Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Lenny Waller

We learned yesterday that Lenny Waller has recently passed away. Lenny was a prominent member of New York's leather BDSM community, a grandaddy of the Daddies, an institution in his own right.

Lenny began working in the city's S/M clubs in 1968 and was perhaps best known for his longtime management of the Hellfire Club in the old Meatpacking District. In addition, he also operated The Vault, The Manhole, Cell Block 28, and others (he gave a tour of Cell Block 28 to New York magazine in 1990).

During the 1985 anti-sex club crackdown in the midst of the AIDS crisis, Lenny fought to keep places like the St. Marks Baths open. Wrote Jay Blotcher in the book Policing Public Sex, Lenny fought the sex club laws and was victorious when he convinced the city "to exempt anal penetration with a dildo from their laws because, aesthetic objections aside, the act does not transmit HIV."

An advocate for the LGBT and HIV communities, for 25 years, he ran the AIDS Candlelight Vigil in Greenwich Village.

A frequent commenter, here and on many other blogs, he regularly spoke out against the Bloomberg administration and its role in hyper-gentrification, as well as against the city's crackdown on public smoking and the installation of bike lanes.

He loved cigars and also collected teddy bears.

Whenever I had a question about New York's leather history, Lenny came through for me. I was honored to be able to interview him here once in 2008 and again this past December. An oral historian on fetishism, he was a font of knowledge about BDSM in New York City. In one of his emails, he told me he was at work on a book, tentatively titled Hellfire: The Club, The Culture, The People, and The Time.

Lenny, I hope you got to finish that book, and thank you for always taking the time to answer my many questions. You will be missed.

*To those who knew him well, any factual corrections or additions to this obit you may have, please send them in.


Laura Goggin Photography said...

Aw, damn, that's sad. RIP Lenny - you are and always will be a legend.

Marty Wombacher said...

Sad to see a New York original and JVNY contributer gone. R.I.P. Lenny Waller.

Unknown said...

Lenny was a warm and wonderful person, a TRUE teddy bear inside. He was very much for sexual freedom, he also gave back to the community in many big ways.
He will be very missed and a wondeful, fun, exciting times will never be forgot at HELLFIRE !

John C said...

Lenny,I lost a piece of my soul. You were a truly great person. I will never forget you

ZenWarrior said...

I didn't know of him, but I'm sure I lead a better life in BDSM due to the fact he was in it. Rest in piece.

Unknown said...

RIP Lenny!!!
I will miss you the memories will live on. Thank you for providing us a place to be free to express our art and enjoy some wonderful times.
We will never forget you one big leathered out teddy bear.
Goddess Rosemary

Anonymous said...

RIP Lenny!!!Thank you for providing us a place to be free and have fun expressing our art, and some really good times. I will remember you always. Your memory will live on as one big leathered out Teddy Bear!!
Thank you so much for all you did for me, and for Z/n, you were a true friend. I will miss you always.
Goddess Rosemary

calli said...

RIP Lenny. When I first came into the lifestyle so many years ago , the first club I went to was The Vault. I felt as if I were home, it was a great time. Thank you ((((Lenny))))

Eric Wolfsbane said...

I've known Lenny since 1990. I was lucky enough to be considered by him as a friend and to be his friend.

I served with him on the NLA:Metro New York EC during the bad times. I always knew he had my back.

I always looked forward to seeing him at the Leather Pride Night ceremony and I'm going to miss seeing him there, this and every year.

The NYC leather and gay community has lost someone who epitomized it's very soul, the absolute best of what we're about.

I'm really going to miss you. Fare well my old friend.

Eric Wolfsbane

Anonymous said...

I got my start in the S/M world at Hellfire (as a photo model for Sandy York's fetish papers) and I'll always have intense memories of the place. Lenny was a fixture and he'll be missed by a great many of us.


Guy Gonzales said...

Lenny Waller remains a secular messiah; the last bona fide leader of our Erotic generation. He instigated unprecedented freedom for our proclivities and alternative lifestyles. Bigger than the bull whip he wielded; his amazing and generous heart. He's now at that Chinese Buffet in the sky, hanging out with his new friend Elizabeth Taylor.

