In 1927 John Ringling made Sarasota, Florida, the Winter Quarters of the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Because of this, there is a LOT of cool circus happenings in the area we were staying. A restaurant, a school, and an absolutely stunning 66 acre estate on the water that you can walk through, and apparently, a regular circus show.
The museum we visited, features the lives of John and Mable Ringling, the history of Ringling Bros. circus, the building of the Ca' d’Zan, Mable and John's GORGEOUS mansion, the Museum of Art.
It was kind of mind blowing to walk the long sea shell paved driveway throughout the estate, knowing it was the original path to their mansion. It's all grassy, paved and has buildings alongside it now, but one could almost imagine, winding through the tropical terrain back to an area where the sprawling mansion peeking through the palm trees takes your breath away.
We didn't go IN the mansion this time, but want to next trip for sure!
John was the first person to take a circus on the road, and soon ruled the kingdom of the entertaining arts. Families could spend 50 cents for adults and 25 cents for children, to attend his traveling show.
In 1925, his personal wealth, holdings and companies were estimated at nearly $200 million, in the TWENTIES!!!!!!!
During her travels with John, Mable fell in love with the grace and grandeur of Venice. In 1923, they commissioned the architect Dwight James Baum to build their dream home, modeled on the Doge’s Palace and the Cá d’Oro.
Mable, who kept a portfolio filled with sketches, postcards and photos, wanted a home in the Venetian Gothic style of the palazzi in Venice, Italy, with Sarasota Bay serving as her Grand Canal. Construction began in 1924 and was completed two years later at a then staggering cost of $1.5 million. Five stories tall, the 36,000 square foot mansion has 41 rooms and 15 bathrooms.
Mable oversaw every aspect of the construction, from the glazing of the tiles to the mixing of the terra cotta. She designed much of the original landscaping on the grounds of the estate, including her Rose Garden and Secret Garden. And while the house was to be called Ca’ d’Zan, Venetian dialect for “House of John”, it was really, as one writer later observed, truly “John’s love letter to Mable.”
The house, completed in 1926, soon became the site of lavish musicals, as well as garden and dinner parties. There were Gatsby-esque parties that lasted till dawn, with an orchestra playing from the Ringling yacht moored just off the marble terrace.
This dock was used to access the Ringling family Yacht, parked nearby, as well as enter the Gondola Mrs. Ringling brought back from Venice, so she could have the servants take her out on the water, just like in her beloved Italy.
The kids took a "Swim" in the front yard pool area......
The property now has a neat play area for kids to enjoy and picnic tables for lunch. It's right next to the original Rose Garden of Mrs. Ringling, which still contains some of her original flowers.
Like many wealthy Americans at the turn of the 20th century, the Ringlings made annual trips to Europe, where John found new acts for the circus. John and Mabel began collecting art by Old Masters such as Rubens, van Dyck, Velázquez, Tintoretto, Veronese, El Greco, Gainsborough and others that were the beginnings of the extraordinary collection of art that today fills the GIANT John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, right on the property, so they and their friends could enjoy the collection.
We headed over there next.....
We spent a lot of hours here, just looking at all the MASSIVE pieces! The children did so good, and were so interested in all the pictures. We just had to remind them to point excitedly but NOT TOUCH THE MILLION DOLLAR ARTWORK! ;)
The museum now features local artists as well. We got to walk through "The Pathless Forest" and entire ROOM of ribbon in rainbow colors. It was 8400 strands, or 24 miles of ribbon. They had music and lights all around, and through the display as you walked through the ribbons. It was kinda trippy and messed with your eyes, but totally cool!!!!
With the purchase of the American Circus Corporation in 1929 for $1.7 million, John, who had taken over the management of The Ringling circus after the death of his brother, now owned most traveling circuses in America.
Suffering from diabetes and Addison’s disease, Mable passed away on June 8, 1929. It was a loss from which John never really recovered. His reign as “King of the Sawdust Ring” was short-lived. Declining health, over-extended finances, the stock market crash of 1929, and the ensuing Great Depression, as well as an unfortunate second marriage to a young widow, Emily Haag Buck, a year after his beloved Mable’s death, all contributed to his fall.
On December 2, 1936, still marking catalogues for possible purchases and planning a circus spectacle called “Golden are the Days of Memory,” the boy from McGregor who had become the “King of the American Circus” died of pneumonia, at age 70, in his home on Park Avenue, New York.
Ringling willed his property and art collection, plus a $1.2 million endowment, to the State of Florida upon his death in 1936. However, for the next 10 years the museum was opened only irregularly and not maintained professionally, Ca' d'Zan was still used privately and not opened to the public, while the State fought with Ringling's creditors over the estate.
Because Florida State did virtually nothing to manage the endowment or maintain the property, while the local community (believing the Museum to be the State's responsibility) did little to support the Museum. By the late 1990s the mansion, Ca' d'Zan was falling apart and the Art Museum had a serious roof leak.
The State of Florida finally transferred responsibility of the Museum to Florida State University in 2000. In 2002 it appropriated $42.9 million in construction funds, with one major condition – the Museum had to raise $50 million in private sector support within five years; the Museum raised $55 million by the deadline.
In January 2007, a $76-million expansion and renovation of the Museum of Art was finished.
We spent so much time on the playground, in the rose garden, and hours in the art gallery, that we ran out of time to do the actual circus museum parts of this great estate. So alas, we will have to save it for NEXT TIME!!! It is worth a trip to go if you are ever in the Sarasota area!!! WOW!