A stationary bike used for exercise sits in the loft that once was the Laprinzi's bedroom. Alex Wittwer/PSU Vanguard

The last real gym

“75 pounds here feels like 200 pounds anywhere else.” This is a common refrain from a member of Loprinzi’s Gym, one of America’s oldest fitness centers. “It’s what makes this place different,” he said. “That and the smell.” 

He was right; it doesn’t smell like the plastic of 24 Hour Fitness, but it doesn’t reek of sweat either. That smell is something congealed in the cracks of the building’s mint green cement floors. A solution of lifter’s chalk, Bengay, flecks of iron, chunks of rubber and sweaty patina mixed together by bodies roaming through stale air. Loprinzi’s smells like the last real gym. 

Founded in 1948 by Portland fitness royalty, Loprinzi’s gets its name from “Portland’s fittest family.” The Loprinzi’s were the sons and daughters of an Italian produce salesman, and many of them would go on to become Portland fitness icons in their own rights. In fact, the fitness wing of the Multnomah Athletic Club was named after Joe Loprinzi to commemorate his work and dedication to sport and health. 

Helmed by Joe’s brother, Sam Loprinzi, the gym was built from the ground up. One of the first athletic clubs in the United States, Sam and his family would even construct some of the machines and weight sets at Loprinzi’s themselves. 

The old house-turned-gym hosts swimming classes, dance, karate and anything else that can be dreamed up in the service of good health. 

Bob Hill has owned Loprinzi’s for the last 25 years and has seen to it that the gym remains unchanged. “I used to come here and work out with Sam when I was in high school,” Hill said. “There’s something about working out here. It’s a community and a history. We don’t have contracts or initiation fees. We are a gym dedicated folks come to work at.” 

Loprinizi’s walls house the world’s first mass-produced Nautilus exercise machines and a collection of free weights that today look more like cartoon novelties than actual muscle-building tools. 

The old Nautilus bench—bright red cushions with silver and rusted bars set at an incline angle—was unlike any other. Some of the metallic sheen has flaked off, but all things considered, it still looked good. 

The walls themselves are adorned with photos of history’s professional bodybuilders, each with an autograph, and some alongside the gym’s original owner, Sam Loprinzi himself. Among them is none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

Today, Hill and his family continue to preserve Portland’s fitness legacy as a landmark and a one-of-a-kind place to work out. 

Here, the iron doesn’t lie to you. It is unmoving unless you move it and unbending unless you will it to bend. A man does tricep exercises on a bench. Alex Wittwer/PSU Vanguard Alex Wittwer/Portland State Vanguard
Iron and steel is shoved into every corner of the space. If theres room, theres iron. Here, a pully-bench stands outside the women’s restroom and outside the upstairs loft. Alex Wittwer/PSU Vanguard Alex Wittwer/Portland State Vanguard
A man prepares to deadlift 300 lbs. Unlike modern gyms which fill their rooms with expensive and Byzantine-like machines, Laprinzi is filled with raw iron and steel bars—a testament to the art of exercise. Alex Wittwer/PSU Vanguard Alex Wittwer/Portland State Vanguard