The winner in my “where should I soak up some Florida culture” is…
Translated from an Italian dialect – “The House of John”. This John was John Ringling, who with his brothers owned “The Greatest Show on Earth”. He was a smart investor and became quite wealthy, especially for a circus owner! He and his wife Mabel owned a home up north, but loved Sarasota, Florida and built an opulent mansion on the waters of Sarasota Bay.
The home, which was budgeted for somewhere around $150,000, ended up costing over a million dollars, what with all the Italian art and furniture, the tapestries, the pipe organ, etc., etc. Mabel had a love of beautiful things, which was evident in her rose garden. (My daughter took beautiful photos of some of the roses, but is having technical difficulties sending them to me, so I have no visual proof of the exquisite blooms. Ya gotta trust me on this one for now.) At one time, the rose garden had been all but forgotten, so most of the plants are much newer than those Mrs. Ringling would have had, but the statues, the gazebo, and the pathways are all reminders of Mabel’s influence on her home. In addition, she was the first president of the Sarasota Gardening Club.
Mr. Ringling’s influences are evident as well. The dining room is formal and dark – very masculine. In the breakfast room, which overlooks the bay, John would seat guests he liked and thought of as prospective investors next to him facing the large windows overlooking the water. If he wasn’t so keen on a guest, they got a seat with their back to the windows facing a rather ugly painting involving animals eating other animals if I remember the docent correctly!
Sadly, the Ringlings had only “wintered” in their mansion for a few years when Mabel died from complications of diabetes. John did keep the home and return to it for several years. The estate was given to the state of Florida, however the property was expensive to maintain. I visited Ca’d’zan as a child when my family vacationed in Florida. I have distinct memories of traveling the upstairs hall overlooking the main room and looking up to see the ceiling had been painted intricately. When moving to Florida in 1995, I was sad to learn that the estate had fallen into disrepair and was in danger of being lost. Fortunately, the estate was saved, restored, and is now a flourishing tourist attraction again. Also included is an amazing art museum started by the Ringlings themselves, who were lovers of Italian art. A circus museum is also open on the property.
If you get to the Sarasota area, make a point to peek into the lives of one of the famous Ringling Brothers!