Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Guide to the Henri Leleu Papers
View entire collection guide What's This?
Search this collection
Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Access
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Acquisition Information
  • Biography / Administrative History
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Arrangement
  • Other Finding Aids

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Finding aid of the Henri Leleu Papers 1930-1980
    Dates: 1930-1980
    Collection number: 1997-13
    Creator: Leleu, Henri
    Collection Size: 13 boxes
    Repository: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society
    San Francisco, California 94105
    Abstract: This collection comprises materials, covering half a century beginning in the early 1930's through the early 1980's, of Henri Leleu's life. The scope of the materials include personal papers, documents related to gay cultural events, documents related to Leleu's political activities, particularly with the Tavern Guild of San Francisco, work documents, ephemera collected from Leleu's travels, photographs, slides, and negatives. The bulk of this collection consists of photographic materials.
    Physical location: Stored at the Archives of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society in San Francisco, California
    Languages: Languages represented in the collection: English


    Collection open for research.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright to unpublished manuscript materials has been transferred to the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society.

    Preferred Citation

    Finding aid of the Henri Leleu Papers 1930-1980, 1997-13, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society.

    Acquisition Information

    Donated to the GLBT Historical Society in 1997 by Dale Harned.

    Biography / Administrative History

    Born July 31, 1907 and passed away on February 27, 1996, Henri Leleu led a long, eventful life. Though Leleu has left us very little documentation on his childhood years, we do know that as a young man, he lived and worked in Beverly Hills, California, as a publicity man and later secretary-manager for the Beverly Hills Junior Chamber of Commerce. At 33, his life changed profoundly as he was recruited into the Navy to serve in the Pacific Rim arena for the duration of World War II. For the next several years, he sent letters home either mildly complaining about the working conditions or sharing his delight and fascination with the military. At times, he had rather cushy jobs during the war, writing news releases for the Navy or doing administrative work. In any event, he must have enjoyed his life there, writing a two-page feature of his military experience for a local hometown paper and meticulously saving documents and photographs from this period of his life.
    After the war, Leleu stayed on in Asia. He became an insatiable traveler, exploring the Philippines, China, and India. Later, he traveled to Europe and started an export business with the help of his hometown connections in the U.S. He worked in Copenhagen, Denmark for at least a year or two, collecting antiques which he would later sell to a dealer in Texas. During this time, he continued traveling throughout Europe and acquired a talent for business, a skill which would serve him well in the various political organizations he later became involved in.
    Sometime during the early 1960's Leleu arrived in San Francisco. He soon became heavily involved in the leather scene and in various gay political organizations. He attended motorcycle runs--weekend events sponsored by leather bars in which men would ride out into the country for a few days of drinking, camping, food and sex. Leleu was an avid photographer, capturing much of these events. The work that Leleu has left us is stunning, capturing images of a nascent leather scene that has long since come and gone. Before kink went mainstream, and when in fact there was only one gay male leather bar in San Francisco, Leleu was there with his camera, capturing the young twenty- or thirty-year-old crowd in their cruising and partying. In the early 1960's, he also made the shrewd decision of investing in the Tool Box, a tavern which quickly became a central place for the leather scene. A few years later, he also served as treasurer for the Tavern Guild, an organization of gay bars which attempted to address, among other business concerns, the prevalent problem of police harassment in and around the bars.
    While Leleu clearly devoted time to various gay organizations, as documents from this collection suggest, what remains most striking in this collection are his slides and photographs. By the late 1960's he documented demonstrations, the queer Tricycle races of the early 70's, and many drag events in the bars. Leleu has left us a collection that is not only professional, in its technical expertise, but vivid and candid, as young leather men, drag queens, politicians, . . . whomever, relax, drink, and smile into his camera. For the leather community, his work is an invaluable step towards preserving a period that came and went some three decades ago.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    This collection has a remarkable range of materials, covering half a century beginning in the 1930's and extending into the early 1980's. The materials are organized in a very rough chronological order. Photographs from the 1930's-1950's are mostly in Box 11 while the extensive collection of photographs, negatives, and slides from the 1960's-70's are in Boxes 4-10. The earlier photographs include a small collection of family pictures and a rather extensive collection of military photographs from the 1940's and travel pictures from the 1950's. Prints from the 1960's onwards are of various gay events, parades and cultural events centering in or around San Francisco. The images from this later period are black and white prints of various sizes, though other formats include color prints and video footage of events (converted from the original film which can also be found in this collection).
