Who knew that the Ca’ d’Zan, the former Mansion of John Ringling, is located in Florida? I didn’t, and it was a rare find for me. Like most of us, I knew about the Ringling traveling circus. However, I was surprised when I learned about a Ringling Museum and a mansion called the Ca’ d’Zan.
Florida isn’t the place that comes to mind when you think of substantial Italian Venetian Gothic-style mansions from decades ago. Yet, the Ca’ d’Zan is precisely that, and it’s still here for us to enjoy. The Ca’ d’Zan is a breathtaking estate nestled in the bay of Sarasota. The Ringling Museum is a bonus, as is the art gallery.
I’m passionate about many things, like whales, waterfalls, and springs. I also love exploring mansions, castles, and stately homes. The second I saw a photograph of the Ca’ d’Zan, it was on my radar to visit. This article will cover everything you need to know about visiting Ca’ d’Zan and The Ringling Museum!
The History of The Ringling Brothers and Ringling Circus
If you’ve ever heard of “The Greatest Show on Earth,” you are already familiar with the Ringling Brother’s work. The Greatest Show on Earth was the best traveling circus in all U.S.
Barnum & Bailey
Two veteran circus men, Dan Castello and William Cameron Coup, founded Dan Castello’s Great Circus & Egyptian Caravan in Delavan, Wisconsin, in 1867, which later became Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.
The Ringling Brothers
Five brothers of German-French descent (Albert, Otto, Alfred, Charles, and John) were establishing their own circus in Baraboo. It began in 1882 as a song-and-dance troupe, grew to a one-ring circus by 1884, and in 1888, added an elephant.
In 1907, the Ringling Brothers purchased the Barnum & Bailey Circus for $400,000. However, the two circuses continued to operate separately.
The Ringlings combined their two circuses in 1919 due to labor shortages and railroad problems brought about by American involvement in World War I. The circus flourished and expanded. John died in 1936, and his sister Ida raised enough money to buy the business from competing family members.
But, as with every story, there’s a strategy. While they made it through World War I, trouble lay ahead. The circus in Connecticut experienced a fire on July 6, 1944, that killed at least 167 people. Then, in the 1950s, they faced competition from other forms of entertainment like the radio and television.
Fast forward to the last quarter of the 20th century. The show was plagued with pressure from animal welfare groups who documented the abusive animal training techniques, fines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and an overall decline in attendance. After 146 years, the show came to an end in 2017. On May 21, 2017, the last performance was in Uniondale, New York.
The History Of Ringling Mansion – Ca’ d’Zan
The Ringlings first visited Sarasota in 1909. Eventually, John moved the circuses’ winter quarters from Bridgeport, Connecticut, to Sarasota. During the 1920s, the Ringling family would frequently visit Venice, Italy. Venice is what inspired the building. Admirers of the unique architectural style of the Danieli and the Bauer-Grunwald hotels and palazzos on the canals in Venice, Italy.
John desired to create his Mansion in this style, and he wanted a place to keep his yacht – Zalophus, docked outside of the house.
The Location Of Ca’ d’Zan
Ca’ d’Zan is located adjacent to Sarasota Bay, Florida.
Address: 5401 Bay Shore Rd, Sarasota, FL 34243, United States.
What’s great about the Mansion is that it’s easily accessible from the Sarasota airport, so even if you were there for a day, you could still visit it and have time to go through everything there!
What does Ca’ d’Zan Mean?
“Ca’ d’Zan” is a Venetian dialect that translates to “House of John.” As such, the Mansion is named after John.
Why Visit The Ca’ d’Zan?
If you appreciate architecture, you’ll love The Ca’ d’Zan. The Mansion sits right on the water overlooking sand bars, and it’s designed to feel like a canal in Venice. Were it not for its modern-day neighbors; it would pass as Venitian.
Glorious trees lead up to the Mansion, and there are stunning gardens. Much as I like gardens, I was more interested in what’s inside. I deliberately did not look at any photos of the inside. My thinking here is, what in the world would a mansion built by a circus owner look like? What would the color scheme be, and what would the overall design be? I was not disappointed. It’s one of the most impressive mansions I’ve visited in a while.
About the Ringling Mansion –The Ca’ d’Zan.
The Ringling Mansion is a work of art. In the 1920s, when the Mansion was complete, it cost a whopping $1,650,000! And when you look at all the work that went into making the Mansion, it makes total sense why it cost so much to build!
Inside The Ringling Mansion
There are 52 rooms in the 36,000-square-foot Ringling Mansion. John’s wife, Mable Ringling, did all the space’s design. This includes all interiors, exteriors, and even all the furnishings. Everything was her idea, and she ensured no stone was left unturned throughout the building process!
The Stained Glass
One of the most popular things about the Mansion is the stained glass windows tied to European aesthetics. The windows are still in perfect condition, each different from the others. The stained glass windows are mesmerizing. The colors shine differently in each room and create natural hues of pastel light. I also love that each piece of glass is one color rather than a collage of pieces. It’s tremendously unique.
Look closely at the stained glass. See how each piece of glass is a different color and notice how the light reflects through them. I’ve never seen anything like this in a tropical climate, and I like it. When you look through the stained glass, the trees take on a new appearance with the color of the glass. I am fascinated with this choice of glass. Without seeing it, you might assume it’s tacky, but it’s exquisite and deliberate.
The Main Hall
Where to start on this? I have read others describe the Mansion and decor as Moorish. Moorish architecture is a style within Islamic architecture that developed in the western Islamic world. I can see where this description comes from. However, I think it’s Gothic and has all the classic Gothic design elements minus gargoyles.
