The Mecca of Bodybuilding’ & ‘Schwarzenegger’s gym.
Gold’s gym in Venice Beach, California, a section of Los Angeles, is the most famous gym in the world and it became a legendary chain with some of the most famous merchandise in the gay spectrum. Furthermore, its history transcends the changing world of the queer experience from the hidden closeted world of the 60’s to the giant fun queer playground we have today.
Do not confuse Gold’s with Muscle Beach Venice, which is also in Venice. Muscle Beach Venice is literally on the beach, with the ocean in viewing distance on one side and the walking path on the other side. Muscle Beach was there first, to be sure, starting in the 1950s (although the original Muscle Beach gym, which was started in the 1930s, was located in Santa Monica, a 20-minute walk up the beach. It’s now a patch of sand with a sign). But Muscle Beach Venice is not much of a gym and has not been state of the art for a very long time. Today it is a tourist attraction in a small space with a small amount of old equipment where a few guys work out shirtless to show off for tourists. The real gym and the real bodybuilding takes place about ten blocks away at Gold’s and has since the 1960s and 1970s.
In 1965, bodybuilder Joe Gold opened up Gold’s gym in a small storefront in Venice. He wanted it to be a serious gym for the serious bodybuilders who had been gravitating to Venice since the earlier post-war years. In 1968 Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Austrian Oak, started working out there. In the 1970s the gym moved to a larger space, its current location, and was featured in the landmark Schwarzenegger film “Pumping Iron,” parts of which are routinely shown on TV screens in the gym throughout the day.
It is not quite the community of competitive bodybuilders that it was at the time of “Pumping Iron” but it still retains some personalities and some elements of its heyday. Schwarzenegger showed up in June 2020 to film a video for social media (and left in protest at the mask policy not being enforced, though that has not been a problem since the gym reopened in late winter 2021). Charles Glass is a Gold’s legend still training clients. My own trainer there has worked out at the gym and trained others since the mid 1970s.
And Gold’s is, in fact, starting something of a Renaissance. When I went in for the first time about 3 years ago I expected The Mecca of Bodybuilding to have every piece of equipment imaginable, and was disappointed to find this was not the case. The locker rooms were dirty. Corporate leadership had let the gym decline. But a new German owner is determined to rebuild the gym and refill it with top equipment, the likes of which it had until not too long ago. In the spring of 2021 it reopened fully, albeit with masks, and quickly got busy again.
Is Gold’s a good place for gays? Well, if you want to see more well-built guys than at any gym I’ve ever been to then yes it’s a good (great) place. Most are not huge like competitive bodybuilders but they’re big boys, and these are not normal times at gyms anywhere in the world, so who knows who will be showing up 6 months or a year from now.
Is Gold’s a cruisy gym? Since I started working out there in February 2021 it has been difficult to interact with people given that everyone wears masks and tends to keep their distance, but I would say that though it might be a bit cruisy in terms of eye contact and socializing it is not a gym to go to looking for fun in the showers. The guys who show up at Gold’s in Venice are serious (Gold’s in Hollywood, which I have yet to visit, might be different, it has a cruisy reputation and a very gay clientele). Gay or straight, however, Gold’s is a pretty tight-knit gym, with lots of friendly hugs and high fives (“bromance”). People know each other.
If the subject interests you at all visit Gold’s if you visit LA. It is a historic place, with walls covered with pictures of not just famous champion bodybuilders who have worked out there but the jerseys of famous pro-athletes, mostly NBA and NFL players, who have worked out there. My trainer told me one day that rapper 50 Cent used to work out there, when “In Da Club” came on the radio. I suspect when things return to normal and masks come off more such interesting people will be coming back to The Mecca of Bodybuilding.