Princess Stephanie of Monaco comes in regularly for a keep-in-trim swim. Actress Maud Adams prefers aerobics and the spacious split-level sun deck. Actor Jack Scalia drops by to shoot a few hoops and use the rowing machine. What he likes most about the sumptuous Sports Club/LA, though, is the valet parking. Valet parking? At a health club? “I was sick of parking blocks away at other clubs,” says Scalia. “When I go, I go to train.”
Only in L.A. Inaugurated last spring by Michael Talla, 41, and Nanette Pattee, 39, the Sports Club, America’s fanciest gymnasium, fills an entire city block. Its vast marble postmodern lobby opens on to a formal dining area seating 100 and a museum of sports memorabilia displaying Olympian Randy Gardner’s ice skates, Tracy Austin’s sneakers and Sugar Ray Robinson’s boxing trunks. There is a hair and nail salon, a boutique and dressing rooms with solid oak lockers. The large pool is on the second floor and, says co-owner Nanette of the risks, “If it ever leaks, it’s Siberia for me.” The running track is suspended above the main gym floor, and as members do laps, they may gaze longingly at the restful Pacific. A laundry service deals with those distasteful sweaty garments that exercise has been known to leave behind, and more than a dozen kinds of juice can be delivered anywhere on the premises at a member’s request.
For the privilege of enjoying the best revenge during workouts, Sports Club/ LA’s 5,000 members pay up to a hefty $1,650 initiation fee, plus $125 a month in dues. “This club was frankly intended to cater to a well-to-do celebrity crowd,” says Pattee. And frankly, it has snagged them by the truckload. On any given day a member may rub elbows with the likes of Linda Ronstadt, Jermaine Jackson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kenny Loggins, Tracy Scoggins, Linda Gray, Jack Nicholson, Teri Garr, Pat Boone, George Carlin, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson. Fame isn’t required for acceptance, however. All that is needed, says Pat-tee, is a nice bankroll and “the wish to be pampered.”
The team that created this oasis of elegance met 18 years ago when both were in Mexico on spring break from the University of Arizona. Pattee, the daughter of a businessman, and 10 of her sorority sisters were jammed into a hotel room meant for four. The federales broke in and threatened to lock them all up until Talla, the son of an Arizona rancher, defused the situation in soothing Spanish and took the cops down to the bar and bought them drinks. Talla and Pattee became romantically involved, and after college they headed for Newport Beach, Calif., to try their hands at business. Their first venture was a boutique and mailorder business, Foxy Lady, which sold bikinis in split sizes. “It was a new idea,” says Pattee. When they sold out four years later, Foxy Lady was grossing $3 million annually.
Richer but no longer a couple, Talla and Pattee went off in separate directions: Talla to Oregon to open a racquetball club and Pattee to Hollywood and then Colorado, where she was Miss Aspen for a year before signing on as the Budweiser Girl, who pitched the product on The Tonight Show. She grew frustrated, though, and one day called Talla. “I said, ‘No one in L.A. knows what I can do,’ ” Pattee recalls. ” ‘They just think I’m a ditsy model.’ At his suggestion, I flew to Oregon and learned the business. Then Michael said, ‘Go down to L.A. and buy me a house. We’ll start a health club.’ ”
The result was the Sports Connection, which opened in 1979 and was an immediate smash. Lassitude was out, fitness was in, and Madonna, Sean Penn and Bruce Springsteen were among the Connection’s first customers. Rolling Stone writer Aaron Latham profiled the singles scene at the club, and his story became the movie Perfect, starring John Travolta and Jamie Lee Curtis. Other Connections followed, and their co-founders prospered. Talla is now married to his former secretary, Mona, with whom he has an 11-month-old son; Pattee is wed to art dealer Tony Francini, and they have a daughter, 2. Their business partnership grosses $40 million a year, with six Sports Connection outlets in operation and new ones scheduled for New York, Newport Beach and San Francisco. They also own the Spectrum in Manhattan Beach and, of course, the Sports Club, the crowning glory of their entrepreneurial vision.
“Everything comes down to concept,” says Pattee. “We wanted a resort feeling here. Our concept is that of an urban, yuppie country club.” In fact, she and Talla acknowledge, they would prefer that hoi polloi work out elsewhere. “We have other clubs,” says Pattee graciously, “that cater to people on the way up.”