The original Muscle Beach through old photographs, 1949

When an earthquake struck Santa Monica on March 10, 1933, the city was already in bad shape. The quiet community on the Pacific Coast prided itself on being socially elite and culturally sophisticated, but that pride didn't stop the Great Depression from sinking its dirty claws and tearing the city down a new one. Schools suffered the most due to the earthquake. Without funds to rebuild, local children were taught outside the tents.

The idea for the city to build a park on the beach was from Cate Giroux. She was a playground matron for an elementary school before it was turned into rubble. Until all schools are rebuilt, a faster and cheaper solution would be to build a playground for all.

City officials agreed. By 1934, work had begun on the new playground. The project was funded by President Roosevelt's Works Project Administration (WPA), an organization that employs local people to build public developments and stimulate the economy.

The site chosen was a stretch of sand south of the famous Santa Monica Pier, known by locals as Mussel Beach for all the shellfish clinging to the pier there.

The park soon became a hit with local vaudeville artists and acrobats, who appreciated the soft landings that the sand could give them. Finding work in his field wasn't that easy in Great Depression-era America, and the practice didn't hurt to keep rust away.

At first, gymnasts brought their own mats to the beach, but as locals crowded around to watch these improvised performances, the city doubled down. A gymnastics platform was built and more bars and rings were added, as well as a ping-pong table and volleyball net - a few more courtesy of Uncle Sam Cash.

Word started coming about great outdoor gyms in Southern California pretty quickly. Santa Monica became a must-stop-spot for artists traveling from across the country, along with the Capital de la Culture Physique on the west coast.

If you were in the Golden State, you'd have to make your way to Santa Monica to practice your stunts and learn from the best in front of an appreciative crowd.

Around this time, the spelling of mussel beach was changed to mussel beach because the number of meat-heads exceeded that of mollusks.
Play a word-association game today and muscle beach is the equivalent of bodybuilding.

This was not the case in the 30s. The name of the game was Physical Culture. Gymnastics, acrobatics and weightlifting were the way to play it.

Doctors of the day warned their patients against vigorous movements by children on the beach, saying it could lead to heart disease and early death. When viewers saw the muscle mass and strength emerging from that dreaded exercise... well, we all know who had it right.

Things calmed down on the beach in the early 1940s. Uncle Sam didn't take the tool as scrap metal, but he almost might have. The people were so busy fighting the Japanese that they could not swing by the rings. The barbell was traded for rifles and the only bicep that was flexed was in the middle of a military salute.

Post-war America saw a large migration from East to West, and Eastern brought their barbells with them. Weightlifting for size and strength was more of an East Coast scene in the 1940s.

Maps across the country began to print the words Muscle Beach on a larger scale than in Santa Monica, much to the embarrassment of city officials. Gymnastics and acrobatics were still emphasized, but weightlifting was certainly a contender for public attention, especially when the weight platform was created.

The dedicated few have been taking their own barbells and dumbbells to the beach since the 1930s, but it was with the permanent lifting platform that things started to get really serious.

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