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Originally called the Santa Monica Beach Playground, California’s Muscle Beach was a soft landing pad for gymnasts and circus and vaudeville performers looking for a place to practice in the 1930s. To employ people during the Great Depression, the US government funded the construction of a platform for tumbling, parallel bars, and rings. Enterprising acrobats—male and female—entertained the masses during those bleak times.
Bodybuilders and fitness gurus eventually joined the fun in the sun. Joe Gold, founder of Gold’s Gym, launched his career at Muscle Beach, and, before television made him famous, Jack LaLanne wowed beach audiences by performing 1,000 pushups in a row.
The spectacle was over after a scandal erupted in 1958. Santa Monica dismantled the beachside gym and bodybuilders moved a few kilometers south to what became Muscle Beach Venice. It’s the beach that vaulted a young Austrian bodybuilder, Arnold Schwarzenegger, into the celebrity stratosphere. And today, it’s where the Defenders of Muscle Beach perform feats of strength, dwarfed only by the power of the waves lapping their oceanside gym.