Luke Christens the "Elephant Door" at John Paul Jones Arena

December 6, 2006 — When Luke, a 10-and-a-half-foot tall Indian elephant with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, made his grand entrance into the John Paul Jones Arena on Wednesday, he didn’t have to duck to get through the doorway.

That was by design.

A late modification to the JPJ Arena plans increased the height of one of the entrances to the main floor by almost four feet. That change was made specifically with Luke in mind, and he had at least a foot and a half of clearance when he walked through what is now known informally as the arena’s “elephant door.”

“In order to have a genuinely multi-purpose facility it was critical for us to make the change that we did in the height of the entrance to the arena floor,” said Leonard W.  Sandridge, executive vice president and chief operating officer, who joined members of the media for Luke’s entrance. “Before we actually settled on the height, we did some research on the size of elephants and actually made the doorway slightly higher than the clearance for highway bridges.”

The circus, said Sandridge, is but one reason why it was important to revise the original design.

“The circus has a number of unique requirements for access to the floor, but other acts that we want to draw to the arena also need easy access,” Sandridge said. “We wanted this to be one of the best places in the country to play basketball, and it is. At the same time, we wanted this to be an attractive venue for a variety of different activities, and making the doorway adequate was a necessary adjustment.”

The doorway not only allows ample space for elephants to enter the arena but also enables tractor-trailers to load and unload with ease.

Luke, a 22-year-old elephant, weighs 12,200 pounds and responds to more than 60 commands. He will be making only his second appearance with Ringling Bros. when the circus opens a four-day run at the JPJ Arena with a 7 p.m. performance on Thursday night.

Other performances are at 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Friday, 11 a.m., 3 p.m., and 7 p.m. on Saturday, and 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Sunday.

The Gold Edition of the Greatest Show on Earth comprises 34 performers, 16 animals (one elephant, eight horses and six dogs), six musicians, 16 management/staff, and 32 crew. The acts come from 10 different nations.

The 15,200-seat John Paul Jones Arena, home to both the men’s and women’s basketball teams at U.Va., opened in July.