Explore the History of the Ringling Museum and Ca’ d’Zan

When you think of an Anna Maria Island or Sarasota vacation, some things that likely pop immediately into mind are beaches, boating, fishing, swimming, Sarasota vacation rentals, and lots of sunshine. You might not think about museums and cultural history right off the bat.

However, several places in the Sarasota area have a historical impact and background. One that is a can’t-miss visit is the Ringling Museum in Sarasota.

Rated #1 by TripAdvisor for attractions and things to do in Sarasota, the Ringling Museum has a long history dating back more than 100 years. In the early 1900s, circus mogul John Ringling built the Ca’ d’Zan (translation: “House of John”), a palace on 20 waterfront acres. Sometime after the house was built, Ringling constructed a 21-gallery museum that today stands as the Ringling Museum, housing what’s known as one of the country’s premier art and cultural collections.

Explore the history of the Ringling art museum and take a closer look at Sarasota rentals offered by our team at Mainsail, a leading Sarasota property management and vacation rental management company currently expanding our portfolio to include Sarasota vacation rentals.

History of the Ringling

photo of a sculpture from the Museum of Art in Sarasota, FL

The man behind the “Greatest Show on Earth” began construction on his grand house in 1924; two years and a stunning $1.5 million later (equivalent to more than $16 million today), the 41-room, 15-bath mansion totaling 36,000 square feet was completed.

After many European trips, Ringling had begun to amass quite the art collection. As his collection grew, the circus owner realized he needed space to house his riches. Thus, the 21-gallery Museum of Art was built to display his many paintings, sculptures, and other art treasures.

After a decades-long period of maintenance neglect, poorly handled funds following Ringling’s death in 1936, and brief use of an added building to the Museum for theater purposes in the late 1950s, Florida State University was granted governance in 2000. Through fundraising efforts and the state’s contributions, repairs were undertaken and expansions made, and by 2016, the Museum and Ca’ d’Zan became the Sarasota attractions they are today.

Museum of Art

In 1925, the year after construction began on the “House of John,” Ringling decided to build a museum to house his growing art collection and to add to his and his wife’s legacy. The pink palace, a showplace of Renaissance style, was completed and opened in 1930. From paneled rooms reflecting the décor of New York’s Astor mansion to dozens and dozens of European paintings and ancient and medieval art collections, Ringling created a truly historical memorial.

What emerged following Ringling’s passing and the work done by various directors and the state of Florida through the second half of the 20th century is the current Ringling Art Museum.

Museum of Art in Sarasota, FL

As of 2022, the Ringling Museum of Art offers exhibitions, lectures, a theater show, and even an art library with rare books, art literature, art databases, and John and Mable Ringling’s personal collection. In 2016, the Museum added the Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Center for Asian Art, with galleries of rotating Asian art owned by the Ringlings and complemented by a Japanese tea house in the Bayfront Gardens.

Ca’ d’Zan

The personal home of John Ringling and his wife, Ca’ d’Zan, perfectly reflects the life and the pursuit of the American Dream during what is known as the Roaring Twenties.

After the same period of decline that saw the Museum fall into a state of disrepair, the house was given much-needed repairs after the late 1990s. From a new roof and terrace to replaced balustrades and decorative ornaments, Ca’ d’Zan was fully restored by 2002. Repairs cost ten times the amount of original construction: $15 million.

The first floor of this architectural landmark can be toured as part of Museum admissions with the purchase of appropriate tickets. Visitor capacity is limited for the house, so it is recommended to purchase tickets online so that you have them secured before arriving for your visit.

Circus Museum

It is certainly fitting that Ringling’s circus should be celebrated at a site honoring the founder of this wildly popular entertainment. Thus, in 1948, a dozen years after John Ringling’s death, the Ringling Museum of the American Circus began documenting the history of the circus.

Today, visitors can take in everything from performers’ costumes to circus props and equipment, such as tent poles and cannons that famously catapulted performers across circus tents. Literature such as newspaper clippings, handbills, photos, and posters can also be viewed, as can a film documenting the life of the Ringlings and the historical timeline of the circus. Other exhibitions, models, and an immense mural are also on display.

In 2012, a wing was added to the Tibbals Learning Center that houses the Circus Museum. Visitors can climb into a clown car and take pictures with a fake tiger.

Plan Your Sarasota Vacation!

If you’re ready to immerse yourself in the deep history Sarasota and Anna Maria Island offer, begin planning your unforgettable Sarasota vacation today! View our rentals, reserve your favorite, and prepare for fun!

Education Center

Also on-site of the Ringling estate is the Johnson-Blalock Education Center. Housed here is an Art Library, described as “one of the largest and most comprehensive art research libraries” in the southeastern part of the United States.

Visitors to the Library can browse the collection and sit and read literature in an area overlooking the Museum’s grounds. Some materials are even loaned to university students. The Center also contains the Conservation Lab, where collections are cared for and preserved. However, this Lab is not open to the public.

The Art Museum, Ca’ d’Zan, Circus Museum, and Education Center are open to visitors every day of the year except Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day, from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Mainsail – Professional Vacation Rental Property Management

When it comes to trusted vacation property management in Florida, you can count on Mainsail Vacation Rentals. Our vacation rental company has a variety of Sarasota and Anna Maria Island Rentals including spacious, comfortable two- to three-bedroom condos and townhomes.

Many of these Sarasota vacation rentals offer expansive views of the Bay or Gulf that you can take in from private balconies or decks. With close proximity to the beach, you’re never too far from sinking your toes into the sugar-white sand! Inside the property, you’ll find soothing pastel and white colors, modern and comfortable furniture, and appealing décor that includes local artwork.

Amenities and accommodations can include fully equipped gourmet kitchens with stainless steel appliances, an in-unit washer/dryer, a King-sized bed in the master bedroom, private beach lounge chairs and umbrellas, and a hot tub, and heated swimming pool access. Units can include kayaks, boogie boards, bikes, and paddle boards. There’s ample parking, an on-site fitness center, and close proximity to town with shops, restaurants, and attractions.

During your trip to Sarasota to visit the Ringling Museum and all other incredible area attractions, be sure to book a stay with Mainsail. Our team will ensure that your trip is nothing short of spectacular. Contact us today to learn more