Did You Know That in the 1940s, Sarasota Had an Indoor Croquet Court?

This old-school Sarasota image by Joseph Janney Steinmetz set off a hunt to identify where it was taken.

By Cooper Levey-Baker February 15, 2024

Where was this 1940s photo taken? The answer may surprise you.

When we stumbled across this image, we were flummoxed. Taken in the 1940s by legendary photographer Joseph Janney Steinmetz, it depicts a game of croquet being played on an indoor court, with a number of individuals seated and looking on. But where was this court? Is the building where this photo was taken still around? We had no idea.

So we turned to John McCarthy, the vice president for regional history at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, and picked his brain. After a few days, McCarthy responded with the following note:

"Not being able to instantly identify the building, I started looking through my photo collection for clues. I landed on an image of the Ringling Circus winter quarters, which steered me toward an answer.

"From an old grainy aerial photograph of the quarters, I see a building that may have had arch-top windows like this, and the roofline matches an aspect of this interior view. But the image is so grainy that it is inconclusive in itself.

"I then began to look at other photos of the winter quarters and found the following:

  • A woman in the photo is seated in a folding chair just like the chairs in other winter quarters photos. These were the primary seats that audiences sat in at the big top.
  • The photograper, Steinmetz, took many photos of activities at the winter quarters. In fact, he took many early color images at the quarters, and this image is in color.
  • The architecture of the building matches the time period of the winter quarters.
  • The sunken surface that they are playing on could have been a small animal training area or small performance training area, or it could have been a recreation hall for circus staff. This is supported by the fact that similar 'bowls' were popular throughout Europe, where many circus performers were born. Games like bocce, pétanque, lawn bowling and croquet all use a court like we see in the image."
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