GOLD'S GYM - By Pete Samra

Gold is where you find it. ~ American Proverb
The first California Gold Rush (1848–1855) was a gold rush that began on January 24, 1848, when gold was found by James W. Marshall at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, California. The news of gold brought approximately 300,000 people to California from the rest of the United States and abroad.
In the 60’s there was another Gold rush as thousands of Bodybuilders from all over the world made a pilgrimage to California to train at the world famous Gold’s Gym.
On August 25 1965, Joe Sidney Gold a bodybuilder and former sailor, opened the doors to what would become the greatest gym in the world. Located at 1006 Pacific Avenue in Venice, California. The building was built,by Joe Gold and some of his friends, using cinder blocks.The need for a gym arose,after Muscle Beach in Santa Monica was closed in 1959. This was done due a problem at “Muscle Beach”( also known as the muscle pit).The city of Santa Monica closed “Muscle Beach “ down, leaving several bodybuilders without a place to train. Joe Gold wanted a place for him and his friends to train. A skillfull machinist,Joe built all the early Gold’s gym equipment.
As a young kid of 16, I started to train at a gym in downtown Johannesburg ,South Africa. I weighed 127 lbs. and 4 years later I weighed 208 lbs. Most of my training knowledge came from reading the muscle magazines. “Muscle Development ” published by Bob Hoffman, was the first magazine I ever read. On the cover of my first magazine ,was the 1967 “Mr. America” Dennis Tinerino, years later Dennis and I would became very good friends. Bob Hoffman ,was the publisher of “Muscular Development” , who also owned a company selling weights and vitamins. His magazine ”Muscular Development” mainly covered the AAU bodybuilders and the London based NABBA, Mr. Universe winners. The next magazine I read was Perry Rader’s “Iron Man magazine”. (Today “Iron Man magazine” is owned by Denny Kakos). Like “Muscular Development”. Iron man also covered the AAU contests as well as the NABBA, contests,i.e. Mr.America and the Mr. Universe. Iron man was a very informative magazine with great articles by some of the top Muscle writers, including Dennis Weis. Dennis also wrote several award winning bodybuilding books, with Robert Kennedy. Kennedy published “Muscle Magazine International” in Canada. Dan Lurie who headed the WBBG bodybuilding association in New York published “MuscleTraining Illustrated “ which covered his associations contests as well as advertised , his equipment and vitamin line. .
It was not until I started to read Joe Weiders “Muscle and Fitness” magazine, that I heard of Gold’s gym. Joe Weider’s magazines convered all of his IFBB, contests results. Weider like Bob Hoffman , Perry Rader,and Dan Lurie also sold gym equipment and vitamins. However Joe Weider’s “Muscle and Fitness” magazine covered stories on such superstars like :Arnold Schwarzenegger, Frank Zane, Kenny Waller , Franco Columbo , Dave Draper, Zabo Koszewski,Bill Grant, Danny Padilla ,Ed Corney,Eddie Guilianni,Johnny Isaacs (a South Africa living in the USA, who was Reg Park’s brother in law). “Muscle and fitness” covered the training routines of many other foreign bodybuilder like Paul Grant of Wales,
But most importantly Weider used “Golds Gym” in Venice and later Santa Monica to photograph many of the IFBB stars for his “Muscle and Fitness’” magazine. Because of his articles, and the pictures Joe took. Gold’s Gym became the dream destination of thousands of budding bodybuilders including me.
I arrived at Los Angeles International airport in the early hours on a Tuesday morning in March 1975 on a flight from New York city. My destination was Santa Monica. After taking a bus to downtown Los Angeles and then another bus, back(not knowing where I was). I arrived in Santa Monica. I got off the bus at 26th street and asked an early morning walker, where the nearest hotel was .He guided me to the Beacon Motor Hotel. I booked in and got a few hour’s sleep before looking for “Gold’s Gym”.Gold’s gym was hard to find and the people I asked , directions ,did not know where it was. I asked a man eating at a “Taco Bell” if he knew where it was.He pulled out his “A to Z” and looked up 1006 Pacific Avenue , Venice.
