Ringling gets 'shades'
See photos at bottom of this article
By Anna Scott . Herald Tribune
Published Thursday, June 12, 2008
SARASOTA Soaring as high as 32 feet, the windows cast blocks of colorful light on
the marble floor. They were Mable Ringling's favorite hues: amethyst, ruby, gold, green
When the wife of this city's famous circus tycoon designed the signature glass 82 years
ago, it was nothing but a delight to her famous and wealthy guests who visited from up
Today, the windows are a lens into Ron McCarty's worst nightmare.
McCarty cares for the thousands of priceless collectibles packed inside the Ca' d'Zan
mansion overlooking Sarasota Bay. Prolonged exposure to the high level of ultraviolet rays
has begun to fade the furniture inside.
A deep red velvet couch and matching historic armchairs are now a rosy pink.
Among the many more items in danger: one-of-a-kind tapestries from the 1650s, a Parisian
carpet from the 1870s recently discovered in the mansion's attic, and furniture from the
estate of Jacob Astor, an inventor who died on the Titanic and member of one of the
county's wealthiest families.
Ron McCarty, keeper of the house, said that in addition to protection from the
sun's ultraviolet rays, the coating will safeguard against strong storm winds. It will be
the first time that the mansion's multi-colored windows have been protected from
This week, after years of attempts to block the light without blocking the view for the
more than 300,000 tourists who visit annually, workers are about to complete a $20,000
project coating the windows in a protective, transparent film.
The coating is expected to reflect the rays and also strengthen the glass against a
"It's something we've needed since we opened the house in the 1950s," McCarty
said. "This is the most important historic home on the west coast of Florida and it
would have been damaged if we hadn't done something."
Light-proofing the mansion has been no small task. The windows are divided by lead panes
into hundreds of pieces as small as two inches.
"We had to trace the windows with butcher paper, like a stencil, and then cut out
pieces of film to match," said Angelo Ragone, sales manager for Hurricanes Plus, a
Sarasota company that sells hurricane protection supplies.
Half of the 160 windows in the house will be completed this week and the other half will
be done next year. The invisible film technology is less than two years old and was
created by the company 3M. It is also being used by homeowners to reduce energy costs
because it keeps rooms cooler.
The film will not provide much protection from a hurricane. If a major storm were headed
for the mansion, staff plan to move the contents of the house to a secret location.
John and Mable Ringling finished the $1.5 million mansion just before Christmas in 1925.
"Ca' d'Zan" means "house of John" in Italian. They moved in the
following year and are considered among the first and most important developers in
It was meant to look like the palaces and mansions the couple saw while traveling in
Venice. Likewise, the home sits directly on the bay, like the homes on Venice's canals.
The Ringling mansion embodied the hilt of opulence at the time. Ca'd'Zan boasts the oldest
residential elevator in the state.
Guests, including Will Rogers and New York Mayor Jimmy Walker, stayed in a bedroom on the
fourth floor, where windows on all four sides look out to the ocean.
Rob Seaman, left, and Heather Bass of Hurricanes Plus work to attach a layer of plastic
coating on each pane
of stained glass at the 82-year-old Ringling waterfront mansion, the Ca d'Zan Wednesday,
June 11, 2008.
A benefit of the coating is that it will prevent the curtains on the windows and interior
furniture from fading.
Rob Seaman, left, and Heather Bass of Hurricanes Plus work on the windows.
The work is scheduled to be completed Thursday, June 12, 2008.
A portrait of John and Mable Ringling surrounded by their various pets is seen on the
ceiling of the game room.
Heather Bass traces the outline of a Ca d'Zan window pane which she will use to cut a
protective coating for the glass.
Heather Bass and Rob Seaman work on scaffolding to reach some of the windows that are
The ornate marble terrace overlooking the Sarasota Bay is seen through the multi-colored
glass panes of the Ca d'Zan.
All photos by Jason McKibben. Staff Herald Tribune.