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SARASOTA CIRCUS HISTORY AND THE RINGLINGS

No clowning around: We take the circus very seriously. The notion of Sarasota as “The Athens of the Gulf Coast” was put in place by John and Charles Ringling, who moved the winter quarters of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus from Bridgeport, Connecticut, to Sarasota in 1927. The Ringlings were convinced that this area was prime for growth. At one time, they owned tens of thousand of acres here and planned to build a casino to attract tourists.

The crash of 1929 and the following Great Depression put an end to their dreams of development. However, their influence continues to play a significant role in the area:

The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art

Combines a world-class art collection, circus memorabilia and beautiful gardens filled with majestic statues of antiquity. (Located on Sarasota’s bayfront, it is known for romantic sunsets).The palatial Ca d’Zan, located on the grounds of the museum, was their home. As a collector of Italian baroque and Renaissance art (including huge paintings by Paul Rubens), John Ringling built the museum which he left to the State of Florida.

Lido Key

John Ringling’s dream location for a resort community was once a series of unconnected islands. Just before the crash of 1929, Ringling filled the areas between the islands and built a causeway reaching from the mainland, thus opening up the newly formed Lido area.

St. Armands Circle

Designed by John Ringling as part of the Ringling Estates subdivision and dotted with his numerous Italian baroque statues, it is now a shopper’s mecca. Ringling built the original wooden causeway to provide automobile access to his development. The modern causeway is named after him.

Courthouse Subdivision

Designed by Charles Ringling, the Courthouse Subdivision was platted on land that had been part of John Hamilton Gillespie’s nine-hole golf course. It extended from Links Avenue to School Avenue and from Main Street to Golf Street and Adams Lane. Ringling provided some of the land for the Dwight James Baum-designed courthouse, which opened in 1927. His Charles Ringling Hotel at 101 S. Washington Blvd., later the Sarasota Terrace Hotel and now a county administration building, opened in 1926.

THE TRADITION CONTINUES

No question about it, without the Ringlings things would be much different around here. However, the Ringling legacy is only one part of our circus heritage.
Currently there are 15 circus companies with headquarters in Sarasota County. You’ll find more circus people living here, both active and retired, than in any one place in the world.

Part of the 1952 circus film “The Greatest Show on Earth” was filmed in Sarasota, which, of course, must explain why it won an Academy Award for Best Picture of the Year. After seeing the film, no other explanation comes to mind.

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