John Nicholas Ringling
John Nicholas Ringling was born May 31,
1866, in McGregor, Iowa, and died December 2, 1936.
He was the son of a German immigrant harness maker, the second youngest boy in a
family of seven brothers and one sister.
In 1882, when John was 16 years old, the Ringling family moved to Baraboo,
In 1884, five brothers (including John) joined with an experienced circus showman
to create Yankee Robinson and Ringling Bros. Double Show.
In 1885, the Ringling brothers became the sole proprietors of the Yankee
Robinson and Ringling Bros. Double Show.
John was the advance man; he scheduled, contracted, and arranged circus
In addition to the circus, John Ringling invested in railroads, oil wells, real
estate, and theaters. In his heyday, his estimated worth was $200 million in capital
Mable Burton Ringling
Mable Burton Ringling was born March 4, 1875 in Moons, Ohio, and died on June 8,
Little is known about Mable during her youth.
On December 29, 1905, John and Mable were married in Hoboken, New Jersey. She was
30, and he was 39.
The Sarasota Years
In 1911, the Ringlings purchased 20 acres of waterfront property in Sarasota,
Florida. This included a house built by one of Ringlings circus managers, Charles
The Ringlings began spending winters in Sarasota in 1912. They became involved in
the community, bought real estate, and at one time, owned approximately 25 percent of
Sarasotas total area.
In 1927 John Ringling moved the winter quarters of the circus from Bridgeport,
Connecticut, to Sarasota.
John Ringling intended to build a Ritz-Carlton on Longboat Key. During his travels
to Europe, he began collecting stone, columns, fountains, bronze copies of antique and
Renaissance statuary, and barrel roof tiles for the hotel. His plan never succeeded and
many of these elements appear today on the Museum complex and C dZan.
An art dealer from M nich named Julius B hler often accompanied the Ringlings in
their travels. He became John Ringlings consultant in buying art (later to be housed
in The Ringling Museum of Art).
In 1924, construction began on the Ringlings new Sarasota home, C
dZan, which means House of John in Venetian dialect. The house was
completed just before Christmas 1925, at a cost of $1.5 million and the Ringlings moved in
during November of 1926, just before the death of Charles Ringling that occurred on the
neighboring estate on December 3, 1926.
Dwight James Baum of New York was the architect and Owen Burns was the builder.
John and Mable Ringling greatly admired the unique architectural style of the
Danieli and the Bauer-Grunwald hotels, and the palaces (palazzos in Italian) that face the
canals in Venice, Italy. The architectural style is called Venetian Gothic.
Mable had an oilskin portfolio filled with postcards, sketches, photos and other
materials that she gathered on her travels to aid the architect with his design.
The house is on a site 1,000 feet long (waterfront property on Sarasota Bay) and
3,000 feet deep.
C dZan is a 200-foot long mansion encompassing approximately 22,000 square
feet with 32 rooms and 15 bathrooms.
The structure has four stories. The main floor includes living, entertaining and
dining areas. The Ringlings private bedrooms as well as five guest rooms encompass
the second floor. The third floor consists of a game room and bath, and the fourth floor
is a great, beamed guest room and bath with windows on all four sides. The pinnacle of the
structure is a 61-foot tower with an open-air landing and a high domed ceiling.
C dZan is constructed from terra cotta T blocks, concrete, and
brick, covered with stucco and terra cotta, and embellished with glazed tile.
Decorative tile, medallions, balusters, and ornamental cresting in soft red,
yellow, green, blue and ivory complement the pink patina of the stucco and terra cotta
The terra cotta molds came from the molds and kilns of Oram W. Ketchum of
Mable personally supervised the mixing of the terra cotta and the glazing of the
The original roof was made from 16th century Spanish tiles imported by the builder
The entrance door is fashioned in a Renaissance style. The exterior is weathered
walnut and the interior is faced with polished mahogany. A copper and wrought iron screen
designed by Dwight James Baum covers the outer door.
The Court, which was originally planned as an open court, was used as a living room
by the Ringlings. It measures 50 x 65 feet with a 30-foot ceiling.
Furnishings and decorative objects from the 17th through the 19th centuries were
A dining room table accommodates 22 chairs and 20
A crystal chandelier from the original
Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York hangs in the Court
An Aeolian organ in the Court has 2,289 pipes and is
installed in a chamber hidden by tapestries on the 2nd-floor balcony.
A plaster dining room ceiling, painted to look like
wood, is decorated with designs from unset cameos belonging to Mable.
The bayfront terrace is made from domestic and imported marble; the steps are
veined English marble.
John kept his yacht, Zalophus, docked at the bayfront terrace. A gondola for Mable
was docked at a small island (that no longer exists) just off the terrace.
Paintings in the home are by Flemish/Dutch, Italian, Spanish, and French artists
including Langetti, Sorine, Devouge, and a collaboration between Mazo and Vel zquez.
John Ringling died in New York in December 1936. Although he willed his residence,
the Museum of Art and his art collection to the State of Florida, legal battles went on
for a decade until the title to the property finally passed unencumbered to the state. C
dZan was closed during this time.
The mansion reopened to the public December 1946.
In 1996 the restoration and conservation project began on the exterior; the mansion
was closed in January 1999 for the interior work to be completed. In April 2002 the
The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, in its affiliation with Florida State
University, is the largest museum/university complex in the nation. It preserves the
legacy of John and Mable Ringling, educating and enabling a large and diverse audience to
experience and take delight in a world-renowned collection of fine art; C dZan,
the Ringling historic mansion; the Circus Museum; the Original Asolo Theater; and historic
architecture, courtyard, gardens and grounds overlooking Sarasota Bay.
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