OAKLAND -- Gold's Gym on Grand Avenue is now Fitness SF. Things just weren't working out for the Bay Area branches of the national mega fitness chain, whose top executive made a hefty donation to a conservative political action committee founded by Karl Rove.
The decision to separate from Gold's was driven by a $2 million contribution by Robert Rowling, billionaire founder of TRT Holdings -- the ownership group that owns the fitness chain -- to American Crossroads.
American Crossroads, is known for its support of politicians and causes in opposition to rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Four locations owned by Sebastyen and Zsolt Jackovics defected -- the Grand Avenue gym in Oakland, one in Corte Madera, and two in San Francisco.
Although Rowling made the donation in 2010, the franchise contract between Gold's and the Bay Area franchise did not expire until Sept. 15. New signs started to go up the next day. Staff spent the next week answering questions for customers. Employees on the telephone were still stumbling over the new name Friday in Oakland.
In a letter addressed to gym members in October 2010, the director of operations for Gold Gym's Bay Area said, "We were as surprised by Mr. Rowling's action as anyone" and that the Bay Area branch would "leave the Gold's Gym brand," once the contract expired.
Members didn't seem to notice much difference except the oblong orange and black sign with white lettering above the entrance.
Otherwise, they wouldn't have known anything had changed. "It's all the same," said Peter Sherris, a retired physician from Piedmont.
Staff members said nothing except the name had changed for members. They will still have access to the same network of gyms, including Gold's.
Members on Facebook and those stepping in and out of the busy gym Friday afternoon said they supported the decision.
"It was a wise business and moral decision," said one man in his 20s who declined to give his name. He added the gym shouldn't be affiliated with anti-LGBT groups.
Merv Fernandez of Point Richmond said he was supportive, as long as they don't change the gym itself. "It's a gym, after all."
Gold's calls itself the top full-service fitness franchise in the world with 3 million members. Rowling is a conservative Republican who also owns the Omni Hotel chain.
He did not comment directly, but a Gold's spokesman, Dave Reiseman, said the departure of the Bay Area franchise group was not political. Until two months ago both sides were still talking about staying, Reiseman said. "But, unfortunately it didn't work out."
Sebastyen Jackovics said Friday he was extremely limited in what he could say because of the legal agreement with Gold's.
"The only thing that has changed is the name," said Jackovics, who started working out at the gym in the late 1980s when it was Lake Merritt Nautilus and Aerobics.
Neither side provided details about franchise costs, but Reiseman said only the Bay Area group had left the company.