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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Ringling Mansion - Ca' d'Zan

Last week our family took a quick trip to Sarasota, Florida to celebrate my father in law, Landen’s, 80th birthday. While I have been to Sarasota on many occasions we generally spend the time with family and rarely venture out. This time our departure flight was scheduled for late Monday afternoon. Most of the family had left on Sunday which left Monday morning free to explore.

My destination was ~ Ca' d'Zan.

I had heard many wonderful stories about the Ringling Mansion, Ca' d'Zan, built by Ringling brother John and his wife Mable. John was born Johan Nicholas Rüngeling in Iowa 1866. He was second youngest in a family of seven brothers and one sister. Five of the brothers, to include John, went on to form The Ringling Brothers Circus empire.

 Mable Burton was born in Ohio in 1875. It’s not quite known how the two met. Mable had left her small farming community at the turn of the century to earn a living. She married John in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1905. At a time when the average bride was 16 years old, Mable got her man at the age of the 30.

The couple had loved to travel for over 25 years. A particularly favorite destination was Venice. Their home was inspired by and designed in the Venetian Gothic style of the palazzos that famously line the Venice canals.

One home in particular, the Ducal Palace (Palazzo Ducale) also known as the Doge’s Palace, is a Gothic masterpiece which began construction in the 14th century. (The Doge was the oldest and highest political position in the Venetian Republic.) Doge’s Palace in Venice inspired many of the design details for Ca' d'Zan.

The name of the house, Ca’ d’Zan, means “House of John”, in Venetian dialect. Here you can see the Gothic arches of Moorish influence.


 The location of Sarasota, Florida was selected as it had been the winter home of the circus for several years. The Sarasota Bay became their Grand Canal of sorts. I adore the quatrefoil shaped windows.


Architect Dwight James Baum, of New York, was selected to draw the blueprints and Owen Burns was the builder. It should be noted however, that Mable Ringing was very involved of every aspect of the construction. She had long kept inspirational sketches, photos and postcards of her dream home. From the mixing of the terra cotta to the glazing of the tiles Mable was the head consultant.


Construction began in 1924 and was completed shortly before Christmas in 1926. This is somewhat of a building miracle given the vast size and immense details of the home. At the time the cost was the princely sum of $1.5 million dollars. The house is 36,000 square feet, is five stories tall and has a full basement.


Materials used for construction were terra cotta “T” blocks, concrete and brick of which portions were then covered with stucco. The balustrades and lace like ornamental parapet cresting highlight the pink patina of the stucco and terra cotta exterior. Beautiful open tracery -stonework elements that support the glass ~ can be found in the various Gothic windows.


The decorative tile medallions feature shades of soft red, yellow, green, blue and ivory.


The home was originally roofed with 16th century Spanish tiles imported by John and the builder. They were later replaced, as were some of the balusters and railings along the waterfront, as the house sat empty for several years and suffered neglect.


The bay front terrace was made from domestic and imported marble.


John would often dock his 125 foot yacht, the Zalophus, here.


Mable, ever the Italophile, is said to also have had a gondola parked here from time to time.


It is believed that some of the building material  came from old Barcelona buildings. At the time they were slated for demolition to enlarge the streets. Ringling filled two entire cargo ships with his bounty.


In the courtyard the marble was laid in a chevron pattern. (Everything old is made new).


Some of the multi paned window feature colored glass.


It was truly glorious to view this gem in the early morning sun. Notice the arcade columns on the balustrade.


The comprehensive restoration and conservation project to restore the home took many years as there was, at times, a lack of funding.


The neglect was so severe that by 1998, at the depths of its dilapidation, Cà d'Zan served as the backdrop for an adaptation of the Dickens classic “Great Expectations”.


It played the part of Paradiso Perduto~ the crumbling home of Ms. Dinsmoor.


The restoration was finally completed in 2002, at a cost of $15 million, which was ten times that of the original cost of the house.


As this post is already quite lengthy I shall save the lavish interiors for the next post.



Karena Albert said...

Laura this post on the Ringling Mansion and the story behind it is so thrilling.
I am so excited to see some of the interior!

French Artist Frederique Chemin

Christine said...

Love history.
Love homes.
This is great!

Maureen Wyatt said...

I had never heard of this house. Thanks so much for sharing! I do find it amazing that it only took two years for the construction.

Mary Steinbrink said...

Wow! Beautiful! Thank you for sharing all your photos. I can't wait to see the inside!

The Boston Lady said...

I was there probably 30 years ago, but I still have some memories of that spectacular place. Thank you for refreshing my memories. We head to FL soon ourselves to celebrate Orlando Grandma's 80th, Ann

GSGreatEscaper said...

I loved the house when I visited in 2009 -but the marble bath tub was my favorite part! We visited the Art Museum last fall and the best part of that was the interior courtyard - magnificent architecture! Looking forward to the post on the interior~

Sarah said...

I have heard of it and would love to visit sometime. Thanks for sharing the great photos.

Pat@Life At Lydias House said...

I can't wait to see the inside too!

Jane said...

I've never heard of this palatial home in all my years here in North Florida! Would love to see it up close. Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful gem, along with the history.

angie said...

dear laura, love all your pictures!!! hugs, angie from germany

Magali@TheLittleWhiteHouse said...

A very amazing building! I'll be back to see inside.

Creations by Marie Antoinette and Edie Marie said...

This is fascinating Laura! I love to see old treasures like this. So looking forward to the interior next time!

Thanks for stopping by for tea! Blessings, Edie Marie

Susan said...

Quite a masterpiece, Laura. Oh my GOODNESS. I would love a peek at the inside. Oh yeah. Susan

Rié Moratto said...

Fascinating! You can really see the venetian influence. Looking forward to seeing the interiors. Rié | Portobello Design Blog

Fairhope Supply Co. said...

Can't wait to see the inside! I picture elephants and clowns in a tiny car!

Jane Bernard said...

Wow, beautiful photos! We've actually been there. My InLaws live near Sarasota! Thanks for sharing. I'd forgotten how stunning the architecture is.

Kelly_Deal said...

Wow what a gorgeous house and an interesting read! Thanks for sharing Laura!

Lana L. said...

Absolutely stunning. I love all the blue accents. Thank for sharing this with us!

Jill Cooper said...

I grew up in Venice which was the winter headquarters for Ringling. In addition the Ringling museum was one of the places that we went on field trips to as school children. My senior class had it's graduation ceremonies in the winter "big top" because you never know about the rain in Florida and our high school gym wasn't large enough to hold everyone. Fond memories of traipsing around the grounds when I was a kid and picking up "treasures" they had thrown in the trash pile - big feathered head gear, etc. My mom would have a fit but we loved it! LOL