From Guy Gonzales

backinthegays said...

Never had the chance to speak to Lenny, remember always seeing him all through-out New York City. RIP - You will be missed and thanks to great sites like JVNY you will never be forgotten.

SIr Viktor and Mistress Lin said...

Lenny let the DomsubFriends management live out our dreams by allowing us to use the legendary "Hellfire Club" for the first 3 years of our existence. For that we are grateful.
He may have looked like a rough biker, but deep inside he was a pussycat.
He spoke his mind and didn't sugar coat anything. One thing was for sure, it was always the truth.

During the past decade, Lenny beat the Grim Reaper many times. I guess this time was one too many.

Dear Friend, may the higher power protect your soul and ease the pain of your loved ones. The entire leather community of yesteryear grieves your loss. A part of us will be missing for a long time.

I spoke to his beloved, and eventually we will schedule a memorial service when the time is right.


Sir Viktor and Mistress Lin

Tara Indiana said...

It is with tremendous sadness that I found out that Lenny Waller, owner of the Hellfire Club has passed away. It happened a few days ago, but I must confess that I was so upset, that I've just been crying in bed and have only mustered the strength to post anything untill now.

With His passing, passes a whole history and so many stories of the S&M scene, probably for the past 40 years, His knowledge, skill, wit, warmth, depth, compassion, spirit of generosity and contribution to the scene are absolutely irreplaceable.

In addition to founding the Hellfire Club in the familiar triangle building in the meatpacking district that so many of us fondly remember, back in the early 70's, Lenny was a notorious Freedom Fighter.

When Chelsea became gentrified, and greedy landlords tried to drive him out - He didn't go easily. They would padlock him. He would clip the locks and re-open. They would board up His club. He would tear down the boards and re-open. And so it went - He fought till the end.

Lenny was one of the first people I met when I started in the scene some 20 years ago. And although He was a Dom, whenever I graced his club, He ALWAYS comped Me, and He alway treated Me as a Goddess, addressing Me as Mistress.

He was old fashioned :) and he had GOOD etiquette, something that I think has been lost on the scene today. He also understood, that the men came to see Us, the Dominas, and it was good business to comp the Dommes and treat Us as what We really were - (from a business perspective) - free entertainment. Something often his competitors neglected to do and neglect to do today.

And while, yes, there may have been too many "wankers" every now and then and The Hellfire, was shall we say "grittier" then some of the other clubs, I personally liked that. Sex should be dirty. And Lenny ALWAYS made Me feel like a Goddess when I was at his establishment. I always looked forward to his warm smile and a good story when he greeted Me at the door.

One occasion in particular stands out in My mind. It was when My husband and I first got engaged and We were going to rendezvous at the Hellfire. I was wearing My black patent leather thigh high boots, tightly corseted as usual, and wearing a PVC bodysuit with a snap crotch underneath.

I was sitting holding court with a bevy of slaves lined up waiting to worship My boots when My the fiance arrived. Lenny instantly saw the magic in Our eyes and took Us for a tour.

Then, he took us to his motorcycle room where he had proudly displayed his Harley. It was a small, private room in the back. He gleeully showed Us his bike and then said "Well, I guess I'll leave You ttwo alone, - engagement present" and he closed the room off from the public!

That was just the kind of guy he was! Always so generous and thoughtful. He just took so much joy to see other scene folks in love, watching a great scene, or just plain old just watching people play and have fun. And he gave so much to facilitate that, risked so much personally for that and gave up so much for it too. More than you will ever know.

Some of you may know that while I was in New York I was working on a documentary called "The History of S&M in New York". I felt it was most important to shoot Belle De Jour first, which I did.

The next people I was going to shoot were Mistress Mir and Lenny Walker. I can vividly remember sitting down for lunch with Rick Savage on a cool fall afternoon and discussing it. Discussing how important it would be to shoot Lenny, not a year ago. I will forever regret not having shot Lenny. It is one of the great mistakes of My life.

In lieu of that, I thought it might be a fitting tribute to start a wikipedia page for Lenny Walker and the Hellfire Club. Any old (new) timers on here interested in contributing May contact Me at

We love and miss you Lenny!

