Where did O'Henry's class pictures go? Photos stored safely at historical society

Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldJuly 6, 2014 

People want to know where the photos went.

For decades they hung above the kitchen and dining tables of O'Henry's in downtown Kennewick.

The class pictures, almost all from Kennewick High School from the '30s, '40s and '50s, were reminders of where the community's business owners, leaders and icons grew up.

The restaurant on Auburn Street has changed hands a few times since Henry Belair sold it eight years ago. But while the photos no longer hang there, they are safe, again waiting to stir memories.

"That was the whole idea in getting them," said Corene Hulse, administrator of the East Benton County Historical Society in Kennewick. "People want them up on the wall."

The Belair family started a business in what would become O'Henry's Go-Go in the late 1920s.

The historic brick building housed a bakery, ice cream parlor and doughnut shop before becoming a restaurant in 1960. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were served and the sandwiches, burgers, soups and homemade pies were popular.

O'Henry's was notable for other things over the years. Belair received national attention in 1984 when he sought go-go dancers older than 60. At the time, he said older customers requested dancing girls, and he decided that since those asking for the dancers were older than 60, the dancers should be too.

It was also a popular spot for students and others alike.

But the memorabilia Belair collected and hung in the restaurant brought many in, especially those who visited after moving away or saw O'Henry's as a living and breathing high school yearbook.

The walls were covered not just with collections of class pictures but other gifted photos and framed newspaper clippings. There were 34 framed pieces, ranging in size from just 7-by-8 inches to 211-by-30 inches. The oldest hails from 1909. The most recent from 1981.

Among the collections of senior portraits is a 20-year reunion photo for Kennewick High's Class of 1941 and photos from what is now Richland High's Class of 1942.

There's also a proclamation of Henry Belair Day signed by former Kennewick Mayor James Beaver and a greeting from former Gov. Gary Locke for Belair's 80th birthday in 2002.

"That's one of the reasons I bought O'Henry's," said Josie Wannarachue, the building's owner.

Belair, who died in 2010, sold the business to Wannarachue and her husband Nikom in 2006. They ran the restaurant, keeping it much as it was but adding Thai food to the menu for several years before another couple took over operations in 2011.

The walls were empty when the newest tenant Donaciano Antonio moved in six months ago and opened the Mexican and American restaurant Don Antonio's.

A few pieces of art, most of it depicting mission-style village scenes, hang on the walls that are now painted tangerine orange and black with dark red trim.

"A lot of people have asked (about the pictures)," Antonio said.

Wannarachue said it was a prior tenant who began taking down the frames. She took down the class pictures herself and arranged for them to go to the historical society last October.

"Henry Belair had promised them to us long ago," Hulse said.

The photos remain in a storeroom at the museum on Keewaydin Drive. They are in good shape, though the frames and glass need cleaning after years of collecting dust and grease in their former home.

Hulse said she intends to arrange a volunteer day to get them cleaned up.

Where they'll be hung is another matter.

Hulse said the plan is to find wall space in the museum, but they will need a lot to fit all of the pieces.

Still, she expects the pictures will be a big draw, much as the museum's collection of Kennewick High yearbooks are to anyone wanting to remember the old days.

And Antonio said he's glad to now have a place to point curious former O'Henry's patrons.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald

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