[Photo of the terrace of the Cà d'Zan mansion by Hans Olav Lien (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons]
Newcomers to Sarasota notice right off the bat that we tend to use the name “Ringling” a lot around here. After founding the world-renowned circus with his four brothers in the late 19th century, John Ringling established Sarasota as his winter headquarters and did much to carve out the area's unique culture. Although we didn't name any of our cities after him (as in Montana and Oklahoma, where his railroads helped build towns), Ringling's influence on Sarasota can be marked in a number of important ways.
For starters, just north of the gorgeous Indian Beach and Sapphire Shores neighborhoods, there's the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, now simply called The Ringling. Sarasota's most influential couple first made this their winter home in 1909, moved into their 30-room mansion, the Ca d'Zan (translating to "House of John") in 1923, and opened the museum in 1926. After Ringling's death, the property was donated to the people of Sarasota, and it has since been expanded to include the Historic Asolo Theatre, the Tibbals Circus Museum, and more galleries.
On any given Monday, you can go explore the grounds and main museum yourself for free. However, the circus museum and the mansion are well worth the price of admission.
John Ringling was also integral in starting what is now known as the Ringling College of Art and Design. Initially started in cooperation with Florida Southern College as the “School of Fine and Applied Art of the John and Mable Ringling Art Museum,” the school has gone through quite a few changes since it opened in 1931, and is now hailed by The Hollywood Reporter as #17 among the top 25 best film schools in the country. The school and neighborhood-ranking app Niche lists Ringling as the most expensive college in America, a factoid that, depending on how you look at it, seems to embrace or defy the school's new mission statement of “Shattering the Myth of the Starving Artist.”
In order to develop his properties on Lido and Longboat Keys, Ringling put up a million dollars of his own money to build the first John Ringling Causeway in 1925, donating it to the city in 1927. As the islands grew in popularity, a four-lane drawbridge was built for $20 million in the fifties, and the John Ringling Bridge we know it opened in 2003 with a 68-million-dollar price tag. If you take the bridge out to St. Armands Circle, you can have your picture taken with a statue of John Ringling on the southernmost part of the circle.
Of course, Ringling's influence didn't stop there. Ringling Boulevard runs from Gulfstream Boulevard, where it's capped by Island Park at the Sarasota bayfront, to Tuttle Avenue, where it leads to the Sarasota County Fairgrounds. Passing by new hotels such as Aloft, luxury condos such as Sansara, the County Administration Building, a post office and Judicial Center, and the single-family homes of Ringling Park, this road reveals a broad cross-section of what Sarasota is about. Of course, that means it comes with its share of controversy and celebration.
On the controversy side, the Ringling Plaza has been a sore spot for the city as residents fought back against a proposed Wal-Mart a few years ago. The property's future has yet to be decided, but there is still a push to extend the Legacy Trail from its trailhead in south Sarasota to this spot, so there is hope for the future as residents continue to offer solutions for the property. But one of our favorite things Ringling is Ringling Pizza. Directly across from the plaza on Ringling Boulevard, they've got a number of specialty pies that will make your mouth water, and it's only a few feet away from the Shamrock Pub, one of the locals' favorite watering holes.
Although his desire to invest in his community ultimately clashed with the fall of the stock market and the Great Depression, leaving Ringling bankrupt toward the end of his life, there is no doubt that his influence helped Sarasota become what it is today. We Sarasota community members should give credit where it's due -- and be sure to get a slice of pizza.
Julian is a happy Sarasota resident and your go-to guy for information about the perks of living in paradise. For more, get in touch with Julian directly via the Sarasota Property Finders Contact Page.
Sarasota Area Real Estate Specialist