I arrived at Gold’s at mid day, that same Tuesday.The Gym looked a lot smaller than I imagined it would be. All the pictures taken of Golds Gym in Weider’s magazines , made the gym look a lot larger. The manager on duty that day was Ron Dippolito .He welcomed me and asked me where I was from.I told him I was from South Africa. The first thing he asked me was,if I knew Reg Park. (Reg Park who lived in South Africa was a world famous Bodybuilder and one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time).Ron also told me that the 1975 Mr. Universe and Mr.Olympia contests would be held later that year in South Africa. I offered to sign up, but he gave me a free work out. Ron suggested I returned the following morning at 9.00 am when all the champions trained.
The following morning I arrived at 9.00 am and joined up.The gym was packed with many famous bodybuilders. It looked like many of them, had jumped off the pages, of the bodybuilding magazines.In some instances however, they looked even more impressive. Ron introduced me to some of the early morning members and told them, I was from South Africa. Naturally because the Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia was to be held in South Africa , I was asked many questions.Questions like, “do the lions roam the streets at night”.Having spent a week in new York prior to training at Gold’s.I assured them that Johannesburg and Pretoria were were big modern cities like New York.
The first thing that struck me about the gym, was the equipment. You must remember back in 1975 , there was not a lot of gym equipment around, unlike ,what we have today.The gym I trained at in South Africa ,was well equipped with benches, weights and some machines. After my first work out at “Gold’s “. I immediately realized that the equipment was phenomenal. Most of the equipment was made by Joe Gold in his two car garage in Venice California . Joe would design the equipment , some of his machines and benches ,had never been built before. Joe would spend a lot of time on his inventions.To make sure his equipment would work, Joe spent a lot of time experimenting.To make sure the machines would work for all members. Joe would invite several bodybuilders over to his “garage work shop”,to try out his new machines. He would invite : tall bodybuilders , short bodybuilders, big bodybuilders and average bodybuilders and they would test his machines. Once he was happy with his inventions, that he developed. Joe would then take his new machine or bench to Golds for the final test. Leaving the machine or bench, in the gym for a while,so that members could try them out.Joe would then get as much feedback as possible .The lifters would critique , his new machines .Many times Joe would have to take the machine, back to his workshop and make adjustments. Only after he was completely satisfied that the machine he had built ,would work properly. Joe would then finally bolt the machine down.His machines became world famous.
I remember (its 45 years ago now) that Gold’s Gym had rows of fixed dumbbells all the way down the one side of the gym .There was also two rows of dumbells located ,just below the two front windows. I had never seen so many pairs of dumbbells in my life.They were fixed , some weighing in excess of 200lbs each . The dumbbells were amazing and very comfortable to use. Joe did not use strait dumbbell handles ,like today.Instead his handles were slightly beveled ,for easy holding.Even when you were fatigued after a jumbo set of dumbells,you were able to hold on. The gym also had several 4 station units.They were located in the middle of the gym. Between two of these 4 station units, you could do pulley cable cross overs. The pulleys on the machines were big and it made for a smooth operation. There was also one chromed ”Universal“ 4 unit machine in the gym, I believe the only piece not made by Joe Gold. The leg press machine was, the old fashioned straight up kind, not angled like today’s modern machines.When using the leg press machine ,you would have to lay right under the machine, and push up with your legs.You were laying completely, on your back , under the machine. The motion did put a little pressure on your back, but your legs grew.We also used the leg press machine for straight up calf raises (lying flat on your back).We would do a set of Leg press supersetted with calves press.There was also two squat racks at the back of the gym. The T Bar Row, I remember could hold several 45 lb. plates. There was also an amazing standing calf machine, loaded with hundreds of lbs.of weights .On this calf machine, the place where you put your feet was high enough to get that good extra stretch. The gym also had a seated (flat) leg extension /leg curl combo machine. We would also lean on this machine so we could do donkey calf raises. You would have your training partner or training partners sit our back, as you did your calves. There was a small desk at the back of the gym and the showers were upstairs.