Yours eternally,

Tara Indiana

(and those who know Me know I NEVER say that ;) lol!

Some SQL said...

Sadly, his partner of many years, Gail Lombardo Caminiti, has also passed away. She was found in their home by her daughter earlier this week. She was a joyful spirit and a great recruiter for support for the AIDS Candlelight Vigil. I will miss her, she was my dear friend.

Jeremiah Moss said...

i'm sorry to hear about Gail. i just wrote to her this week to give my condolences for Lenny. very sad. a double loss for the community.

Morgan said...

Lenny was and will always be an amazing person. He was so many things, but to me I was glad that I got to know him and call him friend.
He will be deeply missed, remembered, and always loved. I always thought he would live forever, and he will, in everyone's memories and heart.

Much Love,

Unknown said...

I'm so sorry for the loss of Lenny and Gail. My heart goes out to their families.

Anonymous said...

I have many warm memories of Lenny at the door of The Vault. As a member of the erotic press, he'd always let me (and my companion) in for free after a big, warm, teddy bear hug. A sweet man who will be missed. One of a kind.

Ariel Hart/Cathy B.

Unknown said...

Just heard about his passing and yeah, we don't expect some people to ever go away because they are such a powerful force...

Farewell Lenny, you were always a great friend to me at the club, giving me carte blanche even though I worked for the competition. But that's because you understood and worked for the community. Something that seems to be lost on alot of people these days...
As the community, you were one of the Giants! Theres not many out there who will ever compare.

Hail Lenny & Thank you!

Master Magick

Lawrence Nelson said...

Boy not only did we lose Lenny we also lost his Partner Gail . They both where great friends to the Community, my late partner Brenda and to me. May they both rest in peace. My deepest sympathy and condolences to their families and friends and all who know and loved them.


The Crafty Nymph said...

Lennys long time girlfriend Gail passed away a few days ago March 30th just 2 weeks after the passing of both Lenny and her father. RIP

Unknown said...

I will miss my indigent old neighbor who I would call to make sure the snow wasn't too deep and he had his ac running. He was the person who welcomed me to the city, to his home the Hellfire club and various clubs in Brooklyn. I would know that even if I didn't talk to him for awhile he would answer the phone with a hello princess and we would end up on the phone for hours...he was the friend who always had my back and when he was in the hospital would never mind me stopping in to say hi.
The memories you have left me are ones I will truly treasure.

Anonymous said...

I Met Lenny Several Years ago On the site. A true New Yawker that well be missed by all that have met him. RIP Gail & Lenny

Mistress Didi* said...

I am fortunate to have met Lenny on enough occasions to have received a lot of good bear hugs! The entire Fetish World is better for Lenny's brilliance & Fetish Heaven must be rockin' right about now!

There will be a Memorial for Lenny on Saturday, May 14, 2011 at Paddles, 250 w 26th Street, NYC 6:30-9:30 PM.

Lady Elaina said...

i was so glad i was able to get back to NYC for the memorial at Paddles last night. While i didn't always agree with Lenny's position on things, i respected him for standing up for the things he believed in. May he, Lois and Gail all rest in peace together.

Anonymous said...

Lenny was the first man I ever smoked a cigar with. I worked at The Noose, and Kenny would visit and talk shop. Outside of business, in the community, he was a charming companion and always respectful. He looked out for me, and I felt safe at his elbow. I will remember his smile and hearty laugh. And his determination to fight for his ideals. Hugs Lenny....DEBBIE

Anonymous said...

I met Lenny at the hell fire club over 18 years ago. Lenny Mom was a kind person But bad cook. Lenny had a big Heart. Lenny loved to eat at Katz Deli In NYC. Lenny
And I would Leave club to at 5am driving home in the snow. Lenny wife Sharon was a good lady and supported Lenny Dream. Lenny Loved
His cat. Lenny saved all his Teddy
bears. Lois was his girl friend and he loved her and miss her since she passed away very young.

SilkyRose said...

You were so good to me and to those you loved, you were loved and you are missed.
Goddess Rosemary