Scheveningen – Circustheater

Several circuses visited the Dutch beach city Scheveningen (The Hague Beach) in the summer months. Plenty of tourists made a grateful crowd for all sorts of entertainment. Oscar Carré who has build his Royal Circus in Amsterdam wanted to also construct a permanent wooden circus building in Scheveningen. As opposed to the many wooden circus buildings that were placed somewhere temporarily. In stead of using tents this was the way many circuses travelled in those days. The city council declined Carré’s permanent wooden circus, too much of a fire hazard. After that Oscar Carré put in plans for a stone circus building but because of the higher building costs he asked for the sole right to put on circus performances in the city of The Hague and Scheveningen to ensure he could earn back this huge investment. The city wouldn’t budge and Carré stopped visiting Scheveningen.

Carré his biggest competitor Albert Schumann did come to Scheveningen and constructed his transportable wooden circus building temporarily. He also saw the potential and also applied for permission to construct a permanent building, but the answer was that the city would construct it themselves, that is the ‘EMS society’ which dealt with most of the cities real estate in Scheveningen. Schumann however was involved as a consultant because of his knowledge of constructing circus buildings.

Construction of the building designed by Dutch architect W.B. Liefland (1857-1919) started on the 4th of September 1903. Liefland, a big fan of the work of Gustav Eiffel, had designed an enormous self supporting dome of 45 meters. Giving spectators a free view without any supporting pillars. Unique in those days. In comparison the free supporting dome of Oscar Carré’s Royal Circus in Amsterdam spanned “only” 35 meters.

The first performance and inauguration took place on the 16th of July 1904 the same day that the new Palace Hotel, also a designed by architect Liefland, was opened. Naturally Albert Schumann played the building and would continue to do so every summer until 1913 when the first World War forced him to escape with his family and horses to Scandinavia.

After Schumann stopped coming even Albert Carré, the son of Oscar Carré, came with his circus after his father had passed away and he had taken over the lead of the family enterprise. However it would only be for one year. Several big circus names have given shows in the building: Busch from Berlin, Circus Corty, Carl Hagenbeck, Maxo (owned by Otto Friedländer), Bouglione, but the circus which would make the last big circus impression with its annual summer shows would be the Circus Strassburger.

In the early 1960’s when the Strassburger circus had ceased to exist the circus building was under threat of being demolished. Notably by the same person who also threatened the Carré building at another point in time. The real estate investor Zwolsman. A man who made a somewhat dubious fortune helping the Nazi’s to construct bunkers in WWII.

However on the 18th of december 1964 the Theatre building for Art and Science in The Hague burns down. The city is short of stages and immediately contact Zwolsman. He reluctantly agrees to turn the circusbuilding into a theater when he is offered several tax advantages which would add up to approx. 5,5 million Dutch Florins. Naturally Zwolsman claimed this would also be the sum needed to conduct the refurbishment of the building.

His initial plan is to leave the dome and its walls. Add a stage tower for scenery partially cut into the old dome. And to build flats around the dome with foyer space at the ground floors. This ment the beautiful Jugendstil front house with café, box offices and restaurant is torn down. Also the waterring feature was removed from the building and the former seating was torn out and replaced by new theatre faced seating. The flats around the dome with foyer space never appeared, so the temporarily ribbed eternit corrugated sheets stayed on the outside walls and the theatre looked quite hideous for several decades.

25 years the theater is hosting all kinds of shows, but it is getting harder and harder to keep the theater in the clear. Charly Ross and Martin Hanson are the people who try to bring circus back into the circus building in the summertime for two years. However the two summer seasons of the circus Ross-Hanson it were not a financial succes.

At the end of the 1980’s again the building is threatened in its existence. But in 1991 the theatre and television producer Joop van den Ende together with Henk van der Meyden and others buy the building for the symbolic figure of 1 Dutch Florin. They start a huge renovation and build foyer and restaurant areas to turn to former circus into Holland’s first Musical Theater.

Unfortunately since the building was taken over by Van den Ende no circus ever performed in this historical circus heritage.


AFAS Circustheater
Circusplein 50

Historic Postcard Images courtesy of The-Circus-Collection.Com

Before the circus building was build circuses played opposite the current site on the same square in wooden buildings. Below you can see Circus Albert Schumann.

Below the circus building in its former glory.