Muscle Beach

Birth of the Fitness Craze

The original Muscle Beach was located in Santa Monica and there are conflicting stories on how it came to be. Legend is that a local physical education teacher, Kate Giroux, perusuaded the city and the Works Progress Administration to build some exercise equipment in the 1930s. Harold Zinkin a Muscle Beach alumni states that it was a small project between some of his friends and him. Whatever the case, during the Great Depression many young men started flocking to the area to hang out and exercise.

Before long, Muscle Beach soon became a group of unlikely group of friends from varying careers. Athletes, circus performers, wrestlers, college gymnasts, movie stunt people, all of these people including many young girls like Abbye "Pudgy" Stockton, the first great woman bodybuilder, came to Muscle Beach to work out. They became increasingly popular to weekend beachgoers who would stand and watch the Muscle Beach gang's antics whose audience swelled to 50,000-60,000 by the beginning of World War II. As Muscle Beach's popularity began to soar, so did the city's interest and in 1935, Santa Monica hired, UCLA coach Cecil Hollingsworth to teach gymnastics there.

The Muscle Beach scene wasn't limited to just the local area, much of the nation was beginning to take notice at the growing scene and journalists and photographers were on hand to feed the interested public. However, none of this really interested the Muscle Beach crowd who treated the places as a kind of club, a hang-out, a part of their youth, it was fun. However, with the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the Muscle Beach era came to a close with many of the old hands, including Joe Gold, Russ Saunders, Jack LaLanne, and Vic Tanney all being drafted or joining the Armed Forces and would later go on to become rich in the gym or stunt business.

When the war ended, Muscle Beach was in decline, by 1952 stories were filtering to the saddened Muscle Beachers who had left for other parts, and in 1959 it was in fact, bulldozed. Many businesses around the area were complaining of a lack of business because of the free shows put on by Muscle Beach regulars. The owners of the Surf Rider Hotel were so unapproving of the beach that they packed up and left. Finally a story involving five weightlifters who lived in a boardwalk apartment found partying with two underage girls was the final nail in the coffin for Muscle Beach. Even though the case was eventually dropped, the city, unhappy about the economic reprecussions of Muscle Beach deemed it a gathering ground for perverts, drug dealers, and other "unwanted." The use of the Muscle Beach name and weightlifting were banned in the city and the beach was renamed Beach Park 4.

Following the closing of the original Muscle Beach a new one in Venice started to gather steam and is now the one many tourists flock to. It is offically know as however, "Muscle Beach, Venice." There is also a Muscle Beach Lemonade brand in the Los Angeles area if you're curious. However, nothing ever is quite like the original and the same goes to one of the greatest places in Southern California history, Muscle Beach, the place where Americans first became crazy about fitness.

Chowder, Ken. Muscle Beach. Smithsonian. November, 1998.

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