Thomas C. Senesac owned prop warehouse that supplied 80 movies

Written By BY MAUREEN O’DONNELL Staff Reporter Posted: 08/25/2014, 05:41pm
Array Thomas Senesac, owner of Acme Prop Rental, in his shop in 2002. |Sun-Times library

When Thomas Senesac and Bob Hoagland watched movies, things onscreen could look awfully familiar.

That’s because Mr. Senesac owned Acme Prop Rental, a supplier to more than 80 movies and many TV shows.

“When we were watching ‘While You Were Sleeping,’ there’s my grandmother and grandfather’s secretary [desk],” said Hoagland, Mr. Senesac’s partner. “There’s our Christmas holly glasses.”

Once, Mr. Senesac even leased their four-poster bed for $1,100 — a lot more than he paid for it. “Nothing is sacred,” he told the Sun-Times in 2002.

His 6,000-square-foot prop warehouse, located at 2511 W. Maypole, was a place of wonder, a combination of “American Pickers,” “Antiques Roadshow” and “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.”

He had the sleigh from “Dr. Zhivago,” a throne used by former Bull Dennis Rodman, and a deck chair from the Queen Elizabeth ocean liner.

“Somehow or other,” he said, “it came home with me.”

Mr. Senesac, 63, died of complications from stomach cancer Saturday at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

He rented out props for the John Hughes-directed “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” as well as “Home Alone,” which Hughes produced. “He gave John Hughes credit for really launching him into the film business,’’ said Hoagland, his partner of 37 years.

Mr. Senesac also supplied the films “Groundhog Day,” “The Untouchables,” “The Fugitive,” “Risky Business,” “Soul Food,” “High Fidelity,” “My Best Friend’s Wedding” and “The Road to Perdition,” and the TV shows “ER” and “Early Edition.”

Once, he threw a dinner party at the warehouse. Hoagland recalled the reactions. “ ‘Oh, my God,’ ” people said, looking around at the rowboats, Thompson machine guns and gumball machines. “ ‘It’s like being on my grandmother’s attic, on steroids.’ ”

“The inventory here,” Mr. Senesac used to say, “is my 401K.”

Though it wasn’t open to the public, those in the movie business were welcome to stroll around Acme, including Hughes, Alec Baldwin and Paul Newman.

He met Newman and Joanne Woodward when they were in town for Newman’s shoots of “The Hudsucker Proxy.” When Woodward told Mr. Senesac it was difficult to dine out without attracting attention, “he had them over to the house for dinner,” Hoagland said.

After selling off his warehouse inventory in 2002, he became the artistic director at an upscale florist, Botanicals, where “almost every single bride fell in love with him and [couples] invited him personally to attend their weddings,” said Botanicals founder Casey Cooper.

“This American Life” host Ira Glass and his wife, Anaheed Alani, did. They met Mr. Senesac at Botanicals while planning their nuptials. “He was a real sweetheart,” Glass said. “He was also a person who, almost immediately when I met him, I wanted to know him better. He just seemed instantly like a very interesting person and a very special person.”

Warm and charming, “He was the kind of person who could call the airlines and get them to waive all the change fees,” Hoagland said.

He and Hoagland bought a boarded-up shell of a building in Wicker Park in 1987 that was so run-down, scavengers had made off with the pocket doors and removed the garage, Chicago Brick by Chicago Brick. They turned the 1883 home into a showcase that starred on house and garden walks.

Mr. Senesac was born in Kankakee and raised in Glenview. He attended Robert Morris College in Carthage, Ill., before moving to Chicago in the early 1970s.

For a young gay man at that time, Chicago was an Emerald City of adventure and acceptance — at least, in certain neighborhoods and clubs. In 1977, he and Hoagland met at Le Pub at 1944 N. Clark St.

“It was a magical time,” Hoagland said.

Later, “The plague hit and suddenly the partying stopped . . . it feels like we lost half of our peer group to AIDS. There was a period of four or five years where we were going to a funeral a month.

“I used to joke with Thomas we literally saved each others’ life.”

Mr. Senesac worked in sales at Brittany Ltd. men’s clothiers, where he also decorated windows. When he needed supplies, he reached out to a company whose name could have come from a Wile E. Coyote-Road Runner cartoon: Acme Prop Rentals.

An inveterate thrifter who couldn’t pass up an estate sale, Mr. Senesac purchased Acme in the early 1980s and grew it from a small company into a destination for art directors and set designers. He relocated twice to bigger quarters until moving to its final location, near Lake and Western.

Before eBay, Craigslist and wide use of the Internet, he was the go-to guy who could find a Brazilian flag, a Chinese gong or a carnival automaton on a moment’s notice.

In Wicker Park, Mr. Senesac was an ambassador and welcome wagon, throwing parties that introduced neighbors to other neighbors. “He was a great, enthusiastic connector and celebrator of souls on our block,” said longtime neighbor Diane Christiansen.

The couple traveled the world. Some of their favorite spots were Australia, China, Hong Kong and Thailand. They loved Hawaii, which they visited around 30 times.

He is survived by his sister, Dr. Pamela M. Senesac, and a niece and a nephew.

Mr. Senesac didn’t want a funeral. He directed Hoagland to “spend the money on a big party to celebrate my life.”

Hoagland plans to decorate the gathering with yellow tulips, his partner’s favorite flower.


Twitter: @suntimesobits

Browse More 'Uncategorized'