Dreamers of our Past
presented by the History Center

 John Ringling 1866-1936

Dream: To make Sarasota the home of his circus empire; 
to create a "presidential" upscale subdivision on the keys

John Ringling, showman and promoter, planned the Ringling Isles subdivision to be fit for a president. He hoped President Harding would use a home on Bird Key as a winter White House, but Harding died in 1923 before any commitments were made. On St. Armands Key, where the streets are named for presidents, the circle was originally named Harding Circle. The Ringling Isles subdivision included St. Armands Key, Bird Key, Coon Key, Wolf Key, and 2,000 acres on Longboat Key, all of which John Ringling owned. 

With his business associate, Owen Burns, Ringling built the Ringling Causeway and bridge to St. Armands Key. A year later he donated it to the city. He donated 130 acres on Longboat Key for a golf course, right across the pass from St. Armands and Lido Keys. 

The residential section of St. Armands sold more than a million dollars worth of lots when it opened. Ringling and his partners opened the $30,000 Lido Pavilion in 1926. People traveling out to the new attraction would drive through St. Armands. In late 1926, Ringling halted work on the beautiful 200 room Ritz Carlton Hotel on Longboat Key, and it was never finished.

John Ringling would combine his interests and promote them both. After the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus moved its winter quarters to Sarasota, its annual circus programs carried advertisements about Sarasota. 

A major owner of Madison Square Garden in New York (the sixty-foot tower of John Ringling's home was modeled after the old Madison Square Garden), Ringling sponsored a two-week Florida Exposition at the Garden in February 1924. Florida counties, the Citrus Exchange, and the Seaboard Air Line Railway had exhibits. The Sarasota exhibit featured a huge thermometer showing Sarasota's daily temperature.

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