suffered from a heart condition, and he
died of a heart attack on September 15, 1956.
Scope and Content
Sullivan's papers were presented to the Bancroft Library in September 1961 by his
friend of long standing, Professor Benjamin H. Lehman. They consist primarily of
correspondence; manuscripts; diaries; clippings; some legal and financial papers;
cards, announcements, and invitations; concert and theatre programs; address books;
photographs and snapshots. Most of the material dates from 1950 to his death, but
there are some letters as early as 1911. The correspondence consists mainly of
letters written to him; there are relatively few copies of letters written by him.
Sullivan disliked writing, and those letters he did write were usually in longhand.
The papers as a whole reflect his role as a patron of the arts, particularly music;
his interests in the abolition of capital punishment and in the Negro problem; the
cultural and social life of San Francisco and Carmel in which he participated; and
his close relationships with his family and his friends, many of whom were