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Hollywood Landmark: From Fights to Fitness : Former Legion Stadium, Where Stars Flocked to Bouts, Now a Health Center

October 11, 1987|EVELYN De WOLFE | Times Staff Writer

There is no such thing as staying the same. You are either striving to make yourselves better . . . or allowing yourselves to get worse.

The motto that encourages self-improvement and summarizes a philosophy for the Holiday Spa Health Clubs appears to apply to the transformation of the legendary Hollywood Legion Stadium into the fitness chain's newest and most modern facility--the Hollywood Holiday Spa.

With its original outer shell and trusses still intact, the Legion Stadium, built in 1938 at 1628 El Centro Avenue, just south of Hollywood Boulevard, has undergone an $11-million rejuvenation, emerging as a sparkling, vibrant epitome of what the Hollywood image, magic and glitz is all about.

Three weeks of festivities are under way to mark the opening of the club's 20th facility and to celebrate the chain's 21st anniversary. Portions of all new membership fees will be donated to the Make-a-Wish Foundation and the National Fitness Academy.

Back in the era of Friday night boxing matches, when fans mingled with the star-studded ringside set at the Legion Stadium, celebrities in attendance included Rudolph Valentino, Clara Bow, Jean Harlow and Charlie Chaplin, who would study the boxer's techniques to adapt them to his screen work.

Gave Away Wristwatches

Then in later years, the Ritz and Marx brothers were usually on hand, along with Bob Hope, Tony Curtis, Dean Martin, George Raft, Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart, Errol Flynn, Lupe Velez, and Mae West, who was known to give wristwatches to her favorite fighters. Al Jolson, a part-owner of world welterweight champion Henry Armstrong's contract, also was a front-row regular with wife Ruby Keeler.

Both boxing and wrestling matches disappeared from the stadium in 1959, when it was transformed into a bowling alley that lasted through the mid-80s.

Rudy Smith, Holiday Spa Clubs president and general manager, who was assisted by his wife, Virginia, in fine-tuning the new spa, said during a tour of the premises that the new facility represents the largest single historical retention project in Hollywood's 100-year history and the largest single investment in the Hollywood area in recent years.

The two-story, 55,502-square-foot, air-conditioned spa retains the walls and roof of the former stadium and has a new, adjacent four-story parking structure to accommodate 399 members' cars.

Inspired by the Art Deco period when the stadium was built, the Danielson Design Group of San Juan Capistrano, the architect, and Brent D. Cornwell Inc. of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the interior designer, have incorporated a blend of rounded glass-block interview booths, and signage done in shades of purple, pink, orange and turquoise.

They have injected the make-believe flair of Hollywood, with humor and cliches.

A Hollywood Beach is the backdrop for its immense aquatic area complete with neon-lighted single-engine airplanes flying over the "beach" with banners rippling against a blue sky. The carpeting throughout is a medley of colorful geometric patterns complementing the high-tech appearance of the exposed trussing.

Separate Gyms

The spa has separate gyms for men and women and 10 areas where men and women can share the fitness facilities that include a super circuit with controlled movement, high-intensity weight machines and other computerized exercise units.

In addition to a 5,400-square-foot cardiovascular training area, an aquatic area includes a 25-meter (82-foot) heated four-lane swimming pool (built over the old boxing ring), two giant hydro massage pools, a Scandinavian cold plunge and three Finnish steam saunas, plus Turkish steam rooms.

An advanced training center provides a 5,000-square-foot area with Olympic-standard free weights and other specialized equipment. Other features include an aerobic dance room, a jogging track with 8.5 laps to the mile, a nutrition center and two racquetball courts.

Others on the development team included C. W. Driver of Los Angeles, general contractor; neon lighting and fixtures by Electrical Advertising Inc., Burbank, and painted signage by David Robinson Designs, San Diego.

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