It will come as no surprise to you that I loved the main hall! Hello, pink, and hello, a white chandelier! And the black and white tiled floor is right up my alley. Ironically, there are tons of pieces here that we see in modern homes. I will also add that it’s not overdone. Notice that there are not 500-plus pictures hanging on every inch of the wall!
During the tour, you’ll see all the other rooms downstairs that are as impressive, but I will let you see these for yourself when you visit. I found all of the rooms tasteful. Nothing remotely as bizarre as some of the places I’ve visited in Europe. Mable Ringling had a timeless taste.
Today, the Mansion stands just as it did decades ago, with most of the furniture and artifacts from that era still there, in all their glory!
Outside The Ringling Mansion
The Ringling Mansion sits on a 66-acre property. Thirty-six thousand square feet of it is the Ca’ d’Zan, and the rest of the grounds house the museum and art gallery. You can talk a walk through the Bayfront Gardens for hours in awe of its beauty. If you want to pay your respects to the Ringling Family, you can visit their private cemetery in a secret garden.
The winner on the outside is the spectacular veranda overlooking the waterfront of Sarasota Bay and its decadent dock. I can’t even imagine how thrilling it would be to live here. Look to the right and notice the sand bar. Well, within swimming distance, you have a tropical oasis waiting for you.
The Ringling Museum of Art
John Ringling built an art museum in 1925 to memorialize his wife Mable and himself and a legacy that would outlast his business interests. Ringling sought to educate and encourage curiosity about the wider world by sharing the arts of Europe with the people of Florida.
The museum, designed by John H. Phillips, features 21 galleries enclosed by a courtyard filled with replicas of iconic sculptures. When the Museum opened in 1930, Ringling displayed European paintings, paneled rooms from the Gilded Age Astor mansion in New York, and ancient and medieval objects from prestigious collections. In 1936, Ringling left the Museum to the people of Florida upon his death.
I did not tour the Ringling Museum of Art. It is included in the admission, but I am not into art galleries, so I skipped this!
The Ringling Circus Museum
I did tour the Ringling Circus Museum. Mainly because the lady who checked me in told me not to miss the Tibbals. I had no clue what “Tibbals” is, so off I went to find out.
Tibbals is miniature creation by Howard Tibbals, hence the name. Howard created a miniature circus that was so spectacular that he permanently made a place to display it. It gives you insight into the sheer size of the traveling circus, which is baffling. Fascinating to a degree, but not really what I came to see. If you are into art in general, you’ll appreciate this a lot more than I do. I enjoyed the glance, but it’s what I would consider an embellished oversized model train set. I am not knocking the detail, the art, or the accomplishment. It’s simply not my cup of tea.
The Ringling Circus Museum hosts memorabilia and replicas from different eras. There’s even the actual train carriage that the Ringlings traveled in!
In fairness to the Estate, the museum does have plenty to offer and some fascinating artifacts. I am just not into museums.
Weddings and Events At Ca’ d’Zan
Ca’ d’Zan is one of the best locations to hold weddings and events. The entire place is a work of art, making it the perfect backdrop for any wedding! What’s great is that there are different locations throughout The Ringling Museum And Mansion where you can host a wedding, so there’s an area of the property for everyone!
Other Events at the Ringling Mansion
Weddings aren’t the only type of event held at the Ringling Mansion. There are concerts, musical events, yoga retreats, and promotional events at the Mansion throughout the year.
Frequently Asked Questions About The Ca’ d’Zan And The Ringling Museum.
What language is Ca’ d’Zan?
Ca’ d’Zan is ancient Venetian for “House of John.”
Can you tour The Ringling mansion?
There are tours available inside the Mansion. However, public tours are only for the downstairs portion. If you want to tour upstairs, a new tour allows you to tour all five floors. This small group tour is offered at select times on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
How long does it take to tour the Ca’ d’Zan?
The tour of Ca’ d’Zan’s downstairs takes around 45 minutes to complete.
Is The Ringling Brothers Museum still open?
Yes. The Ringling brothers museum is still open. It only closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.
Who owns The Ringling Mansion?
While the Mansion stayed in the Ringling family in their glory days. The University of Florida currently owns it.
How much is The Ringling Mansion worth?
When the Ca’ d’Zan was made in the 1920s, the Ringling Mansion was worth $1.65 million. Today, the value stands at around $21 million.
Who lived in The Ringling Mansion?
John Ringling lived in the Ringling Mansion with his wife, Mable. In 1936, following John’s death, he left Ca’ d’Zan to Florida along with his philanthropic legacy, The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art.
What day is Ringling Museum free?
The public can visit the Museum of Art and the gardens on Mondays for free. The inside of the Mansion is always a ticket-only entry.
Are The Ringling Museum and Ringling Gallery of Art worth it?
The Ringling Museum is made up of 31 galleries. People who are into art and history would enjoy the museum tour.
The Ringling Mansion, The Ca’ d’Zan, is an oasis. A building that no one would expect to sit in the Sarasota Bay of Florida, appearing as if it was transported from Italy! The site, the gardens, the museums, and the art galleries are impressive. The Ca’ d’Zan will leave you speechless.
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Nikki Webster is a travel writer who covers how to travel while grinding a day job without breaking the bank. Nikki is always in search of off-the-beaten-track experiences and unique stays. She is particularly fond of Florida and writes extensively about the state. She flies around 60,000 miles annually and has visited 68 countries, 50 states, and six continents. You can read all about her travels at www.britonthemove.com or follow along on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.