From 1960 to 1992, Venice Florida was the winter quarters of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Practices, training, and the final full-show dress rehearsals were held in the 5000-seat Venice Arena, a huge, rambling barn-like structure off Field Avenue East and Airport Avenue East that stood near Circus Bridge, the southern drawbridge on Venice Island (map).

The Venice Arena in its heyday. (It was razed in 2014.)

I used to go to the dress rehearsals there as a child.

When, in 1992, the railroad stopped running as far as Venice, the circus moved its winter quarters north to Sarasota.

After the circus departed, local circus and history buffs made an effort to preserve and repurpose the Arena, but they did not succeed. The Venice Arena was razed in 2014. However…

Tito Gaona’s Trapeze Academy

The soul of the circus lives on here in Tito Gaona’s Trapeze Academy, at the end of Airport Avenue East on the site of the Venice Arena. Tito can teach anyone to fly on a trapeze—even you! It’s exhilarating, and all possible safety precautions are in place.

Tito Gaona's Trapeze Academy
Tito Gaona’s trapeze rig, right where the Venice Arena used to be.

Ringling Circus Museum

For lots more circus lore, visit the  Circus Museum at the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota.

Circus Smirkus

For a superb youth circus show during summers in New England, catch a performance of Circus Smirkus. Its founder and some of its principal staff were trained at Ringling’s Clown College when it was in Venice. More…