In addition to the Circus Museum and the Tibbals Learning Centre gallery on the grounds of the Ringling Museum of Art that have been established on the Sarasota, Florida wintering grounds used for years by the family and their circus, is the thirty-six thousand square-foot five story mansion John and Mable Ringling commissioned famous New York architect Dwight James Baum to build for them from the inspirations gathered during their twenty-five years of European travel – in particular their visits to Venice. Adorned with paintings by Devouge, Langetti, and Sorine, not to mention a crystal chandelier which had originally hung in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, the Ca’d’Zan earned its name from the Ducal Palace, Ca’d’Oro it was primarily designed after, and took almost two years to complete as the wealthy couple sparred no expense on the opulent waterfront estate – running them nearly $1.5 million to build. Here they would dock John’s yacht Zalophus and host all manner of celebrity while their terrace became the site of many business parties and weddings.
Unfortunately they were only able to enjoy it for three years before Mable died from Addison’s disease and diabetes complications. John’s subsequent death in 1936 saw the estate bequeathed to the peoples of Florida, but would remain closed to public for a decade as his creditors fought to extract a return on their investments. Care of the buildings on the grounds in turn was neglected for over fifty years leaving it in such a state of disrepair that it became the ideal shooting location for Miss Havisham’s decrepit mansion in the 1998 Hollywood remake of Great Expectations.
After the movie was produced Ca’d’Zan was closed again so a comprehensive restoration could be undertaken with much of the marble terrace and railings along the waterfront needing to be replaced along with many of the decorative terracotta ornaments that adorned the building. Even the roof needed to be replaced. Within archival photos and paint samples became the blueprints for each of the rooms, ensuring they were returned to their original state, while the paintings and furnishing that once filled these rooms were retrieved from storage and repaired. The ceiling murals that dominate the majority of the mansion required a group of international conservators to repair. In fact the restoration was so thorough that the Ringling’s clothing was returned to the closets and drawers.
When it was finally reopened in 2002 the project had cost nearly ten times what it had taken John and Mable Ringling to build the estate to return it to its former glory and status as one of the most magnificent mansions on the Florida coast, and is considered to be one of America’s architectural treasures.
Ca’d’Zan central hall
Ca’d’Zan dining room
Ca’d’Zan upper floors