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Jules Bryner (1849-1920) at age 42

My Swiss great-grandfather was called Juli in Russian, but he preferred the French "Jules," having been born near Geneva (of German-Swiss descent). Three months after Jules' death, his newborn grandson was named after him: Juli - who came to prefer a different spelling: Yul.

Jules Bryner c.1896

By 1884, Jules had married a Russian woman, and celebrated the arrival of the first of six children. Born in Switzerland, he added Russian citizenship to his Swiss nationality.

Harbor - 1874

This earliest photo of Vladivostok was taken the year Jules first arrived and moved his shipping business to this fledgling outpost.

Harbor - 1884

Plans for the Trans-Siberian Railroad were now under way with Vladivostok as its eastern terminus; Jules was able to coax more European bankers and merchants to settle in the tax-free port.

Just 7 years later, Juli and the city elders accompanied the future Tsar Nicholas II to the Orthodox Church (1891).
Harbor - 1908

Twenty-five years after becoming a city, Vladivostok was the capital of the region. Like that other remote cultural outpost, San Francisco, the city already had a small gilt Concert Hall and chose a European architect to design the city.

Boris Yulievitch Bryner (1889-1947) age 35 in 1924

Boris, the middle son of Jules and Natalia, earned a Masters degree in mine engineering in St. Petersburg, before operating the Bryner mines north of Vladivostok. He married Mara Blagovidova and had two children, Vera and Yul Brynner (both later added a second 'n' to Bryner, to suggest the correct pronunciation. "It rhymes with 'sinner,'" Yul liked to say).

Juli Bryner and family, 1910

Jules, seated on the left, was 60; standing in the center is Natalya. Seated on the right is his son, Boris, my grandfather, with his two brothers behind him; the other young women are their sisters (with one husband). Boris, 20, was then a cadet in the Tsar's army.

The Bryner Residence, 1910
The Primorye crest on the Regional Administration Building. . .
. . . close up. . .
. . . and the crest on Juli Bryner's ring, handed down to his son, Felix, whose daughter, Irena, passed it on to me.
Yul at 16 (1936). The family had fled Vladivostok in 1927, first to Harbin, China, then to Paris in 1932, where this picture was taken - and where that new-fangled collar was all the rage. I was born just ten years after this photo was taken.

Yul Brynner has always been the star with the most mysterious origins - while his family background has been displayed in a museum all along. Now that the Iron Curtain is gone, it is at last possible for Russians to see his films, and for Americans, if they so choose, to visit the Arsenyev Museum.