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The heyday of the once bustling Concord Athletic Club is long past, but news that the former destination workout venue and social hub is being closed by Gold’s Gym on Dec. 16 has spawned a wave of nostalgia for a time in San Antonio before the arrival of corporate workout chains, indie yoga and spin studios, before the opening of CrossFit popups and private gyms, and before the Tripoint YMCA was established farther south of the Concord off U.S. 281.
For the diehards who kept their memberships at the Concord even as it was acquired by Spectrum Athletic Clubs in 2009, and by Gold’s Gym in 2012, the news came in a Sept. 15 letter from Gold’s Gym CEO Brandon Bean in Dallas. For a club that has been caught in a long decline from its days as San Antonio’s premier workout club, the letter only confirms what many have expected for some time.
“I’m writing to inform you that effective Dec. 16, 2016, we will be permanently closing our Concord location at 7700 Jones Maltsberger Rd. Over the past year, we have exhausted every possible avenue in an effort to keep the club open and unfortunately, we have not found a viable solution,” Bean wrote in his letter to members.
The Rivard Report attempted to contact Bean and other Gold’s Gym executives, but the Dallas-based company’s uninviting corporate website and its automated telephone system did not result in any returned calls on Friday. Not many here will lament the loss of the club as a Gold’s Gym. It was a shabby, poorly maintained shadow of the great club of the ’90s.
About 250 people have joined the Long Live Concord Athletic Club Facebook page. A farewell party, or maybe a wake, is being planned for the evening of Dec. 9 by Regina Parreira, a former spin coach there. Many members turned into lifelong friends, even after their days at the Concord came to a close, and the party will serve as a reunion of sorts.
“I created the page,” said Elsa Guerra Williams, the former longtime Concord manager and trainer who now works for Centro SA and who met her husband, Navarra Williams, a Concord regular in the years he served as CEO of Paragon Cable and then Time-Warner Cable here. He now serves as the president and CEO of the nonprofit SAMMinistries. “The doors may close but the relationships will never end.”
San Antonio in the ’80s and early ’90s was a quieter city with far fewer destinations and distractions. The Pearl Brewery was on its last legs under management by Pabst Brewing Company. There was no Southtown, no First Friday. The Spurs, who had yet to win a title, still played in the downtown Hemisfair Arena. The annual marathon drew fewer than 750 runners, and the city was deeply divided over the building of the Alamodome. But for those who could afford it, there was the Concord.
It was more than a gym membership. The Concord featured multiple workout and weight rooms, an indoor pool, regulation basketball court, squash and handball courts, a full schedule of aerobic and spin classes, running groups, personal trainers, a nutrition consultant, a restaurant, day care for children, sports gear shop, a hair and nail salon, shoe shine service, and massage therapists. The building included free covered parking, where a carwash and detailing business did a brisk trade. Social hours and other events, like a Halloween costume party, encouraged members to fraternize in and away from the club.
The Concord was almost a lifestyle. Williams described her 20-year stay there as akin to life in a small town with all its charms and warts. For members, it was a great place to work out, a great place to network, and a place where the service culture at its height was so meticulous it made you feel important and part of something important.
“The glory days at Concord included a waiting list for membership, and enrollment and monthly fees that might only exist at a country club these days,” Williams said. “The attention to detail could be found in every facet of the organization, and the ROI was an incredible membership base of city leaders, business owners, up and comers, retirees and others who just wanted to be a part of something that was exceptional.
“Much of this magic happened under the original leadership of Tord and Margaret Boman, who hired most of the longest tenured staff at the club,” Williams said. “Margaret taught all of us through her own example, and she still instructs group exercise there today.”
Spurs players and coaches enjoyed complimentary memberships. I first met Sean Elliott after watching him play in a full court pickup game with members. I met Claudia Zapata, Sean’s future wife and a future health columnist for the Express-News who now publishes her own blog, when she was teaching spinning and doing nutrition consults.
I met Spurs Coach Larry Brown in a noon class that memory tells me combined aerobics and an outdoor run. A good friend for more than 25 years, Sharon Sander was a California transplant who moved to San Antonio in 1990 to train with the U.S. Olympic Pentathlete team, which was based here. Team members also enjoyed complimentary membership.
“Back in 1990, when I moved here to train for pentathlon, the top athletes got free memberships,” Sander said. “That’s where I too met Coach Brown and Coach Pop at the noon running group.”
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The Concord Athletic Club and Spa was a thriving independent business for many years, only to fall into disrepair as just another corporate property where little was invested to maintain standards. San Antonio has evolved in countless ways since the glory days of the Concord, but there is nothing in the city today that even comes close to matching it.
Top image: Then-presidential candidate Barack Obama stopped by the concord to shoot some baskets. Photo courtesy of Elsa Guerra Williams.