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SERIOUS MUSCLE : San Fernando Valley is Emerging as an Alternative to Living at the Beach for Those Committed to Body Building

June 23, 1988|JEFF MEYERS | Times Staff Writer

They're heeeeere . Guys with great bodies and women with large muscles. Serious body builders--the kind who win Mr. Universe contests, pluck and shave themselves and hang out at Venice Beach--are moving to the San Fernando Valley.

"It's a trend," says Andreas Cahling.

Before any worried Valleyites start forming committees and writing Joy Picus, Cahling wants to point out, "It's not a massive exodus."

The list is short but impressive. Tony Pearson, Albert Beckels and Rufus Howard, each a Mr. Universe. Cory Everson, Miss Olympia. John Aranita, Mr. USA. Christian Duffy, Mr. Los Angeles. And Cahling, Mr. International. All live and train in the Valley instead of Venice, the traditional roost for the world's best body builders.

Leaving Venice

"More and more top body builders are leaving Venice," says Cahling, a 35-year-old Swede who has been in the United States since 1976. "I lived on the Westside for a few years. It's too crazy. I like the peace and serenity of the Valley."

If the barbell set is relocating, it's not only because of the life style. Until the mid-1980s, there weren't any major-league gyms in the Valley--Vince Geronda and his tiny gym in Studio City was it. If a body builder wanted to get serious about pumping iron, he would have to train in Venice or make a tortuous commute from the Valley almost every day.

And training in Venice, to people such as Christian Duffy, became uncomfortable. Gold's is only a block from the beach. "It's a circus down there," he says. "We'd get a lot of gawkers, a lot of tourists. You were always being bothered for your picture or your autograph. Especially in the summer."

But in the last three years, three large gyms have opened in the Valley--a Gold's in Northridge, a World Gym in Woodland Hills and the Power Source in Burbank. They provide first-class facilities for top body builders and make it easier for them to live in your neighborhood.

"We've got an alternative now," says Cahling, who lives in Reseda and designs competition bikini briefs at a company in Northridge. "The reasons for living at the beach are not that valid anymore."

Attitude Counts

A lot of Nautilus Plus clubs and Holiday Spas will probably say their facilities have always been good enough to put muscles on Pee-wee Herman, but to the barbell set, the art of body building, as opposed to working out with weights and just "getting in shape," must never be practiced in a place that condones juice bars and Spandex and takes prospective customers into a back room to sign multi-year membership deals at discount prices.

Real gyms, according to real body builders, are single-minded in their pursuit of sculptured ligaments. That means a lot of free weights and supervision, and no strutting, saunas and social interaction. Leave your attitude at the door and don't bother bringing your little black book.

"It's easy to be serious here," says Bruce Seid of Panorama City, before working out at Gold's. "It's not a big social thing."

The Northridge facility is in a little shopping center next to a fast-food restaurant. On a wall in the 10,000-square-foot gym hangs a color photo of a buffed and polished Cory Everson, who works out there. The autograph reads: "Thanks for being here and allowing us all to live out our dreams."

Living a Dream

Gold's is operated by Duffy and Bill Phillips, both in their mid-20s, both living out their dream of owning a gym. "Especially a Gold's," Duffy says. "You almost have to try to make a Gold's fail." The partners lease the name from the original gym in Venice. Ironically, the original is no longer owned by Joe Gold, a body-building legend. Gold sold his name and went on to start World Gym in Venice, which is also successful. Duffy and Phillips bought the gym in December. It's a descendant of a Gold's that had previously been "a hole in the wall" in Reseda, says Phillips, who worked there in 1985.

"It was my first month in town and I would have licked mirrors to get a job there," he says.

Duffy, whose wife Marianne is a pro body builder, was a private trainer at the Venice Gold's when Phillips was working the desk there. Their personalities clicked. "He was the biggest screwball in the gym, and I was in the top 10," Phillips says. Both are needlers and jesters, which keeps their gym upbeat, Phillips says. "You want members to want to come here because we're so happy all the time. We bring others up."

In contrast to the Northridge Gold's, the World Gym in Woodland Hills is more subdued, which reflects the temperament of the owners, the husband-wife team of Kyal and Wendy Betton, both dedicated body builders in their early 30s. They started a World because "we've always been World people," Kyal says. "It was the first gym I walked into six or seven years ago."

Too Far

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