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A Bodybuilding Pilgrimage: Southern California is the Place To Go
- Updated: April 7, 2015
Baseball has Cooperstown. Football has Canton. Every sport has a place where its fans can gather to see and learn about the history and where it all began and bodybuilding is no exception.
Instead of small towns with bed and breakfast-type accommodations, followers of the Iron Game get to literally hang out at a beach in a city known for its bustling activity. While the seekers of the National Pastime’s beginnings take a quiet walk on Main Street in upstate, New York, gym rats get to unite in Venice, California and enjoy everything else that it provides on top of being the place where modern bodybuilding may not have been born, but certainly took off.
THE ORIGINAL GOLD’S GYM (1006 Pacific Avenue, Venice, CA) est. 1965
Anyone who has even loosely followed the sport of bodybuilding is aware of this place. Joe Gold couldn’t have ever imagined that the storefront he opened back in 1965 would become the world’s beloved hardcore gym forever – even decades after its doors we’re closed.
Of course, the 1977 documentary film “Pumping Iron” transformed this place into a must-see for everyone and Arnold Schwarzenegger had a lot to do with that (although it had moved by then). Gold’s became a gathering place for actors, musicians and every kind of celebrity out there. Perhaps that was one reason why Gold eventually sold it and opened World Gym.
Either way, the original sign still stands and the building is a landmark. Besides that, it is nondescript and even a view from the rear alley doesn’t give any indication of how important this piece of real estate was to bodybuilders. It’s not called “The Mecca” for nothing.
Ken Sprague eventually purchased the gym and decided that the crew needed a bigger place. His vision was correct with the movie soon to be released and the subsequent explosion of popularity taking place.
Still carrying the original name for recognition (even though Joe Gold had sold it in 1970), Gold’s Gym was now located in the business district of Santa Monica. It’s large glass front gave passerby’s a show and a half and the clientele became even more Hollywood than before.
If you go by there today, no signage is present telling you that the hair salon used to house greatness.
Back in the old neighborhood, Gold’s has some very impressive murals of the champions that have trained there throughout the gym’s nomadic history. ‘The Mecca of Bodybuilding’ is proudly displayed inside and out, as it should be. No, this isn’t the original building but a bigger and more modern version that doesn’t forget where it came from.
World Gym (2210 Main Street, Venice, CA) est. 1976
You didn’t think that Joe Gold sailed off into the California sunset when he sold off his gym on Pacific, did you? The man who introduced the cable pulley system opened up shop in a three-story building not too far from his old joint and made the gorilla’s ass famous.
Many of the regulars included not only Schwarzenegger, but also Franco Columbu and the gang from Gold’s, who split their time between the two facilities.
If bodybuilding had an Abner Doubleday, he would have broke ground here. More of an acrobatic sideshow than a place to work out, the inaugural Muscle Beach was inhabited by some of the most famous names in fitness, such as Jack LaLanne, Steve Reeves and “Pudgy” Stockton.
A scandal that may or may not have been related to the Muscle Beach crowd spelled doom for the gathering place and it was shut down in 1959.
Muscle Beach Venice (1800 Ocean Front Walk, Venice, CA) est. 1951
Known when it was opened simply as “The Pen,” the location became a home for the former Santa Monica clientele and eventually adopted the famous name. Although it had been using the Muscle Beach moniker loosely for decades, it became officially known as such in 1987.
20 years later, the Muscle Beach Venice Bodybuilding Hall of Fame was dedicated with the base of the pen adorned by plaques of the sport’s heroes.
Although not a complete list of the legendary bodybuilder’s original SoCal haunts, the above are the main places to see for the fitness and bodybuilding fan. Some of the more obscure places include:
*Vince’s Gym (11262 Ventura Boulevard, Studio City, CA) est.1948
The Iron Guru’ Vince Gironda opened up the first hardcore gym and his eccentric rules were tolerated because of what this man brought to the table. Celebrities from Arnold to Cher learned from Gironda and he will always be revered in this industry.
*Vic Tanny Centers (4th and Broadway, Santa Monica, CA) est. 1939
Four years earlier, Tanny opened his first gym in his hometown of Rochester, New York. He eventually sold it and moved out west to test that market. His fitness centers attracted men and women alike with amenities such as carpet, mirrors and chrome weights and it became an American institution with the metamorphosis under the Bally’s Total Fitness moniker.