Details: Sarasota, Fla.
Mable decorated all their homes — in addition to Ca’ d’Zan, there was a 100-acre estate in Alpine, N.J., now part of Palisades Interstate Park; 636 Fifth Ave., now Rockefeller Center; a property in Chicago; and the neo-classical Worcester Home on Bird Key, part of a chain of barrier islands between mainland Sarasota and the Gulf of Mexico. The Ringlings also owned 100,000 acres in Oklahoma and Montana.
They began wintering in Sarasota in 1911. When working with architects and craftsmen, Mable was as determined as her husband to have it her way. She must have been, to envision a formal rose garden in the 20-acre jungle of mangrove swamp, rattlesnakes, water moccasins and alligators along Sarasota Bay that they selected for their winter estate.
“We have records of her working wearing a gun on her hip and high boots,” said Ron McCarty, curator of Ca’ d’Zan for 32 years. “She was quite a woman.”
Mable hated snakes, but they weren’t going to stop progress on her rose garden. There was nothing like it in the Sarasota of those days, a quiet enclave of 800 souls when the Ringlings arrived.
Not that the Ringlings and the Florida land boom allowed it to stay that way for long. John became the area’s largest landowner and built the causeway from Sarasota to St. Armands, Longboat, Lido and Bird keys, which he then developed. After creating the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, he was instrumental in founding what has become the Ringling College of Art and Design.
Mable was elected first president of the first Sarasota garden club, the Founders Circle, and strongly supported beautifying the city growing around their winter home. She was elected president of the Sarasota Woman’s Club a year later. She commissioned the New York architect responsible for the exterior of the Metropolitan Museum of Art to design their art museum in Sarasota.
The Ringlings loved entertaining. It was nothing for Mable to hold concerts or tea parties for 500 at Ca’ d’Zan (which means House of John in Venetian dialect), their 56-room, 36,000-square-foot mansion. They threw picnic parties for the town, carting hundreds of children and their parents to Lido Beach for food and games.