The World’s Most Developed Man

by

07/14/2019

Neighborhood: Flatiron District, Manhattan

 

If 115 East 23rd Street in Manhattan’s Flatiron district rings a bell, you’re probably of a certain age. 

From the 1930s through the 1960s, the address was plastered in thousands of comic books and magazines. The 12-story building, constructed in 1913, housed the offices of Angelo Siciliano, better known as Charles Atlas. It was at this location that Atlas sold millions of his 15-minute a day “Dynamic Tension” body-building exercise programs, promising to turn 97-pound weaklings into new men.

The year was 1967. I didn’t weigh 97-pounds in my early teens, but nevertheless I clipped and sent the coupon to Charles Atlas. It didn’t take long to receive the first of several mailings. The details are fuzzy, but I remember the price of the course decreased with each successive mailing. When it seemed that I’d been offered the rock bottom price, I convinced my parents to spring for the program.

Living on Long Island at the time, New York City was only a stone’s throw away. Soon more parental badgering ensued. “I want to visit Charles Atlas,” I pleaded. It took months to convince them, but they finally acquiesced after a friend of mine, another Charles Atlas “Dynamic Tension” customer, received the go-ahead from his folks. We took the train into the city, arrived at 115 East 23rd Street, and entered. I don’t know what I expected to see, but I remember getting off the elevator, and immediately being in a reception area. We explained to the woman at the front desk that we wanted to see Charles Atlas. She grinned, said that Mr. Atlas wasn’t there and that this was simply an office where they processed mail. We were out of there in less than a minute. I was fine with that, and have accepted the experience for the last five decades. Recently though, my head came out of the sand (the same sand bullies kicked in my face). I realized my friend and I got the short shrift.

In doing research for this piece, I came upon a New York Daily News article written by Jay Maeder, dated May 16, 1999. Maeder wrote, “Youngsters would make pilgrimages to the Atlas offices at 115 E. 23rd St., and Charles Atlas would always find a minute or two to bend a railroad spike and offer sound counsel (Live clean, think clean and don’t go to burlesque shows). What the…?

Charles Atlas passed away in 1972. His highly popular “Dynamic Tension” fitness program is still available, but no longer is it located at 115 East 23rd Street. The building now houses a physical therapy company. Next-door is a New York Sports Club.

***

Bruce Harris misses Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds

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