Back in them days (50's/60's) it was somewhat simple to categorize bodybuilding within various areas of the United States.
The East Coast had the Weiders' and their various publications (some of which you wouldn't take home to mother) and they were in direct opposition with Dan Laurie who published a magazine relating to the bodybuilding world in those early days. (Muscle Mag?)
Florida had a lot of decent beaches but not much in the way of bodybuilders or BB activity that I'm aware of back then.
A bit further west was Bob Hoffman and York Barbell with numerous warehouses stuffed with various iron equipment that was offered for sale in his own weightlifting publication. A few wild stories here but I got to leave that one up to the individuals who actually participated.
Then there was Perry and Mabel Raider who published a respectable magazine called Iron Man which catered to all the "lifting sports". They were both always great folks to meet and talk with. My recollection is that they were real down to earth, basic country folk who had a genuine interest in the sport and the parties involved and getting the word out to one and all.
Jump to the West Coast and you found Muscle Beach in Santa Monica and the well equiped Joe Gold's.
Muscle Beach was a major tourist attraction where the "circus folks", gymnasts, and bodybuilders would hold court and take center stage. The small fenced in weight area was about 600 square feet of rusted metal and bent bars and worn out wooden benches, but it did offer a place to train in the sun.
Joe Gold's place was down the road a bit on Pacific Avenue. You parked on the street and entered right off the sidewalk. Joe was usually in the back someplace welding some new piece of equipment together and most of the guys training seriously were either football players from USC or UCLA or stunt guys in the movies or on TV.
I kind of recall that the membership back then was about $30 a year but it could have been ten dollars more.
And then there was The Dungeon in a basement of one of the Santa Monica office buildings. Dark and dingy and not well known but kind of like the Mecca of the game way back then. You had to be pretty serious to train there and I never saw anyone who looked like they ran the place.
Out in the valley on Ventura Bl was Vince Gironda's place. Nothing exceptional at all put a lot of stars trained there under the direction of Vince and so did Larry Scott except on those days he did his squats.
Rheo H. Blair supposedly had the best protein on the market as there wasn't really much protein on the market at all, but Blair's was considered to be the best available on the West Coast. You could buy Weider's stuff through the magazine but that was considered "suspectable" stuff.
Bell Foundary was out in the Watts area casting cheap metal barbell plates that usually ended up 10% lighter or 10% heavier than inscribed, so you usually had to do a good balancing act while doing overhead presses.
And all the areas at Camp Pendleton had simple lifting areas that were seldom used.
Meanwhile down in San Diego, Leo Stern had a decent place in the downtown area off the main street up a narrow flight of stairs to the second floor. Nothing elaborate by any means but it was well equipped for those days and Bill Pearl's name was frequently mentioned in connection with the place and that gave it some added prestige.
I don't recall the year that Bill opened his Pasadena gym but that's got to be mentioned here. Bill's was well run and well equipped with a mixed bag of members consisting of college athletes and businessmen within the area.
And his wife, Judy, set it up so that the ladies had exclusive use of the gym during certain days or mornings of the week.
And I can't overlook Ralph Kroger's small little gym right along the side of highway 101 between Oceanside and San Diego down there by the race track. If I recall this correctly, the beach was right outside his back door and Hwy 101 was less than 20 feet from his front entrance. It looked like an ocean breeze from the Pacific could have blown it over.
Ralph eventually closed up that place and started another gym in the Hilo area on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Bob Janus had a real small gym and handball court in Oceanside but nothing much to elaborate on.
Further north towards San Francisco there was the Moonlight Health Studio by San Jose which was the training center for John Corvello and a couple of other California contenders.
Most of the contests that I frequented were held at Muscle Beach in Santa Monica and then later on at the enclosed outdoor stage arena at Venice Beach which is no longer there. Once that place was torn down the contests were held right in the vicinity of the Venice Beach Weightlifing Pit (similar to the present setup).
The well worn Embassy Hotel Auditorium in the worst part of downtown Los Angeles was the home to many of the better contests of the period - such as the prestigious Cal and the LA and the AAU Nationals and Mr America on one particular occasion.
Gene Mozee would always arrive with what would appear to be a major Hollywood starlette at his side and Don Howorth always showed up with shoulders bursting out of his standard cardigan sweaters and talking a seat up front on the left side of the auditorium.
Mac Bachelor would arrive sometime during the proceedings and take a seat in the back away from the eyes of his many fans.
In those days, if anyone appeared on stage in less than contest shape, the audiance would yell and scream in protest and on a few occasions some object would arrive on stage hurled by a fan who felt that that guy had no right to be up there. It was always a tough, rough crowd who spent hours in the gym each week and expected the best of anyone who entered a contest. Any less and they voiced a unanimous opinion of discontent.
Today's guest posers wouldn't last more than 20 seconds on the podium back in them days.
Believe it or not but at one contest they had a big hook back stage to pull dubious entertainers off stage center, and it was used more than once that evening on dubious bodybuilders.
As the sport gradually grew and became somewhat acceptable, it moved to places such as the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, but that's the subject for another posting.
Back in those days, the AAU ran bodybuilding and often used it to suppliment the sport of Olympic Lifting which was somewhat like watching white paint dry on a sunlit wall without a pair of Polaroids.
On this one particular occasion, Bob Hoffman and the York crew were running the AAU National Olympic Lifting Championships and Mr America Contest at the Embassy Auditorium in downtown Los Angeles.
I recall the weigh-ins being held at the YMCA a couple of blocks away about 10 in the morning and the lifring starting on the Embassy stage around noon.
By 2:15 the next morning, they were leisurely clearing off the stage of weights, sweat, blood and bananna peels to start the BodyBuilding Championships. And it was the AAU National Bodybuilding Championships - the somewhat prestigious Mr America.
The faithful bodybuilding fans who waited were mostly family members with kids sleeping in the aisles under the watchful but bloodshot eyes of various family members who stuck it out to see "their boy" win the championships and a ten dollar silver trophy.
Between 3 and 4 AM the decision was made and the awards presented but the majority of the audiance were too damn sleepy to know who won it or even give a damn.
It was evident to one and all that the AAU was useing the bodybuilders to keep the asses in those seats for the lifters so a sort of rebellion was born which would change the sport forever.
It would just take one more problem to strike the match and blow the whole damn setup sky high and over the edge.
(to be continued - GOT A LIGHT? or WATCH THAT NEXT STEP!