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.