Historical Homes Tour

College Hall formerly the Home of Charles and Edith Ringling

Charles and Edith Ringling built their marble mansion in 1925 after brother John Ringling, the great circus leader and entrepreneur erected his palace (Ca d‘Zan) immediately to the south. The Charles Ringling House was completed in 1926, at a cost of $880,000, following the designs and under the supervision of the Milwaukee architectural firm of Clas, Shepherd, and Clas. Although Charles died in 1926 shortly after the house was completed, the mansion was to serve for many years as the Charles Ringling family center. Daughter, Hester Ringling Sanford occupied the house immediately to the South. Son, Robert had a cottage, since expanded considerably and now occupied by his widow, Mrs. Robert C. Bon Seigneur, a short distance to the north of the main house.

The marble mansion, which is constructed along a North-South axis fronting on Sarasota Bay, measures 208 feet along its eastern front, has a depth of 66 feet and is generally two stories high with an attic or third floor on the North side. It’s design takes advantage of it’s location. It was planned to be open to the view and the bay breezes from every principal room.

The interior decoration of the house was done by Marshall Field and Company of Chicago. Some of the Field family had their own magnificent home in South Sarasota, now the exclusive yacht and tennis oriented Field Club. Furnishings for the Ringling home were imported from many parts of the world, chiefly Europe. The rooms were filled with distinctive and elegant furniture built by Sheraton and Hepplewhite in England well over 200 years ago, selected in keeping with the English design of the house itself.

A drive leading from the formal gate at the entrance to the property under a porte-cochere is an impressive entrance on the east side of the house. The entire exterior of the house is veneered with pink Etowah Georgia marble. The terraces, buttresses and porte-cochere are made of the same material.

The design makes maximum use of available light and prevailing breezes so necessary in a semi-tropical climate. Practically all of the windows on the first floor are arched, long, double in swinging casements. On the second floor they are mainly square headed of the double hung type. Almost all rooms have nearly direct access to breezes from the bay through the use of multiple windows, doors, and door louvers.

From the porte-cochere, visitors enter directly into the formal living room, which then provides access into all other areas of the first floor. Fifty-eight by thirty feet, the room has a low wood wainscot with a marble base. The floor is of yellow Siena marble and there is a magnificent marble fireplace facing the entrance. All woodwork and walls were finished in old ivory with an overall patterned plaster ceiling in white.

One of the most exciting features of the room, and indeed in the whole house, is the exquisite rug. Designed by Mrs. Ringling, a woman of great artistic talents and interests, the huge rug was made in France in the manner of some of the drawing room rugs found in French Royal palaces.

The size of the room is accentuated by the high ceiling and by a semi-circular marble staircase, which leads directly from the Northeast corner of the room to the second floor.

The living room provides access through a small hallway to the dining room and kitchen areas, and to the billiard room. French doors once opened on either side of the fireplace onto a covered terrace which, in turn, stepped down to a large outdoor tiled patio facing west across the bay to Longboat Key and the famed Florida sunsets. Another set of French doors at the south end of the room open to a set of marble steps leading to the Music Room.

This sixty by thirty foot room was planned for the performance of music and has admirable acoustics. The room has a teak planked floor and much of the walls are hand fashioned of American walnut. At each end, cleverly crafted storage spaces are created behind the paneling. A wood beamed ceiling is finished in stain with applied painting decoration. One of the main features of the room is a massive fireplace of travertine, delicately carved. The room contains an elaborate organ console, built at a cost of $40,000. The wall opposite the console is devoted largely to the massive three-story organ pipes and some of the electronic elements of the instrument and an echo organ are located in other parts of the house. The room also once contained, according to story, a piano , flown in one of the early Ford tri-motor planes especially for a house concert by the, famous Mme. Schumann Heink.

When the Ringlings lived in the house, the Music Room was used primarily as a reception area with furniture and area rugs. The furnishings could be removed to convert the room for dancing during festive parties. Ringling children and grandchildren attended parties in this room under the chandeliers festooned with balloons.

At the South side of the room, another set of French doors gives access to a covered promenade leading to Mrs. Sanford’s former home, now South Hall and used for offices, classrooms, and receptions. In the center of the promenade is a small gazebo like structure. Exiting from the Music Room to the main living room, one can see a small office at the head of the stairs, which was used as an office by the Ringlings.

At the Northwest side of the living room, there is an entry into a small central hallway, now used as a library card catalog room. Some furnishings of the Ringling household are on display here: paintings, lamps, a mirror, a marble topped table and a chandelier.

