The start of a new year inspires people to set goals and make resolutions. One of the most popular resolutions is to get in shape. There is no shortage of gyms available – from large franchises to small local operations.
The gym craze is not a new phenomenon. Long before the days of Olivia John telling us, “Let’s get physical,” Bakersfield’s citizens were busy working on their fitness.
John and Steve Strelich operated one popular gym of Bakersfield’s past. The Strelich Brothers’ Conditioning Club opened in 1938 and catered specifically to Bakersfield’s business and professional men. The brothers offered experienced service in muscle and physical conditioning.
On Feb. 17, 1939, Steve Strelich told The Bakersfield Californian that his conditioning club was the only one of its kind between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Located at 1807 K St., patrons were guaranteed clean equipment and an immaculate steam room.
Two years later, on Jan. 20, 1941, the brothers opened a new fitness center.
The Strelich Brothers Health Club was located on V Street next to the Strelich Stadium (now known as the Bakersfield Dome). Described in The Bakersfield Californian as a “businessman’s paradise,” the gym offered all the modern workout amenities and was “one of the finest in the state.”
America’s fascination with working out grew during the early 1960s. President John F. Kennedy announced a plan to combat the “national problem” of the growing physical softness of Americans. The United States was in the midst of the Cold War and it was believed that physical fitness was an absolute necessity for the vitality of the nation.
Kennedy stated: “To meet the challenge of this enemy will require determination and will and effort on the part of all Americans. Only if our citizens are physically fit will they be fully capable of such an effort.”
It was with these words that Americans – from schoolchildren to adults – started to get moving.
The title of an article in the Jan. 28,1963, Californian proclaimed “Emphasis on Physical Fitness Spurs Muscle-Building Boom in Bakersfield.”
Joe Baratta of Vic Tanny’s gym stated that more of Bakersfield’s citizens were hitting the gym after the encouragement of Kennedy. People were more interested in meeting the physical challenges of getting in shape and they could do so in one of the city’s most well-equipped facilities. The gym had over $15,000 worth of equipment, including 5,000 pounds of custom built dumbbells. Baratta reminded readers “the body is like a plant – if it’s tended, it develops – but left unattended, it degenerates.”
The 1970s ushered in the decade of gym chains. Bakersfield welcomed Jean Marie Body Boutique and Jack LaLanne’s Health Spa. Bakersfield’s other body shops included Babe’s Gym, The Spa and Strelich Health Club and Gymnasium. Rates ranged from $85 to $150 a year.
The commitment to physical fitness has continued to endure and the benefits are countless. As Steve Strelich urged Californian readers on Dec. 11, 1976: “Switch to athletic pills – a nondrug-forming habit. Sleeping pill – handball. Tired blood – steam bath. Tranquilizer – massage. Poor circulation – gymnastics. Constipation pill – stomach exercises.” ￼