Brickyard gym's tough exterior houses friendly atmosphere

Would you buy a used car from this guy? If he sold cars, you probably wouldn't be sorry. You can tell a lot about the guy by the way he treats people. This guy is Ken Weber, the owner and resident Zen master of the Brickyard Gym (2651 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.) in Bay View.

Walking amid the bowels of a half-finished, work-in-progress motif that resembles the inside of the spaceship in the movie "Alien," Weber knows almost all of his members by name, several hundred of them.

The structure is composed of exposed pipes, brick walls, ceilings with cold and black steel trusses for support. When Weber stops by an apparatus and asks you how things are going, he's genuinely concerned. The music is pumped in through large speakers, and it's not uncommon to hear selections from the hard-rock genre. A selection of heavy metal music for some heavy metal lifters seems to be the strategy.

Weber fell in love with the ambience of a bare-bones and chrome-less gym in the form of the Klotsche Center at UWM.

"I started working out when I was in college," he explains, "while doing some rehab work on my injured shoulder. I started with the spiritual and progressed to the physical."

Weber attributes weightlifting to the successful healing of his shoulder. The lifting led to a euphoric feeling that eventually resulted in Weber's targeted physical condition. He then moved on to a "hard-core" gym sequestered in the nether regions of the YMCA.

"People who worked out there were men and women who were there to make gains," Weber says, apparently undaunted by the dusty floors and musty aromas. He began a more serious fitness routine at a gym at 12th and Lincoln, where the owner was looking to hang up his sweatpants. Weber told the owner that he wanted to own his own gym someday.

Before you could say Arnold Schwarzenegger, the man asked Weber if he wanted to buy it. The price was right, and despite the fact that Weber had no formal business training and was teaching school at the time, he decided to purchase the gym.

"It had none of the frills that you'd find in a health club," Weber says. "What it had was good working equipment, not necessarily new and shiny, but solid. That's what I wanted in my gym."

Weber then opened the Brickyard in the Avalon Theater building on Kinnicinnic Avenue. Recently, Weber moved the gym to the second floor of a building he purchased just a few blocks south of the Avalon location.

Mel Funk has been pounding his pectorals at the Brickyard Gym for over seven years. He arrived after his brother-in-law invited him for a workout and he shares Weber's philosophy. Funk sayas he's tried all of the usual haunts in his quest for a well-conditioned frame -- the Vic Tanny, along with some of the other glossy venues -- and discerned that, "Nobody seemed to be serious about what they were doing.

"You just can't come here to work out and leave the spiritual and intellectual aspect of yourself outside," Funk says. "It all comes together in this gym."

The spartan, working-man aura of the Brickyard gym hits you from the moment you walk in the door.

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