In the northeast side of this central hallway, French doors open to the billiard room, now used as the library’s cataloguing department. In the midst of the decorous atmosphere of the rest of the house, this room represents a striking change. Twenty-four by twenty feet in size the room has a floor and a wainscoting of black marble. There is a marble fireplace and at the west end a fountain with a bowl cut of one piece of Verde antique marble. The walls are richly decorated with mural paintings in bright colors, the ceiling is color and gilt.

The room, when acquired, had an ornate billiard table with carved winged griffins as legs. The table was later given to the Ringling Museum for installation in the John Ringling residence. Along with the table went the bronze billiard table lamp and a Chinese motif woven rug. In the Aubusson pattern created especially to fit the outline of the table.

Off the central hall to the North leads another hall, which provided access to the private elevator, the butler’s pantry, kitchen, pantry rooms, and to the basement.

Two other wooden doors leading off the central hallway to the West opened into the dining room, now filled floor to ceiling with bound periodicals. Measuring thirty by fifteen feet, the room was once occupied by a massive dining room table. The table is now in South Hall. Early Florentine in character, the room has a random patterned tile floor and a French stone fireplace. A vaulted, beautifully frescoed ceiling enriches the room. Walls are decorated with a low wainscot in American walnut. Two china cabinets were built into the North wall (one was removed to install air conditioning). A service door on the North leading to the serving pantry and kitchen is now sealed. A set of French doors on the South end of the room opens directly onto the former patio (enclosed in 1965) where Ringling guests could stroll out and watch the sunsets or enjoy the evening breezes after meals. The final set of doors leading from the central hall also leads out to the patio area. These give direct access to the formerly covered but open area which once fronted on the patio. The roof of this covered area has high, vaulted and frescoed ceilings. The tiled patio once had a fountain and pool in its center, and broad marble steps lead from the patio down twin tiled side walks to the waterfront and waterfront walkway which bordered the seawall.

The marble steps in the northeast side of the main living room lead up to the second floor. Note the specially cut rug at the top. To the right at the head of the stairs and also straight ahead were two rooms originally for the Ringling children. They are now used for reading rooms, stacks, and study areas.

A hallway to the North leads to the former servant’s quarters. The North end of the second floor is dropped down a few feet so that the architects could squeeze in three floors in the north wing, providing an attic for storage, for the electronic parts of the organ, and for access to the roof.

Back at the head of the main stairs, a long hallway leads to the South end of the house. This once provided access to a series of bedrooms on the left hand side of the hallway. These have been opened to provide space for stacks. Along the right side of this hallway windows and a door give access to a small covered balcony the oven patio and the bay beyond.

Several other structures on the grounds also were part of the original Ringling estate. A two-story carriage house to the north east of the main house once housed several cars and a workshop on the first floor and on the second floor there were three bedrooms, a living room, dining room, and kitchenette. This building is now known as Robertson Hall and houses the New College Admissions and Public Affairs offices and the New College Foundation.

East of this building is a small two story house, apparently occupied by the estate caretakers, and further east the former barn. The caretaker’s house and the barn both are used for faculty offices.

On the bayfront side of the main Ringling home there was built one of the first swimming pools in Florida. Long in disuse when acquired by the college, it was eliminated in 1976 for safety reasons.

Mrs. Ringling occupied the main house until her death in 1953 and Mrs. Sanford or members of her family lived in the adjoining house until 1965. The main house and its furnishings were to be sold at auction in 1958, when  Gerald Collins, a former legislator, dog and horse track owner, and entrepreneur halted the auction and bought what remained of the furnishings along with the house. He later sold the house and grounds to Mr. and Mrs. Fred S. Wynans of Pennsylvania who renovated it and lived in it with their large family until it was sold to New College in 1962. Mrs. Sanford’s home was acquired by purchase in 1966. The Ringling Residence was used during the first year, as library, for classes, for dining purposes and as a student center while other facilities were, being constructed on another part of the campus. Beginning in 1966, the building was used primarily for library purposes although the Music Room is still used for special events, meetings, and theater, dance and music events.

In the circle formed by the driveway entrance, there was once an elaborate fountain and pool. It was replaced by the memorial to the founders of New College in 1973. South of the circle and extending eastward once flourished an orange grove.

A strip of property on the North side of the estate was given to son Robert. All except the house and surrounding one acre were purchased by New College; the later will become a part of the campus as a bequest of Mrs. Bon Seigneur. Mrs. Sanford had a similar strip of property on the South to Bayshore Road. Some of this was sold off to private buyers and the rest acquired by New College by purchase/p>

Boys with the boat. Sons of Hester Ringling. Charles "Larl" Lancaster standing, and Stuart Lancaster and friend. Seawall along Sarasota Bay by the Charles and Edith Ringling Mansion. 1925

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