Sports Club/LA: It Shapes Up as the Fitness Taj Mahal

Times Staff Writer

It was a scary idea--turning an old industrial building on a nondescript street into one of the biggest, flashiest sports clubs in the United States--but they did it, and they say they're glad.

They are Michael Talla and Nanette Pattee, the brains behind the Sports Club/LA, a $27-million, 100,000-square-foot prototype that has been described in the media since it opened a few months ago as "the Acropolis of physical fitness centers" and a "Taj Mahal devoted to the extinction of fatty tissue."

It already boasts 5,000 members, many of whom paid as much as $1,650 to join and $125 a month to participate. At such hefty prices, the membership roster reads like a Who's Who, especially of Hollywood and sports.

Among the celebrity members are Princess Stephanie of Monaco, Teri Garr, Linda Gray, Linda Ronstadt, Kenny Loggins, Pat Boone, George Carlin, Jack Nicholson, Jermaine Jackson, Leigh Taylor-Young, Sarah Vaughn, Hugh O'Brien, Lou Ferrigno, Jimmy Osmond, Marsha Mason, Magic Johnson, Jerry West, Marcus Allen, Tommy Lasorda and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Jabbar had an ownership interest until news broke last spring that he lost millions of dollars through unwise real estate investments. Then, as Peter R. Feinstein, a financial consultant who works with Talla and Pattee, explained it, "We worked out a deal so we could give him back his money, and we got another limited partner.

"We wanted it so it was not a problem for him and not embarrassing for us. We didn't want the club to open with a stigma, so we worked it out, and now Kareem is a happy member and will be involved in the promotion."

Promoting the club isn't tough, considering its clientele or its prime movers, for that matter.

Talla, a 40-year-old entrepreneur whose first major business was developing racquetball centers, and Pattee, a 38-year-old former model who once sold Budweiser beer with Johnny Carson on "The Tonight Show," gained national attention with their first jointly operated athletic facilities, known as the Sports Connection.

Designed for younger, less affluent members than the Sports Club/LA, the Sports Connection opened eight years ago in Santa Monica, and now operates in five locations.

Earlier this year, Talla and Pattee launched yet another level of club, Spectrum, targeted for a segment of the population that is somewhere between members of the Sports Connection and the Sports Club in terms of finances and age. The first Spectrum opened in Manhattan Beach, and a Sports Connection in Las Vegas is being turned into another.

Featured in Movie

The Sports Connection was featured in a 1982 Rolling Stone magazine article that inspired the making of the movie, "Perfect," starring John Travolta and Jamie Lee Curtis. The movie likened the health club to a singles bar.

Even so, the film didn't hurt the Sports Connection, Pattee claims, "because people who were into fitness didn't feel that this (analogy) had any validity." And the Sports Connection and even Pattee, who played a minor role in the movie, gained some recognition.

The Sports Connection experience helped Talla and Pattee launch the Sports Club/LA, but the latter has other things going for it, too. Such as location.

There wasn't much of interest around it when Michael Talla first tried to buy the site, at 1835 Sepulveda Blvd., and the building itself was a wheelchair manufacturing plant before it became a drive-through grocery warehouse that went broke.

Near Affluent Members

But the property sits just south of Wilshire Boulevard, near the San Diego Freeway and the wealthy communities it aims to attract: Brentwood, Century City, Westwood and Beverly Hills.

And, in the three years that it took to get the club built, the street as well as the building, which was gutted and redesigned, has changed character.

From Olympic to Wilshire boulevards along Sepulveda, there are many fancy offices, many of them for entertainment industry-related tenants: New World Entertainment, producer Jerry Weintraub, the Los Angeles Radio and TV Division of John Blair & Co., United Artists, Gannett Satellite Information Network, the Entertainment Network, the Movie Store, and Wometco, a TV holding company.

Until recently, the street was filled with light-industrial and small commercial tenants, said Harvey B. Mahler, senior vice president with Tishman West Management Corp., which has handled a lot of the neighborhood's office leases.

Wheelchair Warehouse

He remembers when the site at Santa Monica Boulevard, where developer Donald Bren is building two office towers, was a warehouse for the wheelchair company that also occupied the sports club's property.

There is also talk in real estate circles of nightclubs and restaurants planned to complement the offices and sports facility, which has its own restaurant, serving so-called "spa cuisine," with many entrees approved by the American Heart Assn.

Jill Cole, who oversaw the club's $2.5-million interior design by her company, Swimmer Cole Martinez Curtis, called the restaurant the "second biggest commitment," the first being the club's swimming pool, which she terms "an engineering feat" because of its about 75-by-50-foot size and the fact that it was built on the second floor.

Pattee said, "The pool probably cost us another $1 million because I wanted it off the sun deck so we could bring the outdoors in."

Country Club Image

Cole said, "The restaurant was even scarier, because we didn't know if it would be a success or not."

So far, the restaurant has fared well, Pattee said, "because our members have embraced this place as a country club." That's a concept she wants to advance, and she says repeatedly, "This is not just a big health club." Financial adviser Feinstein calls it "a country club without a golf course."

Well, what other health club has a marble lobby, skylights lit with neon, lush plantings, oak lockers and a design scheme using peaches, aquas and lavender accents more reminiscent of a resort than a gym?

What other health club has valet parking, a hair and nail salon, sportswear boutique, and locker rooms that even provide hair spray, Q-tips, hair dryers, or, as Pattee explained it, "all the grooming aids"?

Sports Medicine

What other health club has a sidewalk cafe, sports medical center with 15 doctors on its staff, and a separate building that is being rehabbed for child care? (They were once romantically involved with each other, Pattee said, but now she and Talla are best friends as well as business partners, and each is married to someone else and has a young child.)

The Sports Club/LA also has computerized bicycles, treadmills and other exercise equipment, a jogging track, basketball, paddle tennis, squash and racquetball courts, aerobics instructors and a mini-museum of sports memorabilia with such items as Randy Gardner's ice skates, Tracy Austin's tennis sneakers and Sugar Ray Robinson's boxing shorts.

No doubt about it, the Sports Club/LA is an athletic club of a different kind.

Pattee calls it "a one-shot deal." "Oh, sure, we'll do it again, but never again like this in our home town," she explained, "and hopefully, the next one won't take three years to realize."

Mail-Order Business

The Sports Club/LA was her and Talla's biggest effort since their first venture--a mail-order business from a small boutique called Foxy Lady Bikinis in Newport Beach--after they were graduated from the University of Arizona.

Cole looked pensive. "It was scary when we started (on the Sports Club) how much space we had to work with, but we soon ran out of room." An adjacent building was purchased and remodeled for the nursery.

And so it is with Talla and Pattee, who are already remodeling their old Sports Connection clubs, planning to open three new Sports Connections or Spectrums next year and hoping to build another Sports Club in New York or San Francisco.

"We're aggressively looking to talk to developers across the country about future clubs," Pattee said.

For the Record Los Angeles Times Sunday August 30, 1987 Home Edition Real Estate Part 8 Page 2 Column 3 Real Estate Desk 1 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction Cole Martinez Curtis & Associates is the firm that designed the Sports Club/LA, not Swimmer Cole Martinez Curtis, the company's former name, as reported Aug. 16 in a story about the club.
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