Joe Gold's Gym & The Dungeon

Joe Gold and Dave Draper at World Gym Venice, 1992.

Standing on the balcony of Joe's bold and handsome gym in Venice, the pride of bodybuilding swells up inside you. It was at the grand opening of his World Gym, Venice in March of 1987 when I realized the vastness of bodybuilding and that I was a part of its history.

(Click on photos to view enlargements.)

Bodybuilding pioneer Joe Gold at World Gym Venice, California.

I remember when Joe broke ground for his very first gym, Venice California, 1964. He built the entire building and filled it with the finest equipment - all engineered by him and setting the standard of excellence for equipment manufacturers today. I was his first "professional" member, and it was then I began to wean myself from the old Muscle Beach Gym - The Dungeon as it was affectionately called. I stepped from the Dungeon's splintery milk crate and 2x4 benches to the powerful steel rigs built by Joe. It was there that my training took another turn toward the Mr. America title.

Dave Draper, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mike Katz, and Frank Zane.

This is Joe Gold's gym when the Golden Years were at their peak. Frank Zane looks on as Mike Katz, Arnold and I train for the shows in 1970. Artie Zeller took the picture and Franco Columbu was somewhere off camera rooting us on. The excitement, enthusiasm and energy in the old gym was intense. The combination of forces coupled with purpose and focus resulted in success.

That year Mike won the Mr. America title, Arnold won the Olympia in Ohio, Frank took the Universe in London and I won the Mr. World in New York.

Dave Draper, Joe Gold, Zabo Kozewski, Eddie Giuliani and Lou Ferrigno.

For me, one of the hallmarks of our sport has always been the comraderie. In today's world, I notice the friendships of the gym far outdistancing the acquaintances of the neighborhood and the workplace.

For more than twenty years I trained next to the same people in Venice. Even though bodybuilding is a solitary sport, these guys are always by my side, as I'm by theirs, sharing an uncommon denominator in our struggle with the Iron.


So where did we come from? Once upon a time there was a big hole in the ground on top of which sat a five story hotel, 50 tired years old housing grumpy pensioners and a smelly tavern with warped floors. All of this existed just two blocks from the grand palisades of Santa Monica and her majestic blue Pacific.

The hole, or "Dungeon" as it was affectionately called by its then-all male attendees, was the beach-removed site of the Muscle Beach Gym. Two long, steep staircases penetrated the eternal dimness of the gym, illumination coming from 3 strategically located 60 watt bulbs. Too much light and you might see where you were and leave - in a hurry. The concrete floor was cracked and bulging, the walls crumbling and the ceiling 12 feet overhead was sagging, especially where the ground floor bar leaked beerlike brownish ooze. An ankle deep puddle formed near the squat rack each winter and nobody used the shower or toilet except in emergencies. I hated emergencies!

Milk crates, old 2X4's and splintered plywood nailed together by nearsighted musclebound carpenters made up most of the benches and racks. Pulleys and twisted cable from a nearby Venice boatyard, a dozen Olympic bars, bent and rusty, tons of plates scattered throughout the 2500 square foot floor, dumbbells up to 160's that rattled at broken welds added final touches to complete unquestionably the greatest gym in the world.

Here bodybuilding began, embryonic. The original, not the imitation. Here exercises were invented, equipment improvised, muscle shape and size imagined and built, and an authentic atmosphere existed like a primal ooze. You were awash in basics and honesty. I loved it then, the memory more now.

Flowers wither, beginnings come to an end. The irony is here — not so long ago, "they" put up a five story parking lot. In its place, we of the Iron do our best to protect the endangered spirit.

A Tribute to the Photographers

Reviews of Dave's books

Famous Draper Biceps Shots

Don't Make Waves, the movie

Click here to read an excerpt from Dave's book Brother Iron

To read an excerpt of our new golden era bodybuilding book, West Coast Bodybuilding Scene, click here

Here's an excerpt from Bill Pearl's book, Beyond the Universe