Eight-time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney returns to the site of his iconic gym

Lee Haney’s World Class Fitness Center is now a stationery store in Ponce City Market
Lee Haney
Lee Haney where his former gym used to stand, now Ponce City Market

Photograph by Maria Lioy

“Man,” Lee Haney says, “I am puzzled! Golly. Oh my goodness. Mass confusion! I feel like Captain America when he fell in the ice and woke up years later.” Haney is a superhero of sorts—from 1984 to 1991, he won eight consecutive Mr. Olympia titles—but right now he’s walking in circles around a parking garage below Ponce City Market. It’s a sunny day, and he’s wearing a long-sleeve black Under Armour shirt, wind pants, and Brooks running shoes on his “wide, Platypus flat feet.” Haney is a fit 56: 5 foot 11 and, at 237 (mustache included), about 20 pounds lighter than when he was last Mr. Olympia.

“We’d turn off the street and come in here,” he continues, pointing toward Glen Iris Drive. “Then come this way.” He motions behind him. “This could be the elevator that we’d go down. I think we might be down too low.” He takes the stairs leading back up to the market’s main level, then outside. At a retailer called Archer Paper Goods, Haney stops in his tracks.

“This is it! These are my walls right here with the designs on them. I remember that. I had them put there! This is awesome!” From 1993 to 2006, when the building was sold and he had to move out, Lee Haney’s World Class Fitness Center was a 20,000-square-foot facility in the bowels of the old Sears building on Ponce de Leon Avenue, where Atlanta’s muscle-bound trained. “We had recumbent bikes, treadmills, elliptical machines, body masters, every Nautilus piece of equipment you could think of. We also had what we called the ‘Animal Kingdom’ feature, where the really hard-core training took place: squat racks, dumbbells, heavy weights, all the suffering stuff. There were golden lion statues on each end of the entrance. I think maybe the lions were right around here.” He points to a corner of Archer’s. “But it’s hard to tell.”

Lee Haney
Lee Haney’s World Class Fitness Center

Photograph courtesy of Lee Haney

Inside the paper shop, a man is texting behind the cash register. Haney approaches.

“Hi, my name is Lee Haney.”

“Okay . . . ”

“We trained Evander Holyfield here. The Rock has been here. I had a gym here for a decade.”

“Yeah? Very cool.”

“The red and black on the pillars over there, that was our decor.”

“I’m sure this is a complete 180 from what it was before.”

“It’s awesome,” Haney says.

“Is this your first time back since you left?”

“Yeah! I moved out to Fayetteville.”

“Well, you need to bring your wife back here.”

“I will. Thanks, man. Check out Lee Haney on YouTube!”

A self-described “Panera guy,” Haney spends the next 45 minutes wandering around the market’s food stalls. He poses with a lollipop in front of Collier Candy Company and shakes his head at the number of fried offerings at Hop’s Chicken. He finally settles on a veggie patty at H&F Burger, not far from Honeysuckle Gelato. Would he have dessert?

“I do some dairy. I’m careful on that; it needs to be hormone free. But everybody has to have ice cream!”

Lee Haney
Haney in his competitive body-building days

Photograph courtesy of Lee Haney

Since the late 1980s, Haney has had two children (Olympia and Joshua), written books (TotaLee Awesome: A Complete Guide to Bodybuilding Success), hosted television and radio programs (TotaLee Fit with Lee Haney), and launched a line of supplement products (Transformation Now Kit, $250). Recently he’s been an online fitness coach and mentor at leehaney.com. “Health and fitness is who I am,” he says. “It’s what I do.

“I wanted to be Samson or Hercules from the age of six. When I was 10, I asked my parents for a set of weights. I had my Charles Atlas book to go along with that. Every time we went to the grocery store, I’d rush to the magazine area and read the ones with Arnold Schwarzenegger and all those guys on the covers: Pumping Iron, Muscle and Fitness, Muscle Builder by Joe Weider. You had the training routines of all the greatest body builders; you could read and mimic, find out about nutrition. That was pretty much how I got my education.”

“When I was about 14,” he says, “my dad built me a T-bar rowing machine. He was a welder, and he made it for his boy. And his boy used it. And guess what? Best set of lats in the business!” He flexes. “I still got ’em!”

It’s time to go outside for “some vitamin D,” which, Haney says, is best when it comes from the sun. “I knew there was a lot of possibility in this building,” he concludes, marveling at the view from the second-floor terrace. “I love what they’ve done. But where’s the gym?”

This article originally appeared in our February 2016 issue under the headline “Weighing In.”