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Many people ask me about the history of Gold’s Gym and how it evolved from the beaches in the 1950’s. There are not many of us left from that era and it’s beginning to get fewer everyday as we are beginning to drop off like flies. However I plan to stick around and share my knowledge of those days with the new breed that are so curious to have knowledge of the history.
I remember coming down to Muscle Beach in the mid 1950’s, which was then Santa Monica right south of the Santa Monica Pier. The sand had a wooden platform that had some free weights and next to it, rings, chinning bars and dip bars. Steve Reeves and many of the earlier bodybuilders would hang out there daily.
Not only was it bodybuilders, but also weight lifters and many gymnasts. Adults and kids of all ages doing the rings, hand balancing and gymnastics flips. It drew quite a crowd. Several times a year they had contests one of them being Mr. and Miss Muscle Beach. Most all-natural bodybuilders back then, as drugs were pretty much not in the scene yet. The female competitors wore one-piece bathing suits but the guys still wore the posing briefs as we see today. The beaches were packed with spectators and there was hardly room to move.
Bodybuilders were an oddity and drew attention wherever they went. The body shape then was much different than today. They focused in on very wide shoulders and narrow waist. That’s where the original ‘V’ shape came from. The challenge was to get your waist as small as possible and shoulders a yard wide. Today’s bodybuilders just go for size and the waste is much large on an average.
Somewhere in the 60’s the weights were pulled from the beach and Santa Monica got rid of the bodybuilding element which was caused due to a few of the bodybuilders charged with sexual assault on an underage girl. The city felt that bodybuilders were a bad element to have around.
There was a gym called the Dungeon which was down in a basement on 5th and Wilshire which many of the guys moved to and then Muscle Beach gym opened up on 4th and Broadway right next to an all you can eat restaurant. Of course this was great for the guys training.
In 1965 Joe Gold who also trained on the beach decided to build an indoor gym for his buddies that wanted to train and not be victim to bad weather outdoors. Joe owned a lot of beachfront property, which was cheap at the time. So he built a cinder block building on Pacific Avenue to his own specifications and then hand made and welded every piece of equipment that went into the gym. He was a perfectionist and each piece worked smooth and fit in your hands like a glove. The bell handles on the dumbbells were like none I’ve ever seen and made a huge difference in your lifts.
The gym was a success right from the start and the fees were only $60 a year. If you didn’t have the money, in many cases he’d let you train for free. He didn’t have heating or A/C because at the beach you really didn’t need it. There was only one shower room because it was mainly men and Joe said that most of the guys didn’t shower anyway. Later on a few girls joined the gym and trained with the guys but they pretty much were told that it’s a guys gym and would have to put up with the language and whatever else went on. They even shared the shower.
I was showering one day and I heard someone ask me to pass the soap. I thought the voice was high and it was one of the girls. No one thought anything of it.
Joe kept the gym for a few years until the early 70’s and then sold it and his name along with it. He went back out to sea as a merchant marine.
Gold’s was bought by Dave Saxe and Bud Danitz who ran the gym for about 2 years and eventually sold it to Ken Sprague who at that time put more money into promoting bodybuilding shows and had the gym as the sponsor. This started to get the Gold’s name out in public and develop a following.
A few years later Ken sold the gym to Pete Grymkowski and they moved it to 2nd street in Santa Monica in a building owned by Actor Robert Blake. Ken turned the old building into his home and it remains there today, although he has moved.
After about a year or so, they moved Gold’s to Venice on Hampton street where it is today and the owners began to do more shows and opened a Gold’s Franchise around the world based on the fact that it was the ‘Mecca’ and this is where all the greats train from around the world. It became a tourist attraction to this day.
Joe Gold came back from sea after a couple of years and wanted to reopen a gym but couldn’t use his name since he sold the rights to it. Frustrated and upset, he opened World Gym on Main Street in Santa Monica. Many of his old loyal friends came to World and left Gold’s. Arnold, Farrago, Giuliani and more were there to help Joe promote the club. This was another piece of property that Joe owned and built the gym on. What many people don’t know is that Joe built a World Gym in the valley, Panorama City which was 20 miles from the beach. It was just as good as his other gym but catered to the Valley group of people. He soon tired of the drive and hated the heat so he sold this gym to Steve Davis who kept it for a few years and then sold it to a partnership, which eventually moved it, and no one knows where that great equipment went today.
Joe moved his World Gym to Venice in a huge beautiful building that he built which had a few floors and plenty of parking. I believe that Arnold went in with him on this club. He converted the one on Main Street to his general offices as they began to franchise World Gyms all over. His name and clubs were growing just like Gold’s and he was running them competition.
Eventually he sold the building and moved it further from the beach to an old Sizzler restaurant. He fixed it up nice but the atmosphere was never the same as the first gym and it didn’t do near as well. Joe didn’t allow music which gave it a ‘dead’ feeling when training where as Gold’s had music, TV monitors and lots of activity which is conducive to training.
Joe passed away in 2004 and then shortly after the gym closed down. A big corporation in Texas bought out gold’s and they still own it today. World Gym Francise has been bought out by a family and they plan on bringing it back bigger than ever. They are currently in the process of it.
I was fortunate enough to be asked to design the famous Gold’s Gym logo and World Gym logo which is still the symbol today and both were some of the largest brands in the world.
Much of the history of the Golden Era can be seen here.
Click here to get an original Gold’s Gym T-shirt designed by Ric Drasin in 1973.