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Finding Aid to the Henri Lenoir Pictorial Collection, circa 1930-circa 1990 (bulk circa 1970-circa 1985)
BANC PIC 2004.158  
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Includes snapshot photographs of Henri Lenoir, his friends, associates and customers, many taken in the restaurants, bars and other establishments owned and/or frequented by Lenoir in San Francisco’s North Beach district. Among the individuals depicted are Vern Wiman, Frank Koci, Luke Gibney, Enrico Banducci, Isadore Gomez (aka Izzy Gomez), Ward Dunham and Bonnie McClintock. Among the locations depicted are Vesuvio Café, the Iron Pot, 12 Adler Place, Enrico's, Enrico's Sidewalk Café, the Black Cat Café, Isadore Gomez’ Café, as well as Lenoir's North Beach residences and offices. North Beach street scenes and other San Francisco views are also present. Also includes original drawings and other artwork collected by Lenoir; photographs of artwork and artists promoted by Lenoir; and a portion of Lenoir's famous postcard collection. Original drawings by caricaturist Vern Wiman are well-represented. For a more complete list of persons, places and subjects depicted, consult series descriptions.
Henri Lenoir was born Silvio Velleman on March 17, 1904 in Zuoz, Switzerland. His father was Antone Vellman, a headmaster at a boys' boarding school and his mother, Ethel Ireland, was a homemaker. Silvio was sent to a boarding school in England at an early age, and upon his parents' divorce, took his mother's maiden name. In 1920, he was enrolled at King William's College on the Isle of Man, and was soon expelled. He then enrolled at the Ecole Nationale d'Horticulture et de Viticulture in Geneva, but left in 1921. Lenoir held a number of jobs over the next several years, including as a drummer in a dance band in the Chateaux d'Oex, a tour guide in Italy, a claims adjuster in Paris and a ballroom dancer in Nice. He arrived in New York in the company of an American woman on July 5, 1929, and lived there for just over a year before departing for Hollywood in 1930. Broke and threatened with deportation for an expired work visa, he changed his name to Henri Lenoir and left for San Francisco. Despite having no formal secondary art education, Lenoir had an eye for talented artists, and after holding another series of jobs throughout the 1930s, he began hanging art work at the Iron Pot in 1941. He gained a reputation for boosting clientele through the promotion and showing of art, and in 1949, Lenoir bought the Vesuvio Café. It quickly became a center of bohemian activity, and was famously a beatnik landmark. Lenoir owned and operated Vesuvio for nearly two decades until he sold it in 1968 amidst rising rent prices and a general decline of artistic activity in the area. Lenoir continued to promote art throughout the rest of his life and was known to friends and tourists alike as the "King of Bohemia." He died on March 30, 1994.
18 boxes, 10 albums, 7 oversize folders (circa 2350 photographic prints, circa 400 drawings, circa 1230 negatives, circa 650 slides, circa 70 prints, circa 1700 postcards, 1 painting) and 4 negatives : 61 x 92 cm or smaller.
COLLECTION STORED, IN PART, OFF-SITE: Advance notice required for use.