Neighborhood Proud

Glen Oaks Manor Is a Hidden Jewel With Major Circus History

With an intriguing history and the Bobby Jones golf complex right next door, these villas have become a magnet for creatives.

By Kim Doleatto May 17, 2024

Exterior of a Glen Oaks Manor villa in Sarasota.

Before it was developed by the Paver Brothers and unveiled in 1979—complete with an announcement titled, "It's a whole new lifestyle!"—Glen Oaks Manor, a neighborhood just east of Bobby Jones Golf Club and Nature Park, was the winter headquarters of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus before it moved to Venice, in south Sarasota County.

The circus headquarters where Glen Oaks Manor is located today. This image was probably taken in the 1940s.
The entrance to the circus.

Today, 107 acres that were once stomped on by tigers and elephants are now home to a collection of 197 unassuming villas, generously dotted with live oaks, ponds and gazebos. Rumor has it that some of the circus animals are buried on the property. 

The exterior of a Glen Oaks Manor villa. Each has two bedrooms and two bathrooms.

Local realtor Bob Thurston, who has lived in the neighborhood with his partner for eight years, adds that workers have found circus-related items like tent stakes deep in the ground. A historic marker at nearby North Beneva Road and Calliandra Drive reads, 

“The show spread over many acres with its 'Big Top', menageries, practice rings, workshops and railroad yards. The show was a spectacle of lights, sawdust rings and music all its own. Here clowns, acrobats, and animal acts trained for the long summer months on the 'road.'"

Even though the neighborhood has been scrubbed of its former circus glam, it’s still home to creative minds, with many residents that include interior designers and artists. And insiders affectionately call it "Gay Oaks Manor."

Su Byron, who has lived there for two years but is selling her villa be closer to family, says, “A lot of married guys live here. Maybe it’s a stereotype, but they’ve made some spectacular, gorgeous spaces out of their villas.” 

Each villa has an atrium.

That tracks: Sarasota Magazine contributing editor Bob Plunket called Glen Oaks Manor a "glitter gulch" because of how it's been a magnet for artists and creative, forward thinkers—despite its plain exterior.

Thurston says that term probably came about because people moved into the neighborhood and spent so much time fixing up their homes. "They saw the value in it and what you could do to the villas,” he says. Part of that is due to what a blank slate the villas can be, making them ripe for renovation—hence why inside is where the action picks up.

“People come inside and fall in love," Thurston says.


None of the interior walls of the roughly 1,700 square-foot villas are load-bearing, so many have been removed to reconfigure the homes over the years. Each villa has an 8-foot-by-5-foot foot screened-in atrium in the living room. "Some people have enclosed them and added them to the home," Thurston says. In his, all the walls came down to combine the kitchen, living and dining areas.

Thurston also turned his attic space into a flex room, as did his sister, who lived in the neighborhood, too—except she added a staircase to replace the ceiling pull-down kind originally installed. One owner even added a koi pond.

Koi pond
Most of the villas come with a private pool.

A private pool in most of the villas is a huge selling point for buyers, too. 

“The courtyard pools were a major factor for me," says Kate Higgins, 53. "It's like having my own oasis. My partner is quite a gardener and transformed the interior into a garden.

"It's not huge so it's manageable. It's like a little hidden jewel," she continues. A licensed clinical social worker, Higgins moved to Glen Oaks Manor in 2020 from Brooklyn, where she missed out on affordability.

“The prices here are right for having a pool and not spending a billion bucks," adds Byron. 

Each villa has two bedrooms.

Outside, Glen Oaks Manor seduces residents with access to nature.

Byron and her husband moved there two years ago from downtown, at the height of the housing craze, because she “missed trees,” she says. "My realtor took us to Glen Oaks around sunset and we took a walk. It was canopied with oaks and the pond had all these water birds. We stood at the gazebo and looked down at ducks and osprey and fell in love." There's also a mile walking trail around one of the ponds.

Glen Oaks Manor

The community's gazebos are a gathering point for barbecues, potlucks and cocktails and fill the need for a dedicated clubhouse.

A gazebo on the pond.

Although Thurston has noted younger people moving in—people in their 40s to 50s—there are no kids at all. However, everyone knows each other's dogs, including Hudson, Thurston's Bouvier des Flandres from Belgium.

Thurston says he hasn't seen the nearby Bobby Jones Golf Club updates affect Glen Oaks Manor prices just yet. But, he says, “I think once it really takes off it will affect values as more people use it." 

For now, seven Glen Oaks Manor villas are on the market and range in price $399,000 to $688,900 (two are currently pending). HOA fees are $385 a month.

Interested in a Glen Oaks Manor villa? Contact Bob Thurston of Fine Properties at (941) 373-5648 or Jennifer Linehan of Michael Saunders & Co. at (941) 266-7555.

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