“O! Tis excellent to have a giant’s strength”

20 Aug

This quote from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, was Vic Tanny’s senior quote in the 1935 Saga (the former yearbook of our college.) In a school like ours with such an active physical education program it is good to recall something of Vic Tanny’s accomplishments.

First you have to understand that in the 1930s there was little in the way of gyms or health clubs as we know them today. A young man who wanted to work with weights might find himself, like Vic, in his garage, using sandbags tied to broomsticks and other home made equipment!

Although he trained as a junior high teacher, Vic Tanny was passionate about exercise, weight training and body building, and these became his career. His greatest accomplishment was to be a pioneer of the modern health club movement.

He opened his first gym shortly after WWII in Santa Monica, near the original “Muscle Beach.” It was the 7,000 square foot basement of a USO club, and became fondly known as “The Dungeon.” It was the place to train for weightlifters and body builders in the 1940s and 1950s. Members included actor Steve Reeves and Joe Gold, who went on to establish the famous Gold’s Gym.

From this beginning Vic established a chain of clubs, moving away from the “dungeon” model to one where more ordinary men and women might feel at home. Among other things he pioneered the idea of paying membership fees by installment, making membership more workable for people.

Although in later years financial problems led to his chain of clubs being sold, mostly to Bally’s, Vic Tanny ’35 remains to this day a respected figure in the history of physical training and health clubs. (Pictured here is Vic in the one of his clubs in the early 1960s.)


Posted by on August 20, 2010 in Uncategorized


4 responses to ““O! Tis excellent to have a giant’s strength”

  1. richardsands

    January 28, 2011 at 5:23 pm

    WOW…time flys. As a kid in SantaMonica I used to go inside the SMOKED filled
    gym on (I believe it was either 4th st or 2nd st.) The stair was way steep. Entering
    the gym was wonderful..Boxing ring…Huge weights of all sizes..very crowded.
    Most guys new each other…but didnt mind someone like me to tag along. It seemed like a secret club. In the AM everyone would meet at the beach..some ran to Venice and back some benced pressed each trying to out do the other. I love it because it attracted the beautiful ladies of Mucle beach…Smoking, Drugs, drinking…joking, playing, working out was the daily routine…LOVED IT.

  2. Jeanne Tanny

    March 8, 2011 at 9:50 am

    What a neat article. And a pretty good picture of the old gym. I grew up in that gym and down on Muscle Beach. I had the good luck to have Vic TANNY as my dad. What an experience to have grown up in that culture. And what an experience to have known so many of those great bodybuilders. It’s nice to heat stories about the old first gym from others. Jeanne TANNY

    • Charlie Cowling

      March 8, 2011 at 2:06 pm

      Thanks for writing Jeanne, your Dad sounds like he was quite a guy, a real pioneer!

  3. Socky

    February 10, 2012 at 11:28 pm

    A note of appreciation. When I was a tiny tot, “Vic Tanny’s” was on everyone’s lips, often as the punchline to a joke. I remember there were Vic Tanny gyms in our area (Fairfield County, CT and Westchester County NY) but we always looked at them in wonderment, and maybe sometimes a snicker. When I grew up, I saw an old “You Bet Your Life” show from the 50s, in which the lady contestant showed up, very fit-looking for those days, in some sort of Eisenhower-era sweats, and said she’d just been working out “at Vic Tanny’s gym” (in Santa Monica, of course).

    By the time I grew up, the Vic Tanny chain was a nostalgic footnote, but everybody—everybody over 20 and under 40, everybody who wished to be taken seriously—belonged to some sort of gym or health club, with Nautilus machines and free weights, and cardiovascular equipment and all that. I belong to at least two gyms now, and I have always been aware that it was Vic who laid down the template. Sure the original gym-chain went bust—how many times did Edison have to build a lightbulb before he got one that worked?—but oh, what a legacy it left us. Would you really wish to live in a world that hadn’t had a Vic Tanny showing the way? I know I wouldn’t. Hats off to you, Vic!


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