Even when the gym was packed, you never seemed to wait for a machine. The camaraderie among the bodybuilders was amazing. They would always be there to help you with a spot,or give you good advise on training.Many of the members were eager to help you find a job. They all knew the best restuarants, with the best deals. “Germans” was the closest.And for $2.12 you would get 2 eggs, sausage, two slices of toast and a cup of coffee. If you needed a ride and they were going your way they would take you. Most of Bodybuilders got jobs as bouncers. I worked as a bouncer at “Donkin’s” a bar and restaurant in the Marina Del Rey. Donkins had a well-known disco and when the other Bodybuilders had a night off they would stop by to visit.
During my training at Gold’s in 1975. Filming started on the movie “Pumping Iron”. The production team would film daily. Arnold seemed to be filmed the most.However other Bodybuilders like, Ken Waller,Paul Grant ,Robbie Robinson, Franco Columbu, Ed Corney, Danny Padilla were also filmed .The cameramen, filmed mainly ,those who would be going to South Africa to compete in the contests. South Africa was one of the first foreign countries to host the Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia titles.The gym looked like a movie set with the lights and other equipment they used for filming. Even though they were constantly filming , we all carried on training as normal. There are a few scenes in the movie”Pumping Iron” where I can be seen. Arnold told me one day “you’re in my movie” .
“Pumping Iron” brought bodybuilding and Gold’s gym in to main stream America. Because of “Pumping Iron”, everybody now wanted to be a Bodybuilder.People came from all over the world to train at Gold’s .Some would stop by to just buy a Gold’s gym T shirt or take a picture with their favorite star.What the film “Pumping Iron” did for Bodybuilding, was that it exposed bodybuilding to the masses .Gold’s gym had now became a household name.
But there was one other major event that made Bodybuilding and Gold’s gym even more famous. In 1977 Ken Sprague the owner of Gold’s gym ,hosted and promoted the Mr.America bodybuilding contest. Where pumping Iron brought a public awarnes to the sport of bodybuilding and Gold’s gym. Ken Sprague took it to an even higher level. The first thing Ken did was bring national attention to Gold’s Gym.He did this by promoting the ”Mr. America week”, with the help of several publicity companies. Gold’s Gym got major newspapers, magazines and TV coverage .In addition to all the pre-publicity, TV cameras from around the world filmed the now famous “Mr. America day parade”. The parade moved through the streets of Santa Monica. Marching bands, drum majorettes and Bodybuilders like , Dave du Pree , Ken Waller and Rudy Hemosilla on elephants. There were bodybuilders on floats. Bob Goodrich the first Mr. America was driven in a convertible. Dan Lurie muscle magazine publisher also rode in a convertible. The streets were lined for miles with people. What the Mr.America day parade achieved,was that it brought bodybuilding into the streets of America. Bodybuilding was now easily accesabile to the masses. The day of the parade, the freeways were blocked for miles, The the city of Santa Monica came to a standstill.No one could imagine the impact.The Santa Monica police department only allocated a few officers to the parade, not expecting the thousands who came to watch. The parade lasted for about an hour and a half. The parade ended up at the Santa Monica civic auditorium,just in time for the pre-judging . No longer would bodybuilding contests be held in a small YMCA aduitoriums or in dungeons. The 1977 Mr. America contest was held in the prestigious 3,000 seater Santa Monica civic. One of the top auditoriums in the country at that time.
That night for the finals,the auditorium was packed standing room only .Well over 3,000 in attendance. Mae West famous Hollywood actress who was well know for her saying “come up and see me some time”.Mae was the first actress,to use bodybuilders in her live shows and on Television.So it was only fitting that Mae awarded Dave Johns the 1977 Mr.America , his trophey. Now all of a sudden,everybody wanted to be part of Gold’s gym.Everybody wanted a gold’s gym T shirt and we sold several thousand T- shirts that day.
