Gold’s Gym – First in Venice and the world

I always get a kick when coming back from the Rose Café down Hampton Drive at that road sign of the bulky weight lifter with the word ‘crossing’ underneath. Nothing could be truer, especially here in Venice.

Twenty-seven years ago, in 1977, “Pumping Iron” put Venice Beach on the map. Just the mention of the words Venice Beach brought only one thing to mind around America: muscle men. And that meant only one place: Gold’s Gym. Joe Gold, a bodybuilder who helped put the muscle on Muscle Beach, founded the gym as the original place for serious body builders to pump iron. Another first for Venice!

Located then at 1006 Pacific Avenue, it opened in 1965 to little acclaim outside the small community of local body builders. Guys like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno, Ken Waller and Joe Wieder all first trained there, giving them a place to work out.

In 1971, then local designer Doug Boyd started going to the gym. "You’d walk in and Joe and Zabo - Irvin "Zabo" Koszewski, Joe’s pal from the 50s – would be sitting by the door. It was quite different than gyms of today. There was nothing there. Only steel weights."

To bodybuilding insiders, Gold is known as much for the equipment he designed as for gyms. "It was the origin of the muscle building equipment that made Gold’s unique," says Boyd. A machinist, Gold developed workout machines that enabled bodybuilders to go beyond dumbbells and barbells. "Joe would make different equipment that was customized to reach muscle groups that would hit different areas more effectively. Joe loved to fiddle and create until he got things that felt right. The gym became, in a sense, a laboratory for his ideas on how to make pieces of equipment better."

Gold was born March 10, 1922, in East Los Angeles, the son of a junk dealer. In junior high school, he led a group of friends in creating the Dugout Athletic Club, a "workout gym" in an auto repair shop. And that’s where his interests in bodybuilding and machinery came together.

"The scene back at the original gym attracted all kinds of guys," remembers Boyd.  "Some funny, some crazy. Like, guys would go around and pick up cars with their bare hands. Just for fun. I remember a time when a motorcycle gang came stomping in through the back door, looked around at all these muscle-bound freaks, and got the hell out of there. I guess they were scared, for no reason, or ignorant.

"But back then, the gym was just guys, and they only had one bathroom. Joe didn’t want to put in another one. Out back were the sauna and shower. And one time, I was in the sauna with a couple other guys, and three beautiful babes came in, stripped down, and we all just started casually talking. But, we were all totally nude! Then they went out side, waiting naked to use the shower. That was a big deal back then!"

With the increase in popularity, the gym soon became known as the ‘Mecca of Bodybuilding,’ and in 1976, it moved to a larger location on the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica. Then in 1977, the gym was featured in the movie “Pumping Iron” which included soon-to-be stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno. And that’s when things really took off. The popularity of the movie lead to an increase in the popularity of working out.

Having moved in 1981 to their present location at 360 Hampton Drive and Sunset Avenue, Gold’s Gym has grown to become the basic workout gym for the entire world. Described as having "rampant testosterone," they now offer the largest number of facilities in the world, with 2.5 million members in 650+ facilities in 45 states and 23 countries.

Today, Gold’s Gym continues to change lives by helping people achieve their individual potential, and has expanded its fitness profile to offer all of the latest equipment and services including, group exercise, personal training, cardiovascular equipment, spinning, Pilates and yoga, while maintaining its core weight lifting tradition. The gym also features an apparel brand, a line of exercise equipment and food and drink supplements.

TRT Holdings Inc., which owns about 40 Omni Hotels in North America, just last month purchased the Gold's chain from Brockway Moran & Partners Inc., a Boca Raton, Fla., investment firm. The purchase was valued at $160 million.

"We viewed Gold's, because of the unique quality of its name coupled with the growth we see in the fitness industry generally, as a unique platform to make an investment in the sector," says Terrell Philen, of TRT. "We want to continue to deploy capital and continue to grow the brand and the number of stores, pumping up the company further."

Gold's today employs about 2,100 people at its Venice headquarters and its company-owned gyms. Including franchises, about 30,000 people work for Gold's clubs.

When Gold sold the gym in the early 1970’s, it was to two other bodybuilders and an architect. In the decades that followed, however, gyms moved well beyond the bodybuilder circuit and into mainstream America.

There are about 23,500 health clubs in the United States, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, an industry trade group. About 39.4 million Americans are members of health clubs - up by about 7 million members since 1998 - helping to propel the industry to a 2003 revenue of $14.1 billion.

Sadly, Joe Gold passed away on Monday July 12, 2004 at the age of 82. His loss will be missed for a long time to come. "I guess you could say the whole health craze that’s taken over today’s world started with Joe and his gym," remembers Boyd. "And the common use of refined equipment all began there as well."

And it all started here in Venice, once again leading the way for America and the world.