The Truth about Muscle Beach (1957 Strength and Health Article)

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Many Controversial Statements have been made about Santa Monica’s Unique Payground By the Sea. This article gives you the Last Minute Lowdown on what currently is happening on the Verge of the Pacific.

There may be bigger and more beautiful beaches than Muscle Beach, but you can bet your last chip that nowhere else in the whole wide world will you find a greater concentration of muscles to the square foot of sand area. And further, no other beach in all the world rates more publicity, regardless of size, surf, or beauty. Practically every American has seen or heard of Muscle Beach because, like Brooklyn, it is standard joke equipment for wise-cracking comedians of stage, screen, TV and gossip columns from Coast to Coast.

Recently a story about the beach appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, and shots of its denizens were featured on the Garroway Today TV Show. Thus another 40 million citizens became aware of Muscletown-by-the-Sea.

Rumors may have reached you that some queer proceedings transpired on the Beach. We have heard of some pretty odd goings-on ourselves, but we never actually caught anybody in fragrant delicto (or whatever the legal phrase is) on one of our personal visits. Naturally a lot of guys and gals pitch a bit of woo–this is standard procedure on any beach. There may be some odd-ball characters wandering about, and cocaine and heroin peddlers are almost everywhere these days, but since the City of Santa Monica began to take a fatherly interest in the strip of sand, the general behavior of its denizens is not one iota wilder than a dozen other beach areas on the Pacific.

Since the Weightlifting Group became a Club, with $3 per year dues, some of the nuttier playboys are no longer messing up the platforms, and whith proper supervision, the Beach has been receiving better press notices than in former days. We couldn’t honestly say that the moral tone of Muscle Beach Society is pure as the driven snow, but where on this mortal world will you find perfection ?

At any rate Muscle Beach certainly lives up to its name. you want to see muscles — then take a trip to this Biceps Paradise. You want to grow muscles — do likewise. They sprout fast in the California sunshine, and any day a stroll down to the lifting platform will reward your bulging eyes with in-the-flesh glimpses of famous musclemen such as Steve Reeves, George Eiferman, Dick Dubois, Paul Anderson, Ike Berger, and you name ’em, we got ’em.

Some of the best athletes in the world work out regularly at this resort. The most famous acrobats, tumblers and gymnasts put on ashows for free here that you would pay $6.60 a ticket to see in their professional capacity. The most beautiful gals in the world dress up the place — and why shouldn’t they be dreamy and curvy ? Any reader knows that the best bodies in the world belong to barbelles ! In no other way can feminine charms be so firm, so round, so fully packed . . .

But turn the page and let Muscle Beachite Tom Humphrey fill you in on what’s cookin’ right now at Muscle Beach . . .

Muscle Beach
To Remove…or To Improve ?

by Thomas Humphrey
pix by Cecil Charles

For more than twenty-five years Santa Monica’s Muscle Beach has existed as an unorganized and voluntary enterprise. It has now grown into a phenomenon that is recognized throughout the world by those who practice its particular type of physical activities. Bodybuilding, weightlifting, gymnastics and professional acrobatics are the major forms of athletics at Muscle Beach, while volleyball, table tennis and chess also have their adherents. Each of these groups have some of the nation’s best performers, and in some instances, athletes of world-wide reputation. One of the newer sports at Muscle Beach is water skiing. Most of these sports have annual tournamentts or a series of summer weekend contests. The Easter, July 4th and Labor Day shows at Muscle Beach are replete with a variety of talent, and attract enourmous crowds. Although bodybuilding and weightlifting represent but two of the types of athletes practiced at Muscle Beach, they do constitute the only well organized activities.

The “Muscle Beach Weightlifting Club” was formed in 1955 at the insistence of the Santa Monica City Recreation Commission. A panel of officers was elected, a constitution drawn up and by-laws adopted. With part of the funds derived from the annual membership fees an accident insurance policy was set up to protect the members. The Santa Monica City Council was asked to assist with funds in order to improve the beach facilities, and since 1955 the City has allocated approximately $10,000.00 to Muscle Beach. The club membership program proved to be a great success, with almost five hundred dues paying members the first year. With these funds the club has purchased 3800 pounds of YORK Olympic lifting sets and 2300 pounds of dumbells. Separate bodybuilding and weightlifting platforms, soundly built and covered with 3/4″, 3′ by 5′ “neoprene” rubber sheets were installed, while storage boxes, dumbell racks, benches and other accessories were also added. The area was then completely inclosed and neatly painted.

In the early summer of 1957 the City officials announced that Muscle Beach was to be moved. Weightlifters, bodybuilders, gymnasts and other enthusiasts descended en masse on the City officials and overwhelmed them with persuasive arguments supporting their desire to keep Muscle Beach at its present location. Some of the following points were brought out:

A. Against re-location

  1. Muscle Beach is warmer than other Santa Monica beach areas due to protection from the sind afforded by the nearby pier.
  2. Muscle Beach is widely known at its present location.
  3. The area proposed for re-locationis much too small to allow the present equipment to be safely used.
  4. There was no just reason for moving Muscle Beach in the first place.

