Prelude to the SB Triathlon: ‘The Concrete Casino’

The 32,000-square foot Cabrillo Pavilion (Bathhouse) stands majestically on some of the most primo real estate in the world. (Photos by Randy Weiss)

Don’t get me wrong — I love, love, love my Goleta health club.

The building has it all: locker rooms, weight room, offices, a banquet room and an outdoor eating.


Tennis. Hoops. Two pools. Double Jacuzzis. hi-tech, state-of-the-art workout-equipment. Personal trainers. Sauna. Steam room. Private shower stalls with gratis shampoo. Towel service.  Massage. Friday Happy Hour. Spin classes and other specialized training sessions, etc.

You get the picture …

But life changed earlier this year when my office moved downtown — as in Santa Barbara.

Gone are those early morning workouts en route to work … shooting hoops under a hot mid-day sun … a quick lunchtime “Jacuuz” to take the edge off afternoon business meetings, etc.

But now, after a few months of searching and searching, I can finally say that there’s something very magical about my new health club.

To tell you the truth, it wasn’t even on the workout radar screen until a chance conversation with friend Rich Hanna, Sr. Aquatics Supervisor for the City of SB’s Parks and Recreation Department — and new Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table President — changed everything when he casually tossed out:

“How about East Beach?”

“You mean the Bathhouse?” was my response.

“Exactly,” he replied.

This Cabrillo (Bathhouse) Pavilion — again home to this weekend’s Santa Barbara Triathlon — is a massive 32,000 square foot structure sitting on California’s — if not the world’s — most primo real estate.

“I call it ‘The Concrete Casino,” says local dude Jeff Macaluso, who has been running from here at lunch with pals for more years than he can count.

An obvious reference to Ty Warner’s Coral Casino — another not-too-bad spot just down the road.

“Coral Casino West,” Freda Markowitz, recreation office specialist, takes a more direct approach.

And she must know what she’s talking about — not only does she work here at the Bathhouse but “she’s the glue that holds it altogether” for Parks & Rec there, according to confidential sources (Pssst – Hanna).

And whatever catchy Casino-like calling, there’s certainly no comparison.

It’s immediately clear as one walks into the Bathhouse’s dated and sandy reception zone, followed by the locker room’s long hallowed hallway — the one with the faded, chipped red painted flooring.

The Bathhouse lobby includes a mural of Santa Barbara's beach volleyball legends — players like Henry Bergmann, Kathy Gregory, Karch Kiraly, Kathy Hanley, Jay Hanseth and Todd Rogers.

The same one that many fabled local sport icons, like a young Karch Kiraly, walked before me.

It is here you get that nostalgic feel of rustic Santa Barbara yesteryear.

The framed group photos of ‘Nooners — legendary volleyball guys, like pal John Sener, with their huge smiles, great tans and then-six-pack abs — are the now-always constant reminders.

Ditto for the running club photos.

All like a “Who’s Who” of some incredible locals …

Cool community movers and shakers.

Successful business leaders.

And all guys who seem to know how to live the important balance in life, starting with sport and all the many lifestyle perks that go with it: the friendly competition, the kidding back-and forth-banter, the afterglow going back to the job after a beach workout and swim, etc.

Unlike a glitzy health club, the showers at the Bathhouse won't have fancy body-wash, shampoo or conditioner dispensers. A pull-down chain activates the shower.

This historic facility has a 1960’s-state-of-the-art Universal Gym … some lockers, like Tully’s, are the size of condos … group overhead showers with nine pull-down chains all in a row (the kind you might see in those old prison movies) … and an eclectic mix of customers — including some who use their lockers for life’s most cherished possessions.

“We have a very diverse mix of people who exercise here … that’s the beauty of it,” says Hanna. “The person changing next to you could either live anywhere they wanted in the world or not really sure where they will be sleeping later that evening.”

Oh, and lastly — the Bathhouse has the most spectacular panoramic backdrop on the planet for my new fave exercise:  ocean swimming.

Its backyard is the absolute best place to watch a summer sunset at Tuesday’s Reef and Run with chill music while sucking down a refreshing beverage with awesome new friends.

This weekend the Bathhouse will all come alive as host and central stage to thousands of spectators and participants for the Triathlon’s long course (Saturday) and the Sunday Sprint.

The finish line will be at the base of its concrete steps …

“To locals, the Cabrillo Bathhouse is the heart of Santa Barbara’s beaches,” says Joe Coito, SB Triathlon race director. “Many of our participants have been coming here for decades to enjoy watching or playing volleyball, waterfront dining, or playing with their kids in the sand. As a year-round destination for joggers, skaters, cyclists and other fitness enthusiasts, it’s a natural home for our event and we are lucky to have access to it.”

“What we really love about the Bathhouse are the people who use it,” adds Hanna. “They come in with a great attitude … and leave with an even better one.”

Yes, my new health club is no comparison to my Goleta one.

And that’s what I love about it most …



“The Cabrillo Pavilion was built by David Gray, Sr. for $100,000 and offered to the City in 1925. The facility was ultimately given to the City in 1927. City-sponsored recreation programs were first administered in the facility in 1940, and in 1941 the center experienced extensive remodeling to accommodate expanded community and youth activities. During World War II, the Pavilion and surrounding parks were heavily used by military personnel for rest and recreation. Following the war, most youth programs were centered in downtown facilities and it wasn’t until the early 60’s that the facility was reestablished and staffed as a youth center. In July, 1977 the City Council authorized changing the upstairs youth center to cultural arts programming.”