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More Than a Circus!

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Florida Coast Ringling Mansion

From just after the Civil War to the start of the 20th century, the Gilded Age was when American culture, history and impact grew. The Gilded Age was a period of tremendous growth and opportunity. The Gilded Age invokes images of gold, jewels, lavish palaces and incredible wealth. It was the age of iron, construction and new materials during what was at the time an unparalleled growth in technology.

The moguls of industry and commerce during the Gilded Age became wealthier than many might imagine. The estates they created are places with monumental gates tipped in gold opening to long and meandering driveways; lush, extravagant and bright landscapes and gardens; and magnificent facades – all evoking power and wealth.

Inside these homes there was always an enormous entrance hall with a grand staircase. Also, lots of theme rooms — a French salon, English dining room, Turkish smoking room — because they collected things from their travels – in a word they were overstuffed.

Gardens were often more overstuffed than the interiors, filled with colors, perennial beds, trellises, gazebos and reflecting pools. Add to all of that,  tennis courts, stable complexes, barns and other amenities on the grounds.

During the late 1800s, Florida was largely undeveloped. Then came John Ringling!

When I think of John Ringling – I think circus.  Acrobats, tigers, clowns, I certainly did not associate the “King of the Circus” with opulent homes, magnificent gardens and unparalleled art!

As an influential businessman who was a Florida developer, John Ringling and his wife traveled throughout Europe for nearly 25 years, acquiring circus acts and art.  Because they both greatly admired the architectural style of Venice’s Ducal Palace, Ca’ d’Oro and the Grunwald Hotel, they took these palazzo as the inspiration for their home in Sarasota, Florida, where they had been winter residents for a number of years. Sarasota Bay became their Grand Canal.  On this wonderful interlude, you will catch a glimpse of how one of America’s richest couple’s and the people that served them lived.

John and four of his brothers established the Ringling Bros. Circus in 1884 – but Ringling also invested in railroads, oil and nearly 30 other enterprises. It was in the 1920s that he began buying and developing land on Sarasota Keys – mainly because it was so undeveloped. He bought all the waterfront property, plus acreage all over the island. He built a causeway to reach the island from the city and gave it to the city – wanting to build a community.

On your tour, you will visit Cà d’Zan, the Venetian Gothic mansion, built for $1.5 million in 1924 and 1925 on the waterfront to show others what was possible. Covering about 36,000 square feet, Cà d’Zan has 56 rooms and is five stories tall. Its central feature is 81-foot Belvedere Tower, featuring a bird’s-eye view of its terrace and Sarasota Bay.

Opulence reigns supreme in every corner of Ca’ d’Zan.  Paintings by Langetti, Sorine, Devouge and Mazo hang on the walls. Displayed in the small butler’s pantry is a collection of silver that was used during formal events. A much larger pantry has a custom-made German silver sink that provided a soft, forgiving surface to protect the fine crystal, china and earthenware from breakage. The cabinetry throughout the pantry displays the extensive collection of china collected during the Ringlings’ world travels. The dining table accommodates 22 chairs. A crystal chandelier from the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel hangs in the living room above a black and white marble tiled floor. There is even an Aeolian organ with 2,289 pipes installed behind curtains in a chamber on the second floor

In true Gilded Age fashion, there are two formal gardens and the ceiling in the grand ballroom is covered in 23-carat gold leaf.  John was king of the circus; he was really all about bigger-than-life production and it makes sense that everything in and around the estate is “over the top” just like the circus!

The home of the circus king and his wife, a couple from humble mid-western origins, Ca’ d’Zan stands as a testament to the American Dream of the Roaring Twenties. Inspired by and designed in the Venetian Gothic style of the palazzos that ring the Venice canals, this dazzling palatial estate perfectly captures the splendor and romance of the Italy the Ringlings so loved. Named Ca’ d’Zan, “House of John”, in the dialect of their beloved Venice; this masterpiece stands as one of America’s architectural treasures.

Please review the complete itinerary and be prepared to be awestruck at the opulence and moved by the beauty of the collections of art.  This is a fantastic opportunity to go back in time and savor the extravagance and beauty of the Gilded Age.

The Keys and the Coasts – Florida (call for departure dates) 7 Days, 6 Nights

Eadie, Interlude Blog Team

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