According to TripAdvisor, the sixth-best thing to do in Sarasota, Florida isn’t the Cat Depot (that’s 26th) or the cemetery (18th), but a sprawling Italianate mansion that was built on Sarasota Bay. The almost century-old Ca’ d’Zan fills its 36,000 square feet with embellished tile, ornate ceilings, and other elaborate design elements that John Ringling and his wife, Mable, pulled from their memories of the palaces they saw in northern Italy. Even the name is borrowed from Venice; it translates to “House of John” in Venetian, because of course it does.
Being part of a circus empire (and outliving your six brothers) was a pretty good career move in the early 20th century. John had amassed enough cash to fill more than three rings, and he spent $1.5 million to build Ca’ d’Zan in 1924 — the equivalent of around $24.5 million in today’s bucks. If the 41 rooms and 15 bathrooms weren’t impressive enough, it was also crammed with the most cutting-edge technology that circus money could buy.
According to the Society of Architectural Historians, it had its own elevator, several in-house telegraphs and telephones, and electric appliances in the kitchen. But the real showstopper was the “electromagnetic Aeolian Duo-Art Organ,” a built-in musical instrument that had an astounding 2,289 pipes. (We thought Guitar Guy was the worst possible person to invite to a party, but Aeolian Organ Guy sounds, well, about 2,000 times worse.)
When John Ringling died in December 1936, he left Ca’ d’Zan to the people of Florida. After a decade-long legal battle, it opened to the public in 1946. But due to a combination of lack of maintenance, dwindling funds, and Florida’s inescapable heat and humidity, it had started to look its age by the 1990s. It looked so gloriously ruined that director Alfonso Cuarón cast it in the role of Paradiso Perduto, the crumbling mansion where equally crumbling spinster Nora Dinsmoor lived in his remake of Great Expectations.
The mansion eventually underwent a massive renovation and restoration, work which cost $15 million to complete. (THANKS FOR THE GIFT, JOHN.) It’s now part of a 66-acre complex that includes the Ringling Museum of Art — which was built to house John’s ridiculous collection of art and antiquities — the Ringling Circus Museum, and a botanical garden.
Yeah, that definitely sounds better than the Cat Depot. Sorry, cats.
Although you won’t find Ca’ d’Zan or “Great Expectations” in there, you will see eight other Florida-based movies in this week’s Video Rewind. How many can you name?
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