A Banished Beach Works Out in Venice

Times Staff Writer

Tom Gaertner, a national masters body-building champ, was there.

“I’m guest-posing,” he said.

So was actor-bodyguard-kick boxer D’Marko Blewett.

“I like to come out here to get power off the sun,” he said.


And there was waiter-sculptor Timothy Anderson, serving Balinese egg roll on a tray that bore a wooden model of a weight-lifter.

“I made the tray myself,” Anderson said.

In this, the age of sequels, this was “Muscle Beach II.”

Twenty-eight years after the city of Santa Monica declared the name non grata, it officially found a new home in Venice on Sunday--in the outdoor weightlifting area formerly known as “The Pit.”


The dedication ceremonies at 1800 Ocean Front Walk drew Los Angeles City Councilwoman Pat Russell and other city officials, as well as veterans of Muscle Beach I, younger hulks and hulkesses and hundreds of spectators--including a religious zealot in a white suit and white cowboy hat, who briefly threatened to drown everyone else out with his megaphone before moving on to the paddle-tennis area.

The unveiling of the “Muscle Beach Venice” sign was a gratifying finish to a year-long campaign waged by two denizens of The Pit, advertising executive Steve Ford and construction worker Joe (The Mayor of Muscle Beach) Mack.

“This is just the start,” said Ford, referring to plans unveiled by the city to increase the size of The Pit, as well as that of the adjacent paddle-tennis, basketball and handball areas and to build a children’s playground.

The city took some persuading before agreeing to adopt the name.


Mack’s original idea, imprinted on T-shirts that he had made, proclaimed the area, “Muscle Beach, Home of the Hog,” and depicted a weightlifter with a muscular human torso and a hog’s head.

Though Mack explained that “hogs are just determined people--like the (so-nicknamed offensive line of the Washington) Redskins"--the city Department of Recreation and Parks pointed out that the broad-snout look might not appeal to women and senior citizens, among others.

So the hog was replaced in the official logo by a dumbbell weight.

Sunday’s ceremonies revived memories of the earlier Muscle Beach, of names like body-building industry biggies-to-be Jack La Lanne and Vic Tanny; of Russ Saunders, whose physique was the model for Salvador Dali’s painting of Christ; and spears-and-sandals actor Steve (“Hercules”) Reeves, he of the 51-inch chest and 29-inch waist.


“He (Reeves) was the first with the classic look, the wide shoulders and narrow hips,” said chiropractor Bill Howard, 54, who helped keep the Muscle Beach name alive by organizing body-building events in Venice in recent years. “The guys today, they’re built well, but they just don’t have the lines he had.”

The original Muscle Beach, located just south of the Santa Monica Pier, disappeared in 1959, after four weightlifters were arrested elsewhere in the city on statutory rape charges. Tensions between the Santa Monica City Council and the body-building community had been increasing for years. The once-sleepy little town

looked on all the attention Muscle Beach received with mixed feelings.

Many old-time lifters believe the arrests were seized upon as an excuse to eliminate the area. (Charges against the four weightlifters were later dropped.)


Zabo Koszewski, 63, body-builder, actor and, briefly, a wrestler known as Jungle Boy Zabo, smiled at how the image of weight-lifters has changed.

“Back in the ’40 and ‘50s, we were looked down upon,” he said. “You weren’t supposed to have muscles. People’d come out and stare at us like we were bugs under glass. Now, everyone works out.”