This Old House

The Ringling Museum Plans Improvements to John and Mable’s Ca d’Zan

A new roof and restoration of the historic reflecting pool are among the upgrades.

By Ilene Denton December 14, 2017

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Ca d'Zan

Sarasota’s most famous house—and, at 36,000 square feet filled with 56 ornate rooms, undeniably its most spectacular—is slated for some much-needed repairs.

Once the Ringling Museum completes its $5 million capital and endowment campaign, John and Mable Ringling’s historic Venetian Gothic mansion, the Ca d ’Zan, will get a new roof and new air-conditioning system. Nearly $2 million has been raised to date.

A grant from the state Division of Historical Resources is paying for the restoration of the glazed terra-cotta decoration on the mansion’s exterior. (Exposure to salt air has taken its toll.)


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The Ca d'Zan Aeolian organ.

Also planned is the restoration of the Aeolian organ that John Ringling commissioned in 1925; with 2,289 pipes, “It’s very orchestral in sound; a very important instrument for the state of Florida,” says longtime Ca d’Zan curator Ron McCarty. The goal is to make it a working organ so that the Florida State University music school can hold concerts there. (The Ringling complex is part of FSU.)  


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The Ca d'Zan reflecting pool.

Other grants from individuals are paying for restoring John Ringling’s balcony and the white marble reflecting pool in the front of Ca d’Zan, which will become a garden feature. “With the popularity of the Bolger Playspace nearby, we have lots of young children visiting the Ringling, and we don’t want them to get hurt in standing water,” McCarty says.

The last time the Ca d’Zan—the seventh most visited house museum in America—got so much attention was from 1996-2002, when it underwent a transformative $15 million restoration of both the structure and its furnishings. McCarty oversaw that epic project, which he says was “quite life-changing.”

Since then, smaller improvements have been made—the driveway was restored in the same historic tabby finish from the gatehouse to Ca d’Zan’s circular drive, for example; and last year the walkways through the Secret Garden, where John and Mable are buried, were re-poured.

McCarty will be retiring in August 2018 after 38 years at the Ringling. He plans to return to his hometown of Kansas City, where he will volunteer at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, where he worked before coming to Sarasota.

It’s his wish that his curatorial position at the Ringling will become endowed. “I want to make it a professor who really knows historic preservation to keep the mansion beautiful, and who could teach,” he says. “If they can do that it will make me feel so good about leaving because I know the building will be cared for.”

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