VENICE, Fla. - More than 50 years after it went up, parts of the Venice Circus Arena began coming down Monday. The former winter quarters of the Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey Circus is now going through what is called a ‘surgical demolition’.
A former prop building is now gone, and as far as the arena goes, they're tearing down most of it, leaving behind the bones of the building engineers say is solid. It's offering hope to those looking to still save a piece of the past.
Those with the Venice Circus Arts Foundation, who have worked for years to save the property, aren't throwing in the towel.
"This is progress. You know the old saying, ‘it's darkest before the dawn?’ This is the dawn of this project." Executive Director Orlando Bevington says a surgical removal of old rotting wood and the roof of the arena would have been done anyway. He says when the solid steel beams are left, people will be able to see what can be done. "Our biggest uphill struggle has been funding. Nobody wants to throw money at a dead horse. Now that the city has agreed to save the structure, albeit just the steel at this point, we know we can come back from that."
Crews will salvage the steel scrap from the prop building, nearly paying for the removal process.
Volunteer Larry Ivey hopes that won’t also be the arena's fate. "What we hope to do is temporarily make it an outdoor pavilion, so it is actually usable for the city for concerts and other activities out here.”
A second building is also being partially preserved. The foundation is working on what's called the Gunther Big Cat building. That's where famed animal trainer Gunther Gebel-Williams worked with the animals. "Instead of tearing it all the way down, the contractor is going to remove the bad part of the roof. The rest of the building is cement block. The foundation will replace the roof."
Bevington compares it to the old train depot; built in the 1920's it too was once run down. But a new life it has found. "The train depot took 12 years to raise $4.5 million. Look at it today…it's giving back to the community."
He says they may need $12 million to do what they need.
They’re still hopeful for a future of the area's past. "This is not the end; it is just the beginning of our trying to save this arena and make it useful to the city."
There has also been some setting aside of items which may have gone to the wrecking ball -- seating, box office windows, decorative pieces, and even a large safe which was found inside.
For more information on the Venice Circus Arts Foundation, visit their website.