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SPECIAL ISSUE: SHAPING L.A.

Old-school and still in vogue

The L.A. Athletic Club beckons with amenities from a time now past. And the young find what they've been missing.

January 07, 2008|Jeannine Stein | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Athletic Club has seen fitness trends come and go -- classic calisthenics, tennis, running, speed walking, Jane Fonda's workout, Tae Bo and Pilates. Some have stuck around for decades; others have fallen by the wayside. Meanwhile, the club itself is still going strong.

Unlike many large gyms, the building is less mirror and chrome and more marble and wood, a throwback to days when a club was just that -- a place not only to work out and take a sauna, but to also hang with your buddies, have a drink and maybe do a business deal over dinner.

Now the 128-year-old Athletic Club, on downtown L.A.'s 7th Street, is finding a new audience as affluent young people move into the area's loft apartments. For many of those urban pioneers, the old-school club -- which also houses restaurants, bars, physical therapy, massage and meeting rooms -- is a welcome change.

"I think a lot of younger people are surprised to see a facility like this," says membership director Cory Hathaway. "They don't really build them like this anymore. But a lot of people appreciate the historic buildings that are being converted into lofts, and our history plays into that. Once they take a tour and learn a little bit about the club, they start to understand how it can be a good thing."

Among the building's standout features are its sixth-floor pool, indoor basketball court, and squash and handball courts, elements that are difficult to find in newer, big-box clubs. The club is also adding classes designed to appeal specifically to the 20- and 30-year-olds joining the ranks -- while not alienating the core audience of boomers and older patrons. Hathaway admits that's a challenge but says all ages appreciate the relaxed environment -- devoid of blasting music and meat-market atmosphere.

New to the club is a group cycling theater complete with a 110-inch projection screen that will show movies, videos and TV shows for extra motivation; an adventure club that's in the process of planning trips that may include canyoneering and backpacking; and later this year, a boxing studio. The club launched a wine-tasting series last year and is continually adding new fitness equipment.

Marlene Wiscovitch, director of athletics, says the mix of ages is inspirational. "We have so many members in their 60s and 70s who are in great shape, and they inspire the younger generation. They're role models."

Josh Gray-Emmer, 29, says he joined the Athletic Club after moving downtown five years ago because he wanted a change from the "actor's paradise" gyms he had belonged to, where scripts were required reading on the treadmill.

"My generation is a little sick of the cookie-cutter thing being fed to us," says the event producer. "It's awesome to have something with a sense of history."

That sense of history, plus the camaraderie the club offers, keeps him coming back. "There is no doubt about that. Once I'm headed over there, I know I'm going to get a workout, and I might see some friends, go down to the bar and say hi to people."

Clubs such as these may continue their healthy life span, says Joe Moore, president and chief executive of the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Assn. "There's a niche for this type of club," he says. "It's not all about exercise. It's a lot about the socialization and the atmosphere."

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jeannine.stein@latimes.com

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