Ivan’s Compound – The Space He Left Behind

The central area of Ivan's compound

After the B&I Circus Store changed hands in 1995, I swore I would never return. 


This store that had once brought so much joy was now haunted. It was filled with many ghosts of years long gone. 


Time does soften those feelings, and after twenty-five years I had decided it was time to break my oath & return to the biggest little store in the world. 


Almost everything had changed

The large, open departments within its walls had become a bazaar of avenues lined with smaller stores of merchants selling their wares. Only a handful of features had remained unchanged through these years. 

My grandmother’s office, where I would start my childhood circus store journeys, is still present, but remains unoccupied by the current owners.  The arcade that was once the largest in Washington state, now a far less vibrant version of faded colors. The great hall of B&I memorabilia that featured historical photos of the store’s evolution through the decades endures & finally, Ivan’s compound.  


Ivan’s compound

Many media sources have referenced Ivan’s compound as a 196 square foot (14 x 14 feet) concrete enclosure. Even Disney, with the release of The One & Only Ivan in 2020, portrayed his habitat in the same manner. Much of this erroneous information may stem from Ivan’s Wikipedia page: It is unclear as to what resources were used but nothing could be further from the truth:

Ivan’s compound was a 1,577 square foot area comprised of three rooms. 


The layout of Ivan's compound - the space he left behind


Touring Ivan’s compound.

Some years before, I had become friends with a current merchant at the B&I. Upon my return in 2020, she was able to grant me access to tour Ivan’s former habitat – which lies undisturbed & unused. Ivan’s compound at the B&I in Tacoma, WA, to this day, remains untouched, as if he had left just days before rather than twenty-six years ago.  

The central, 1080 square foot (40×27 feet) room still has the jungle frescoes, waterfall & activity area.


The central area of Ivan's compound


Ivan's private quartersThe outdoor area of Ivan's compound

The adjacent 297 square foot space, a 27 foot x 11 foot outdoor sunroom had been modified to accommodate tours of patrons, an endeavor that had never come to fruition. Lastly, Ivan’s private quarters: a roughly 200 square foot room  25 feet x 8 feet) where he would often create his paintings, now stood empty.

It was a strange homecoming, entering this sacred place where I knew I belonged all the while knowing that it no longer belongs to me. Perhaps that is why I stayed away for so long, to forever keep it mine.


Zoo Atlanta

Ivan’s move to Zoo Atlanta was the greatest next chapter that could have been written but a spot as large as his former compound will remain empty in the hearts of this Northwest community, forever being the space that Ivan left behind.


  1. David Williams on August 16, 2021 at 10:43 pm

    I remember Ivan and the seals. Ny family would pass thriugh on our way to Seattle on a regular bases. I also recall the rush thriugh the doors to get to the arcade in the late 60 ‘s and 70 ‘s.

    It was a trip down memory lane when I returned in the early 80’s to see all the machines and animsls of my youth. But the seals had left andvthe Elephants had gone, but Ivan remained.

    RIP Ivan.

  2. Anne Dickerson on August 30, 2021 at 4:31 am

    My grandmother worked at the B&I in the late 60s and early 70s. I believe she managed the hardware department. We loved going there as kids to visit her and see Ivan. Good times, but I’m glad animal welfare has progressed since then.

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