3831 Granada Avenue, North Park
Back in 1946 Leo Stern opened the first (and now oldest) body building gym in California. The gym's second floor location had been a bowling alley, and to the dismay of members, the ground floor remained a kosher chicken slaughterhouse until its reincarnation as the New Life Laundry. In those days, hardcore weightlifting was considered freakish. Leo helped change that perception by promoting weightlifting demonstrations throughout the country. His North Park gym, which he sold in 1989, remains a testament to his Spartan. This is no day spa for dilettantes; it's gritty, sweaty, and all about the workout. "Stern's Gym stresses free weights and old-school techniques that emphasize mature muscle gain," says Bill Moore, a 60-year-old trainer. Even without air conditioning (Leo Stern didn't believe in A/C but finally installed fans), members like the down-and-dirty yet neighborly spirit of the gym. Sherman Brown, a former Detroit Lion and competitive weightlifter, purchased Stern's Gym seven years ago. He's in the midst of upgrading some of the original weight machines built by Leo Stern but intent on preserving the old-fashioned atmosphere, because "people like it that way."