Living large in Sarasota, Florida

On the Sarasota Bay are two stunning estates: The Ringling Estate and the Crosley Estate. The former, called Ca’d’Zan, was built in the mid-1920s and the later, called Seagate, was built in 1927. David and I visited the Ringling Estate the last time we were in Florida but we did not have time to see the Ringling Art Museum.

John Ringling decided add an Art Museum to part of his Sarasota estate in hopes of sharing his love of art with the people of Florida. John and his wife, Mabel, were prolific art collectors and frequented many of the art auction houses in New York. They collected European art, particularly Baroque Art.

In 1925, John Ringling helped design a pink, Renaissance style building with 21 galleries to showcase some of their growing collection with the public. Several of the those were constructed to exhibit specific art pieces that they had acquired. For example, Gallery 1 and 2 display five enormous John Paul Rubens’ oil on canvas paintings.

Isabella Clara Eugenia, the ruler of the Spanish Netherlands, commissioned Rubens to design a series of tapestries for the Convent of the Descalzas Reales in Madrid. It is thought that she also asked Rubens to make identical paintings of these tapestries to hang in her palace in Brussels. In 1926, John Ringling purchased four of the seven paintings in the collection called “The Triumph of the Eucharist.” The Museum acquired a fifth painting in that series in 1980. Interestingly, Ringling constructed both galleries in such a way that the works of art appear to extend into the room. For example, the columns in the gallery replicate those seen in Rubens’ works.

Masterpieces of many famous artists like Velazquez, El Greco, Van Dyck, Tiepolo, Veronese, Franz Hals, grace the galleries of this outstanding museum. From 1925-1931, John and Mabel Ringling added more than 600 works of art to their collection.

In the middle of this U-shaped museum is a beautiful courtyard. The Renaissance garden is full of early 20th century bronze and stone-casts of famous Classical, Baroque and Renaissance sculptures. At the far end stands a replica of Michelangelo’s David. This courtyard is a restful and peaceful place to spend some time.

The Museum permanently opened to the public in 1932. In his will, John Ringling left the museum to the state of Florida along with a $1.2 million endowment. In 2000, the state transferred governance to Florida State University. Over the next years, they renovated and expanded their collection to include contemporary art, decorative arts, photography, and much more. In 2016, they added the 25,000 sq. ft. Chao Center for Asian Art which highlights Ringling’s Asian art collection. Today the Museum boasts more than 10,000 objects from all over the world.

Throughout the year, the Museum will have special exhibits. David was excited to see a fabulous photography exhibit that featured the extraordinary works of some of his favorites like Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Paul Strand, Edward Steichen, Dorthea Lang and Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Designated a U.S. Historic District in 1982, the Ringling Estate and Art Museum in particular are well worth seeing. David and I really enjoyed each time that we visited it. What made our time there even more special was that we got to explore it with some of our family and friends.

The winter estate of Powel Crosley, Jr., often called “Seagate” or “Bay Club,” is adjacent to the Ringling estate. In 1929, Mr. Crosley constructed an 11,000 sq. ft. stone and stucco Mediterranean Revival style mansion on the Sarasota Bay. The 2½ story structure was completed in just 135 days. This $350,000 retreat was a gift for his wife, Gwendolyn. Her bedroom was the largest and had great views of the Bay. Other features of the house include an elevator, an intercom system, walk-in closets and lots of bathrooms.

The most unique room in the mansion is the Ship Room. It is on the second floor and it has wooden floors. Its teak lined walls have decorative carvings. The ceiling features a compass that is attached to a weathervane on the roof. Mr. Crosley monitored the wind direction from his location. Although this was an impressive mansion and location, he did not spend much time at Seagate because he was very busy with all of his business endeavors.

Powel Crosley was an inventor and entrepreneur from Ohio. He owned many manufacturing businesses, Crosley Automobile Company, a radio station, and at one time he owned the Cincinnati Reds baseball team. He often took new inventions, made improvements to them, manufactured them and distributed them to the public.

At his automobile company, he invented or reinvented many accessories. His cars were the first to have push-button radios, tire liners, and disc brakes on all models. His company also created the first compact car.

One of his other inventions was the Shelvador which was a refrigerator with shelving in the door. He developed, manufactured and promoted these “new” types of refrigerators.

Crosley Radio was another one of his many businesses. His was the largest radio and television manufacturer and he was a major contributor to both radio and television technology. Mr. Crosley was intent on making radios affordable for everyone. To that end, in 1921, he manufactured a line of small radios that retailed for about $9 which most families could purchase. He also worked closely with the military during WWII providing new electronic communication devices.

As more people purchased radios, he saw that there was a growing demand for network programming. He decided to purchase a radio station, WLW, and Crosley Broadcasting started making programming for radio listeners. He was the first to broadcast soap operas on the radio and the baseball games. As the owner of the Cincinnati Reds, he decided to install lights on the Major League baseball field so people could watch baseball games at night and so that the games could also be broadcast into everyone’s home.

Powel Crosley, Jr. was an outstanding entrepreneur and many of his companies are still in business today. After learning more about his life, we can certainly understand why he did not spend much time at Seagate.

Seagate was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. Today this estate is used almost exclusively as an events venue. As such, it is closed to the public most of the time. There are two days a year when they allow everyone to tour it. (Admission is free too.) We were lucky enough to be visiting our good friends, Ann and Alan, during those days so we got to see this impressive mansion one day. Many thanks to Alan and Alan for taking us there!

We enjoyed the time we spent in Sarasota. The Ringling Estate and the Crosley Estate both add to the beauty of the city.

This is post number 300 of Piddlinaround! Thanks to all of our readers, commenters, and followers.

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