The Los Angeles Athletic Club (LAAC) was the city's first private club. Founded in 1880, when Los Angeles was a town of only 11,000 people and the preferred mode of travel was the stagecoach, LAAC joined a downtown core of businesses that included saloons and shooting galleries. Forty prominent Angelenos, sons of the pioneers, adventurers and athletes all, gathered in Frank Gibson's law office to create an American style club for the "best young men" of the community. Ladies were welcome at social events and exhibitions. The initiation fee was $5 and monthly dues were $1. The LAAC's first president was Colonel James B. Lankershim, whose family owned a large portion of the San Fernando Valley.
The Club's first gymnasium equipment consisted largely of a trapeze, flying rings, long horse, Indian clubs, and dumbbells. Early LAAC members excelled at gymnastics, boxing, handball, and velocipede (tall bicycle) racing. In 1890, The Club adopted the motto "Health, Recreation, Grace and Vigor." Our founders were well ahead of their time in their understanding of "physical vigor as the basis for moral and bodily welfare." An early LAAC athletic director noted marked improvement in his athletes' condition after substituting a diet mainly of fruits and vegetables for the three pounds of raw beef they had been eating daily. The LAAC quickly emerged as the center for physical culture in Southern California.