The 24-Hour Fitness West Hollywood gym is closing next week. Permanently. Its final day is November 30, 2021. According to rumors, it will make way for a brand new more luxurious, pricy and exclusive (“but inclusive”) club, which many feel is where the city of West Hollywood seems to be heading (look at what happened to the San Vicente Inn).
The 24-Hour Fitness West Hollywood gym is nowhere near as special to me as its predecessor, The Sports Connection (Sports Erection/Infection), but it’s been part of the WeHo community for 25 years. It’s a space many of us know and love (and many more can’t stand). Despite its many flaws, with its filthy bathrooms, aloof staff, busted air conditioners, etc, it has left its mark on the WeHo community.
I have a lot of history with that space. I was an assistant service manager at the Sports Connection, when 24-Hour Fitness Super Sport gym took over the West Hollywood location on November 1, 1996. All of WeHo was completely hungover the day after the City’s Halloween Carnaval, when a large group of strangers holding boxes barged into the lobby of our club. Some of them were perky bleach blond women with clipboards pressed against their big boobs. We knew the raid was coming, we just didn’t know when. We also knew they were all from Orange County, so of course, we were like, UGH!
It was a pretty rough and chaotic takeover. We were given new uniforms, these itchy purple polo shirts fresh out of a plastic bag. Some members were grandfathered into their contract and others were not. The goal was to collect as much data as possible to upsell those who did not join in WeHo, but wanted to continue working out at that location. It was messy.
I started that day as an assistant service manager and by the end of that shift I was demoted right back to where I started three years prior, as a front desk receptionist—“It’s a great day to get in shape at 24-Hour Fitness Sport in West Hollywood. This is Paulo, how my direct your call?”
To be fair, they did give me a 75-cent bump in pay. Those three extra quarters an hour made the difference between living in a shitty apartment at Laurel Ave and Fountain Avenue, and living on the better half of WeHo, west of La Cienega, in a shitty apartment on Westmount and Rugby Drive right behind the gym.
We (the employees) hated everything about 24-Hour Fitness, especially the new 24-Hour management team. There is really no way around it, it was homophobic AF. The men who first managed that gym were complete assholes. The new general manager in particular, was this gross fuck named Tony.
My earliest memory of Tony McFuckFace was his sour demeanor and the look of contempt on his face when a queen would walk by. He did not like the gays, and back then he didn’t have to hide it. He immediately instructed us to take down the rainbow flag hanging in the lobby. He informed us we no longer worked at a gay gym. In fact, they had plans to make this “a regular gym.” They spoke of grand plans that included a Kid’s Club, a basketball court and they turned our social gathering at the lobby into a sales area.
It was 1996 in West Hollywood, so we looked at each other and thought, “Kids Club? In West Hollywood? What kids? A basketball court? For these flaming queens? No!”
When I say those OC men were homophobic AF, I’m not exaggerating or being dramatic. We were 24-Hour Fitness employees, but I don’t remember a single friendly word from Tony McFuckster. He actually gave his OC boys shit if they were nice to the WeHo queens at the front desk with the hiked-up short shorts. There was a young good-looking guy named Rob who didn’t care that we were gay. He was taunted the hardest. It was literally “our team, versus their team” and this came from the top.
It became clear to a lot of us that The Sports Connection was a club and that 24-Hour Fitness West Hollywood gym was and continues to be just a gym. People didn’t like the gym. Members and employees quit in hordes during that takeover.
The biggest shit-kicker for me was the clean slate 24-Hour Fitness gave former members who had been 86d from the Sports Erection. Many a membership had been revoked by yours truly, so all the wankers, steam queens, and locker room lizards who had been purged from that gym for engaging in something illicit were BAAAACK. It made for some awkward encounters on the new gym floor. To this day, I still get dirty looks from those members who never forgave or forgot me. Meanwhile, it’s not my fault they got caught.
The beauty about 24-Hour Fitness is that it never really stopped being gay, and where there’s a gay, there’s a way. Tony McFuck was on wanker detail whether he liked it or not. He didn’t like hearing about guys getting caught in the showers, so they transferred his humorless, intolerant ass back to the OC. I don’t think he lasted a year.
In his place, we got a lesbian named Abbey Belkin. In some ways she was a much better fit than the previous bozo. In other ways, she was just as discriminating, especially when it came to having a certain “look” at the front desk. She was very superficial, but not so much about race or skin color, but more about beauty in the generic sense. Alas, such were the harsh realities of the mid-90s.
It wasn’t all bad. There was a woman named Cassie who was very kind to us. She was very protective of the gays. She had a pierced nose and I found her a total blast, which was a complete contrast from the OC crew.
There was some redemption. A good memory that stands out for me about 24-Hour Fitness West Hollywood in those early years, is April 30, 1997. In a widely publicized episode of the ABC sitcom Ellen, TV character Ellen Morgan, played by Ellen DeGeneres, announced that she was gay back in the day when it was OK for a lesbian to simply identify as such. Our GM Abbey actually hosted a viewing party at the 24-Hour Fitness café area. They rolled out a giant TV, put out a bunch of chairs and members and employees gathered to hear Ellen admit that yep, she’s gay. This was waaayyyay before they gave Waylon Smithers a boyfriend in the Simpsons.
I only lasted a couple of years as a 24-Hour Fitness employee. I gave a 2-week notice in early 1998. All I have to show for my working there is my $10-a-month Super Sport membership, which I try to use frequently just to stick to ’em.
They did what they could to curb the jerky-jerky, sucky-sucky at that gym. The notorious sundeck, with its long history of sexcapades has been closed off to the public for many years. They invested a shit load of money to redo the wet areas. The dry sauna, steam room and Jacuzzi are now co-ed, which I hear only makes the rush of possibly getting caught by an old Russian lady that much more exciting.
Today, I’m sort of checked out when I check-in to the WeHo gym. I couldn’t tell you who works there. The Kids Club came and went. The small basketball court they built is now a perfect space for taking selfies. The gayness–or I should say LGBTQ-plus-ness–is no longer really an issue. A rainbow flag is back up on the lobby, thanks to the persistence of one man, Dan Mryglot, a former Sports Connection turned 24-Hour Fitness employee, turned gym member.
The closing of 24-Hour Fitness West Hollywood gym at the end of this month will change the eco system of West Hollywood gyms and its surrounding areas. Local gyms are already overly crowded as 24-Hour members have jumped ship. I mostly feel bad for the senior citizens that were promised lifetime memberships at that space when they joined in the late 60s/early 70s. Where are they going to go now that their gym is closed?
The shuttering of that gym is yet another end of an era. Despite its messy beginnings, and all its imperfections, I’m straight up going to miss working out at that gym. After 25 years, it has earned its place in West Hollywood history.