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Contributions of Charles Ringling

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: Mark Smith, former Sarasota County Archivist
Source: Sarasota County Historical Resources
Photo Credit: Sarasota County Historical Resources
Credit: Sarasota County Historical Resources

Sarasota History - Contributions of Charles Ringling photo

Sarasota County has been fortunate over the years by having visionary people who saw the potential of this primitive area. Between 1910 and 1920, people like Mrs. Potter Palmer, Owen Burns and John and Charles Ringling were beginning to transform Sarasota from a small fishing village to the ideal winter retreat. Once settled here, many got involved in community affairs and local businesses. Charles Ringling contributed greatly to the early development of the City of Sarasota and the county.

Charles Ringling was one of the seven brothers who formed the Ringling Brothers Circus in the late 1880s. However, by 1920, there were only two brothers left, John and Charles. John Ringling, a natural showman, was the front man for the circus, while Charles ensured day to day operations and was in charge of advanced billings and actual production. Both John and Charles began to invest heavily in Sarasota real estate soon after their arrival in 1911. Charles Ringling bought land in the Shell Beach area and began building a home in 1912. From 1912 to 1924, Charles and his wife, Edith, alternated their residence between existing wooden houses on their estate and their home in Evanston, Illinois.

In contrast to his brother’s interest in developing Sarasota’s coastal areas, Charles Ringling invested in the downtown area. Ringling bought the old Gillespie golf course from the Sarasota Golf Holding Company. Gillespie’s golf course today would cover the area from the Sarasota County Terrace Building to the Ringling Shopping Center, north to Fruitville Road then west to the site of the present Sarasota County Court House on Main Street. Ringling developed a business district and a number of business buildings were built, including the Charles Ringling Building.

Charles Ringling continued to invest in different business ventures during the 1920s. He promoted the city and county during his term as president of the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce from 1925-1926. During this time, he built the 11-story Sarasota Terrace Hotel, financed by Adair Realty and Trust Co. of Atlanta, GA. The hotel officially opened June 24, 1926. Ringling also founded his own bank, the Ringling Bank and Trust Company on Main Street, and gave property to the county for court house and was instrumental in formulating its design. Charles Ringling’s land holdings included a 33,000-acre ranch next to today’s Myakka River State Park and 52 commercial lots. These lots are along the road which bears his name, Ringling Boulevard.

Charles and Edith Ringling decided to build their new home in 1925, just short of Ca’d’Zan. The marble mansion house, on 21 ½ acres of Bayfront property, was completed in 1926 at a cost of $800,000. It was designed in the Italian Renaissance style with 20 rooms, following the designs and under the supervision of the Milwaukee architectural firm of Clas, Shepherd and Clas. Marshal Field and company of Chicago did the interior decoration of the house. However, Charles Ringling did not enjoy his home for long. He died December 3, 1926 at the age of 62, shortly after the house was completed. Although Charles is overshadowed by his brother John, his contributions and accomplishments remain a legacy to Sarasotans today.