Sarasota, FL – Ca’d’Zan

Ca’ d’Zan

A Mediterranean Revival residence in Sarasota, Florida, that was the winter home of the American circus owner, developer and art collector John Ringling and his wife Mable. Lovers of the Venetian aesthetic, the Ringlings chose the site overlooking Sarasota Bay for its vista, which reminded them of the lagoon of their favorite city. The name of the residence is Venetian for House of John. The Ringlings decided to purchase some of the land to build a permanent winter headquarters that would include a residence on the bay and a museum for their extensive art and artifact collection.


Original Owner

John Ringling was one of the five brothers who owned and operated the circus rightly called  “The Greatest Show on Earth.” In 1911, John and his wife, Mable, purchased 20 acres of waterfront property in Sarasota. In 1912, they began spending winters in what was then still a small town. After a few years the couple decided to build a house and hired the noted New York architect Dwight James Baum to design it. Mable, 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. Five stories tall, the 36,000 square foot mansion has 41 rooms and 15 bathrooms.


The Decline of Ca’ d’Zan

When John Ringling died in December of 1936 he bequeathed his estate to the people of Florida, but legal wrangling with his creditors went on for a decade until the property finally passed unencumbered to the state. During this time Ca’ d’Zan remained closed. Finally, in 1946 it was reopened to the public. But the care that older buildings require was neglected due to a lack of funds, and by the late 90’s, Ca’ d’Zan was in such a state of disrepair it was used as the location for Miss Havisham’s decrepit mansion in the 1996 Hollywood remake of Charles Dickens’ classic Great Expectations.


Ca’ d’Zan Today
In 1996 the mansion was closed so that a comprehensive restoration and conservation project could be undertaken. Archival photos were used to determine the original look of each room. Paint samples were used to match the original colors of the walls. Original paintings and furnishings were retrieved from storage and restored. The ceiling murals by Willy Pogany, the set decorator of the Zeigfeld Follies, were restored by a group of international conservators. Original moldings were cleaned and repainted. Carpets and rugs were conserved or replaced. Even clothing from the Ringlings’ wardrobe was returned to closets and drawers. In 2004 and 2005, the home’s original gate house was restored as the entrance of the new Visitor Pavilion, making the welcome visitors receive more authentic and true to the original design.


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Coconut Grove’s Historical Gem – Vizcaya


Villa Vizcaya

Driving down south miami drive you wouldn’t expect an architectural masterpiece to be nestled away just beyond the tree line. But once you go down the driveway you are transported to the glory days of old Miami when money was no object. The early 20th century Vizcaya estate also includes: extensive Italian Renaissance gardens; native woodland landscape; and a historic village outbuildings compound. The landscape and architecture were influenced by Veneto and Tuscan Italian Renaissance models and designed in the Mediterranean Revival architecture style, with Baroque elements.

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Original Owner


James Deering (1859–1925) was a retired millionaire and a bachelor in his early fifties when he undertook the challenge to build an elaborate estate in South Florida. He was afflicted with pernicious anemia, a condition for which doctors recommended sunshine and a warm climate: Vizcaya became the place where he hoped to restore his health. He loved sailing and boating—he owned three yachts—and was greatly interested in landscaping and plant conservation. Both hobbies were to play an important role in the design of Vizcaya. The project began modestly, but it grew to become the engrossing pastime of the last years of Deering’s life.


Life at Vizcaya

James Deering’s occupancy of Vizcaya began officially on Christmas Day, 1916, when the Main House was finished. From then until his death in 1925, Deering typically resided at Vizcaya from the end of November to the middle of April, often in the company of guests. In addition to his family and close friends, he hosted several well-known figures of the time, such as film star Lilian Gish and President Warren Harding. A large staff was required to care for the estate throughout the year. Between sixteen and eighteen staff members maintained the house, and at least twenty-six gardeners and workers remained to manage the estate in Deering’s absence.

Vizcaya Today

The Estate is now known officially as the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, which consists of 50 acres with the villa and the gardens, and the remaining native forest. The estate is a total of 50 acres, of which 10 acres contain the Italian Renaissance formal gardens, and 40 acres are circulation and the native ‘hammock’ (jungle forest). The villa’s museum contains more than seventy rooms of distinctive architectural interiors decorated with numerous antiques, with an emphasis on 15th through early 19th century European decorative art and furnishings. Currently owned by Miami-Dade County and governed by the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens Trust (formed in 1998), Vizcaya is located at 3251 South Miami Avenue in Coconut Grove neighborhood of Miami, and is open to the public daily except Tuesdays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day. It has accreditation by the American Alliance of Museums.