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.
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.