Ringling fountain is flowing again


Ron McCarty is nothing if not dedicated. I wanted to interview him last Wednesday regarding the Mable Ringling Memorial Fountain in Luke Wood Park, but he had to put me off a day.

“I have been running like a crazy person,” he wrote in an email. “I have to stay and clean silver for the Holiday Splendor tomorrow night.”

Ron is not talking about his personal set of silverware. No, he had to stay late and clean the Tiffany silver at one of the state’s biggest, and arguably most important, houses — Cá d’Zan.

He doesn’t wash the windows. But he has done the chandelier.

As curator of the John and Mable Ringling mansion, McCarty is a walking encyclopedia of all things Ringling. And one of those things is the Mable Ringling Memorial Fountain, which recently was renovated after being something of an archaeological ruin for the past 60 years.

The fountain, on the north side of U.S. 41 a couple hundred feet east of Osprey Avenue, was built in 1936 by the Sarasota Federation of Garden Circles in honor of The Founders Club’s first president.

Mable Ringling died in 1929 at age 54. Her husband died in December 1936, willing his estate to the people of Florida just before his creditors could take it all away. It would be a decade before the estate overcame its legal issues and Florida took clear title to the mansion and art museum.

Not long before his death, John donated two marble lions to stand guard over the fountain. But as World War II sapped the community’s resources, the fountain fell into neglect. With no money to maintain it, The monument was abandoned, and, in the 1950s, filled in and forgotten as weeds covered its brick steps. The lions were moved to Hamel Park on Gulfstream Avenue.

Recently, though, awareness of local history, primarily by Sarasota native Larry Kelleher of Sarasota History Alive!, helped bring fresh attention to the site. Funded with a $27,000 grant from the Selby Foundation, the Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation began a $75,000 restoration effort that was assisted by the Ringling Museum, students at Sarasota Military Academy and dozens of individuals, including craftsman Rob Craft, Jesse White of Sarasota Architectural Salvage, Sarasota Garden Club, the Senior Friendship Center, Charles Stottlemyer, Paver Development, Betsy Bagby, Nancy and David Morgan and Ginger Sutton. Pledges from the community and board members, as well as proceeds from SAHP-sponsored events, including bus tours led by McCarty, made up the balance.

The Sarasota County Veterans Commission even gave up the lions, and they now once again stand guard over the fountain. In a manner of speaking. They appear to be sleeping.

“Larry is a board member of the Alliance,” said Dorothea Calvert, president of the SAHP, “and he had played in the park as a child. The remnants of the brick stairs were still visible. Everything else was covered with soil.”

“We knew it was there,” said McCarty, SAHP’s second vice president. “It wasn’t a complete discovery. But Larry brought the project to the board” in October 2010.

The fountain has not been restored, as it does not appear now exactly as it did in 1936, said Calvert.

“Mable Ringling was a key player in setting aside green spaces for the city of Sarasota,” said Calvert in explaining SAHP’s zeal for the project. “The fountain was an asset in our backyard; it spoke to our mission statement; and we needed a project that we could get behind and have a community impact. That was important to us: It was something we could involve the community in from an educational standpoint.

“Because it was a Ringling-affiliated project, we could bring the reputation of the Ringling Museum to another area of Sarasota.”

The Alliance holds a historic homes tour each year, so this project is something of a departure for the group because the fountain is not a shelter.

“But it is a structure,” Calvert explained, “and a place. We do have a revolving fund, and the purpose is to save historic structures, sites and places.”

An endowment through the Community Foundation has been set up to maintain the fountain so it will not fall into ruin again.

The dedication ceremony, an invitation-only “High Tea With Mable,” is from 3 to 6 p.m. Jan. 12 at the Senior Friendship Center, which is adjacent to the fountain.

And it is all inspired by Mrs. John Ringling.

“Mable is known for being a very beautiful woman,” McCarty said. “But there are a lot of people in history who are known for their beauty. In interviews, people who knew her all said the same thing: She was very kind, she was very generous, she loved community. She was just an incredible lady.

“Mable Ringling is a fabulous history for me,” he added, “so I will do anything for her.”

Including polish her silver.


Harold Bubil

Recipient of the 2015 Bob Graham Architectural Awareness Award from the American Institute of Architects/Florida-Caribbean, Harold Bubil is real estate editor of the Herald-Tribune Media Group. Born in Newport, R.I., his family moved to Sarasota in 1958. Harold graduated from Sarasota High School in 1970 and the University of Florida in 1974 with a degree in journalism. For the Herald-Tribune, he writes and edits stories about residential real estate, architecture, green building and local development history. He also is a photographer and public speaker. Contact him via email, or at (941) 361-4805.
Last modified: December 7, 2013
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