When I trained at Gold’s in 1975, it had only one women trainee. Her name was Debby and she trained just as hard as the guys .Debby was accepted as one of the gang. When Gold’s moved to 2nd street in 1976 ,Golds opened its doors to women.
Gold’s gym was started by Joe gold in 1965. Because Joe wanting to return to sea as a Merchant seaman .Joe sold Gold’s ,in 1970, to Dave Saxe and Bud Danitz ,for $50,000.00 . The price included the gym, parking lot and a house. Saxe and Danitz ran the gym for about 2 years . Because the gym was not making any money, they wanted to turn the gym into an antique furniture store. When Ken Sprague who was a member of Golds heard that Gold’s would be closed. Ken who had been a member of “Gold’s” for several years did not want to hear of it!. So Ken bought the gym, the building ,a vacant lot and a house next door for $15,000.00 down .He then assumed the mortgage and liabilities for a total of $74,000.00.
Due to the publicity received from the movie “Pumping Iron” a larger space was needed for Gold’s to expand. So a large store front was rented on 2nd Street Santa Monica in 1976. In 1977 I returned back to California after completing my business degree in South Africa . I returned to Gold’s Gym , now located on 2nd street Santa Monica.The building was huge compared to the original gym in Venice.
I enrolled in college and studied for a degree in nutrition. Not too long after I returned to California .Dan Howard the evening manager offered me the job as the morning manager at the new facility on 2nd Street Santa Monica.. The first morning on my shift I did more in sales of T shirts , memberships ,than the previous manager did in a week. Kent Kuene , the afternoon manager and I had a daily competition to see who would sell the most T shirts. Because of my studies in Nutrition and marketing.I was asked by Ken Sprague the owner to start the “Gold’s gym” line of nutritional supplements.
Working the front desk, we managers would get calls from Hollywood looking for Bodybuilders to play parts in TV shows and movies. I did a part in “American girls” and “Class of 64” two Television shows at the time . Also we were called to do security work. Gold’s gym was contacted to send bodybuilders to work security at the very first “people’s choice awards”. In one night I probably saw,just about every top movie star in Hollywood. John Wayne, Farah Fawcett, Mary Tyler Moore. All the stars from “Happy days”, “Roots”, Chips .Even former President Gerald Ford was a special guest .Because “Gold’s” had become so famous. Several movie stars , professional wrestlers and athletes joined Gold’s and became members.
One situation that will always remain in my mind, for ever.Was one morning in 1977 when Serge Nubret, Mr. Universe, visited Gold’s from France.When Serge and his wife Jackie walked into Gold’s .The whole gym stopped, even Robbie Robinson who would never stop or look up , while he was training, stopped and looked up. The Gym froze, no body moved .You must remember training that morning were some of the greatest bodybuilders of all time. But when Serge Nubret walked into “Gold’s Gym”, “It Froze” .It seemed like minutes passed, as everybody starred .He walked up to the desk and said “I want to train”. Dan Lurie was in the gym that morning filming pictures for his magazine “Muscle illustrated” special Mr. America edition.There is one picture of me giving Serge Nubret a “Gold’s Gym” T shirt .This all took place just a few days before the 1977 AAU MR. America .
In 1979 Ken Sprague sold Gold’s gym to Peter Grymkowski, Tim Kimber and Ed Connors for $5 million ( this amount has not been verified). Grymkowski , Kimber and Connors , then franchised the name “Gold’s Gym” to 534 gyms in the USA and worldwide. They also licensed the name for products such as clothing, vitamins and gym equipment.
A documentary called “Big” has been filmed and will be released soon. The documentary was the the idea of film maker Marc Martinez.Who as a young teenager trained at Gold’s in 1977. Marc’s documentary takes us back to the 1977 Mr. America day parade and interviews most of the Bodybuilders who were in the parade.I am blessed that I could be part of “the Gold’s Gym Story”.