    The Leleu collection also contains a large number of slides and negatives, both in color and black and white, and formatted in various sizes. You will find a significant degree of overlap between the collection of prints and the collection of slides and negatives. For the most part, the slides and negatives are better organized and more clearly labeled than the prints. Aside from the photography and video materials, this collection also includes materials such as correspondence (spanning four decades), postcards, ephemera from gay events, etc.
    Box 1 holds 3 series. The first, entitled Personal Papers, contains documents on Leleu's home, his investments, and various bills. One file holds various certificates of appreciation, a newspaper article, and identification documents. Some of the most interesting documents of this series are his personal letters which are in various correspondence files. These letters date back to World War II and provide an idea of how Leleu interacted with his family. The second series, Cultural Groups and Events, mostly contains documents relating to gay cultural events. The third series, Gay Organizing, has a number of files pertaining to Leleu's political activities. Files A-K of this series are in Box 1.
    Box 2 contains files L-Z of the Gay Organizing. It seems that Leleu was mostly involved with the Tavern Guild, a volunteer organization made up of gay bars and a group which dealt with the problems of operating a gay owned and supported business. Leleu worked for this organization for many years, at times serving as treasurer. A number of files relating to fundraising and finances can be found here on the Tavern Guild. Of particular interest may be the minutes for the meetings that Leleu saved over a number of years. From the Gay Organizing, it is also clear that he participated in the Koalas, a motorcycle club, and more political organizations such as SIR, The Society for Individual Rights. Many kinds of financial records can be found in this series.
    Box 2 also has the Work Documents series, which contains mostly financial documents, with some correspondence as well on Leleu's professional life. He worked mostly as a salesman for photography supplies. Various documents on his career can be found here. Box 2 also has the beginnings of the Memorabilia and Travel Items series, which is an assortment of letters, travel documents, receipts, menus, and other odd documents from his many travels to Asia and Europe.
    Box 3 holds the rest of the Memorabilia and Travel Items series. It also houses 2 small boxes of ephemera, mostly buttons from gay organizations or events.
    Box 4 holds the beginnings of the Photographs series. The collection of photographs here are divided into the following categories: people, organizations (mostly bars), events, and other subject headings. All of these folders are arranged chronologically. The organization of these prints is by no means complete. Please note that some of the most interesting files are the most generally named. The files entitled Drag Events, Motorcycle Runs and People are worth looking into, providing a rough sketch of the kinds of events Leleu typically participated in. Files A-L are in Box 4.
    Box 5 holds Files L-P of the Photographs series. Box 6 holds Files P - T.
    Box 7 contains the rest of the Photographs series and the entire Slides series. This next series, the Slides series plus the Negatives series are organized in a similar fashion as the Photographs series. Please note that the Slides and Negatives series may be a more valuable resource than the collection of photographic prints. We have more information about the images in these two series. In these groupings, you will find some files with the names of specific leather bars, leather bar events, or general gay cultural events, again arranged alphabetically. One can probably gain more information on the photographic prints by cross referencing them with the slides and negatives.
    Box 8 holds the Negatives series up until File R.
    Box 9 holds the rest of the negatives.
    Box 10 contains duplicate prints of photographs plus the Color Slides on Glass series. This series is arranged similar to the previous slides series. Please be careful handling the Color Slides on Glass series.
    Box 11 contains early family pictures, military photos from the 1940's, travel photos from the 50's, a large collection of postcards from (probably) around the 1950's, and a few miscellaneous photos. This box is organized very roughly according to period.
    Box 12 contains oversized prints. some of the early leather period of the 60's and some of taverns and other gay events from the 60's and 70's. Various legal sized documents are in this box as well.
    Also Box A houses Various MSS Collections Oversized Materials.


    This collection is organized in 6 series:
    • Series 1. Personal Papers
    • Series 2. Gay Cultural Events
    • Series 3. Gay Organizing
    • Series 4. Documents related to work
    • Series 5. Memorabilia and Travel items
    • Series 6. Photographs
    • Series 7. Films

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Gay men

    Other Finding Aids

    Related GLBTHS Collections Tavern Guild of San Francisco Records, 1961-1993