BARchive: Folsom Street Leather

  • by Jim Stewart
  • Tuesday September 16, 2014
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Tom Hinde, 1979. Photo: Jim Stewart 
Tom Hinde, 1979. Photo: Jim Stewart 

"What happened to the other leather restraint?" Joe Taylor said. "You had four."

"One of my BD buddies must have wanted a souvenir," I said. "I noticed it missing during a session last night."

"Yeah," Joe said. "I can make a replacement."

Joe was a leather worker billed as "Taylor of San Francisco," lived in the flat below me, and had a shop in a Folsom bar. It was 1979.

Long before the Folsom Street Fair, leather paraded along Folsom, most often after dark. Leather chaps and vests, jackets and belts, harnesses and codpieces were made and marketed in venues such as A Taste of Leather at 960 Folsom Street, Hard-On-Leathers at 1133 Polk Street, Leatherworld at 735 Larkin Street, and later Faust Leder at 1227A Folsom. There were leather and toy shops in SOMA bars. Upstairs at the Ambush, 1351 Harrison. And Taylor of San Francisco at the Brig, 1347 Folsom.

Men ferreted out clothing and accouterment at thrift stores, hardware stores, drug stores, the Harley-Davidson dealer at 66 Page Street, Herb's Uniform Company at 724 Geary, and the great Kaplan Army Surplus and Sporting Goods store, 1055 Market.

The work of leather artists included anything from duplicating a restraint-cuff to creating a hooded helmet any Greek warrior would have been proud to wear, or producing a black leather straightjacket seldom seen in a hospital.

Camille O'Grady, Leather Queen of Folsom, was coming for a photo shoot. I had meet Camille through Luc at the Mineshaft in New York. She followed dancer Larry Hunt to San Francisco and crashed with Robert Opel, Academy Awards streaker and Fey-Way Studio art gallery owner.

"Come in!" I said as Camille and Larry came in. "You look fabulous!"

She was dragged out in black leather with a Celtic gypsy's fortune of bracelets and necklaces jingling as she mounted the stairs to my flat.

"Thank you, kind sir." She smiled coyly as she draped her beautiful black silk-fringed shawl over her shoulder.

"And you're looking damn hot, too," I said to Mapplethorpe model Hunt. Larry was there to shoot my set-ups with his camera for Camille's personal publicity kit.

Larry Hunt and Tom Hinde, 1979. Photo: Jim Stewart

The unlocked door at the bottom of the staircase opened. Somebody mounted the stairs.

"It's Tom Hinde," Luc said.

"Hey Tom," I said. Tom Hinde was a great artist whose SMBD self-portraits of bondage, butt-burns, and razor-cuts had been hung at the Ambush Gallery as well as Fey Way Studios. We'd had sessions before in my playroom.

"Look what I brought," Tom said. He held out a beautifully stitched and grommeted black leather straightjacket. "I need help."

Luc and Larry obliged while I recorded all with my Nikon. I then shot Camille.

When the shoot was finished Camille, Larry, and Luc left for salooning on Folsom Street. I led Tom to my playroom, eyed his bare butt in leather chaps, fired up a Corona, and softly closed the door.

Camille O'Grady and Tom Hinde, 1979. Photo: Jim Stewart


Thanks to BARtab and Editor Jim Provenzano, I have shared through 25 consecutive BARchive columns my throwback photos and adventures around San Francisco's gay bar culture of the 1970s. My column is on hiatus while I work on a series of gay short fiction stories. Thanks to all my readers. If you haven't already, be sure to check out my book Folsom Street Blues.

c. 2014 Jim Stewart authored the award-winning Folsom Street Blues: A Memoir of 1970s SoMa and Leatherfolk in Gay San Francisco.