Big Plans for a Little Building
Excerpt from Kim Cool's article at http://www.venicegondolier.com/NewsArchive3/021104
Tito Gaona has other hopes for the little building behind the aged arena.
"There needs to be a little piece of the Ringling Circus in Venice," Tito Gaona said. "I want to have a circus museum there. The bridge over there already is known as the Circus Bridge."
The little building that Gaona hopes to save is located about halfway between the bridge and the old arena. Late in the afternoon, it is shaded by the larger building that was erected 1960-61 to house The Greatest Show on Earth, which wintered in Venice 1960-1992.
After moving its winter quarters to Venice, the circus would return each December for several weeks during which performers and animals would rest and regroup for the next season, perfecting their acts. New shows would be designed each year and have their world premiers in Venice before going out on the road. Just as the circus left a legacy in Sarasota, where it wintered 1929-1959, before its move south, The Greatest Show on Earth left a legacy in Venice, where a great many performers and former performers continue to live.
"The arena was often being used to rehearse the big production numbers," Gaona said. "So we would practice in this building. Gunther Gebel-Williams rehearsed his animal acts here. Known as the "most famous animal trainer in the world," the late Gebel-Williams was a close personal friend of Gaona's and a longtime resident of Venice. Gebel-Williams, who died on July 19, 2001, is said to have revolutionized the care of circus animals by using love and kindness rather than harsh treatment."
"Many people called it Gunther's building," Gaona said. "It is an important piece of history for Venice." Like the arena, the little building dates to about 1961. Because bringing the larger building up to code would be too costly, it is expected to be demolished in the near future, paving the way for development of that section of Venice airport property as an industrial or office park.