A century of Ringling influence


A century has passed since brothers John and Charles Ringling arrived to reshape Sarasota, and their legacy will be celebrated in bus tours led by historian and Cà d'Zan mansion curator Ron McCarty at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. today. The two-hour tours leave from the Ringling Museum/Asolo Rep Theater parking lot, but seats are limited and you may be out of luck without a reservation (953-8727; $20).

Elsewhere, the Ringlings were circus kings. Here, they were real estate visionaries.

John Ringling came to Sarasota in 1909 on a visit, and in 1911, he and his wife, Mable, bought a vacation home from Charles Thompson. They moved into it in 1912; Mable remodeled it as a place to get away from the cares of running one of the world's greatest entertainment companies, the Ringling Brothers circus. She also built the Rose Garden, still standing in front of Cà d'Zan.

By the late 1910s, the two Ringling men began to purposefully invest in local real estate. John bought 67,000 acres from the Blackburn family and sold half of that land to Charles. John also bought Cedar Point, now Golden Gate Point, and adjacent property in 1917.

As the 1920s boom unfolded, each man had his own development ventures — John out on Lido and St. Armands keys, and Charles in the area east of downtown. There, he donated land for the county courthouse designed by Dwight James Baum in 1926.

Charles' first house is now on Westmoreland Drive in Whitfield Estates. He also came here on a first visit around 1909 and bought his first property in 1912, also from Charles Thompson; the wood-frame house was shipped by barge to its current site.

In 1915, Charles bought the land for daughter Hester's mansion, where a wood-frame house stood, too. All those houses were moved to other locations.

Their mansion-building phase began in 1924 — boomtime.

McCarty's tours will go inside Charles' mansion and Hester's smaller, but still grand, house.

At another stop, tour-goers will see the Keating Center at the Ringling College of Art and Design. It was the then-empty Bay Haven Hotel when John purchased it 1931 to house his new art school.

Another tour stop: Cafe L'Europe on St. Armands. It was John Ringling's real estate office. Nearby, McCarty will lead the tours past the original model homes on St. Armands. Interior designer Joyce Hart lives in one of them and will also speak on the homes' history.

Clerk of Court Karen Rushing will lead both tour groups through the historic County Courthouse.

"The city owes so much to both of them," said McCarty of the two Ringling brothers. "Charles was designing that subdivision for the courthouse, the train station, the Terrace Hotel, the Charles Ringling building, to enhance downtown.

"John was working to make Sarasota a glamorous resort on the islands," McCarty added. "It was a fantastic marriage of growth for Sarasota. I can't see where any family could do as much as they did for a community."

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: November 29, 2012
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