B. Other suggestions

  1. With the $160,000.00 assigned to be used for Muscle Beach re-location, improve the facilities and provide more beach directors.
  2. Provide a beach master plan that will include consideration and approval of the Muscle Beach group.

The Muscle Beach group desires complete City administration, for without the City’s supervision, in the past, a vicious cycle has been established. Overtaxed facilities became run-down, undesirable elements of society, “beach bums”, were attracted and the general public blamed Muscle Beach for conditions that were brought about by a lack of City support. With cooperation from the local press misunderstandings of this type can be eliminated, in time, by public education.

Santa Monica is a tennis town, and the City supports this program by helping to send outstanding tennis players to tNational and World championsihps. Yet Santa Monica is a beach town too, and they have many more outstanding athletes in weightlifting, gymnastics and volleyball than in tennis. There are also more spectators and participants in these beach sports than in tennis or any other City supported athletics. When the City Recreation Commision was made aware of these facts, they admitted their ignorance of the situation, but with true democratic action they appointed a committee to make a more thorough study of the needs of Muscle Beach.

It is difficult for us not to be over-enthusiastic and over-persuasive about the good features of Muscle Beach. What is needed to insure the futer of Muscle Beach, however, is an intelligent, diplomatic presentation to the public of the benefits that can be derived from Muscle Beach’s particular type of recreation and athletics, and a cooperative attidtude to the press. In addition every beach participant is encouraged to present better than average decorum, and to this end the “Muscle Beach Weightlifting Club” excludes members who prove to be a liability.

The Muscle Beach weighlifting team has taken one team trophy and placed third as a team at the Jr. Nationals. A member of the MBWC (Dave Ashman) captured the Super-heavyweight title at the national championsihps this year. Many weightlifting and odd lift contests have been scheduled and the AAU’s cooperation and suggestions have been solicted. With Olympic stars and other prominent veterans providing voluntary instruction, encouragement and inspiration to younger, less experienced athletes, the developement of an outstanding lifting tieam seems very probable.

The fate of Muscle Beach hangs in balance, but with the expected civic support, improved public understanding and increased participant interest, Muscle Beach will become a real national force in athletics and a symbol of physical fitness and improvement. Keep your eye on the NEW Muscle Beach for you will hear more about it.

7 thoughts on “The Truth about Muscle Beach (1957 Strength and Health Article)

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  1. Ah, the good old days. It’s a crying shame that the original Muscle Beach at Santa Monica was unceremoniously bulldozed over, not long after this article!

    And then, for a number of decades, there was no trace of Muscle Beach and the history was virtually forgotten. Anyone who inquired about Muscle Beach was referred to Venice Beach, a totally different entity with a different history.

    Today, Santa Monica at least has some exercise equipment again (gymnastic rings, parallel bars, pull-up bars, climbing ropes, and IIRC a horizontal ladder/monkey-bars type of thing (or whatever it’s called). There is also some signage giving a brief account of the history of Muscle Beach. No weights anywhere, though. And no adagio/gymnastics displays to draw in thousands of spectators.

    1. It’s incredible to think they completely demolished it isn’t it? As you say people think Muscle Beach and Venice Beach were the same thing, something they most certainly weren’t!

      I hadn’t realised that some signs had been erected, that’s a start I suppose. Would love to see someone write a book or document the old Muscle Beach as the history of the place was fascinating!

  2. There were a couple of books published in the late 90s/early 00s about the original Santa Monica muscle beach:

    “Remembering Muscle Beach: Where Hard Bodies Began–Photographs and Memories” by Harold Zinkin, who was one of the bodybuildiers/acrobats/etc. on the Muscle Beach scene, as well as inventor of the Universal Gym Machine. This book is a larger hard-cover volume with more of a focus on photographs.

    “Muscle Beach: Where the best Bodies in the World started a fitness revolution” by Marla Matzer Rose. It’s kind of lacking as a history text and has some issues (history books written by journalists are usually like that), but unfortunately, it seems to be the only one of this type regarding the original Muscle Beach!

    1. Fascinating, I hand’t come across those books at all. They’ve just been thrown into my Amazon basket! Listen some books is better than none and I tend not to be nitpicky haha.

      That’s smashing, thanks for the recommendations and who knows, maybe theres a history book being written as we speak!

  3. Hello,

    Great article! My father, George Tate took this photo of Muscle Beach and wondering if you don’t mind crediting the photographer.

    Thank you for your time,
    Greg Tate

    1. Hi Greg, thanks so much for stopping by. Yes absolutely. I must apologise for that. Also its some time since this went up. Do you have a preferred link I can use?

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