The neighborhood around the St. Armands Key shopping circle is known as the Ringling Estates. One of the first planned communities in Sarasota, it was the brainchild of circus mogul John Ringling, who wanted to combine commerce and residential real estate to create a thriving tourist destination.
The barrier island was named after an early French pioneer, Charles St. Amand, who purchased 132 acres on Lido Key in 1893. A farmer and fisherman, he brought his catch and produce to the mainland by rowboat . The extra “r” in “St. Armands” crept in due to a misspelling of his name on the land deeds.
By the time Ringling visited the key, only the remains of St. Amand’s farm remained. The rest of Saint-Armands was uninhabited and consisted of beaches and mangrove forests. Ringling purchased the entire island and hired Ohio architect John J. Watson to design a shopping circle with a park at its center and a surrounding residential area.
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Development began in the early 1920s during Florida‘s first real estate boom. A paddle wheel steamer, “Success”, ferried work crews, including circus employees and performers, to the island to build sidewalks, streets, levees and canals. Ringling named the park after his friend, President Warren Harding.
In 1925 Ringling began construction of a timber causeway from the mainland. Stories that the circus showman used his elephants to help slide the antlers into place are one of Sarasota’s whimsical urban myths (along with the story that he built little houses for his Lilliputian performers).
The following year, opening sales at Ringling Estates reached approximately $1 million. Unfortunately, the bursting of the Florida housing bubble and the Great Depression put an end to Ringling’s dream. When he could no longer afford to maintain the causeway, he donated it to the city of Sarasota.
It wasn’t until two decades later that St. Armands Key’s development resumed, but by the 1960s it had become a tourist mecca. Since then, the food circle and streets have grown to over 120 shops, galleries, restaurants and nightclubs. The central park hosts arts and crafts fairs, luxury car shows and other popular events.
Ringling Estates offers some of Sarasota’s most desirable real estate. The 210 accommodations feature a variety of architectural designs, including 1920s Mediterranean, 1950s and 1960s ranch, cottage, modern and post-modern Florida. There is also a small two-story condo development, Kingston Arms, which has 49 units.
Some of the smaller two- and three-bedroom, two-bath homes away from the water have floor plans between 1,300 and 1,500 square feet. Many residences along Sarasota’s canals and bay have been demolished and replaced by luxury two- or three-story mansions, boasting over 5,000 square feet of living space and multimillion-dollar prices.
“The location is a dream. You can walk to everything – shops, restaurants, Lido Beach – and it’s close to downtown and Longboat Key,” said Wendy Leventhal, agent at Coldwell Banker Realty. “Plus, there’s a deep-water boat mooring.”
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She and her brother David, also a real estate agent for Coldwell Banker, have the most expensive listing in Ringling Estates, a 7-bed, 9-bath gated mansion at 61 S. Washington Drive, with 8,572 square feet under air and a breathtaking view of Sarasota Bay. There is a private deep water dock on the 172 foot seawall. The asking price is $13.2 million.
Originally built in 1956, the home underwent a major renovation under its current owner in 2014, adding over 1,000 square feet of living space and updating the interior with larger features. contemporaries.
There is an elevator, two master bedroom suites and a separate guest suite upstairs with a kitchenette, living room and its own entrance. Handcrafted imported leaded beveled glass doors lead to the wine cellar, as well as the custom built hickory wood bookcase/desk. An elegant central courtyard, accessible through French doors from the bedrooms and other areas of the house, provides privacy. “It’s like having your own retreat,” Leventhal said.
According to Leventhal, the demographics of Ringling Estates are changing. “The elderly population that has lived here for decades is changing and young people are coming in,” she said. “The majority of my clients are between 50 and 60 years old. They enjoy walking, boating, and the convenience of being close to a city while still having plenty of privacy.
She added: “Many are second home owners with children and grandchildren and want the opportunity to visit them.”
Currently there are four other houses on the market in addition to Leventhal’s listing. Three are waterfront mansions on North Washington Drive, ranging in price from $7.899 million to $10.9 million. The fourth is a 3-bedroom, 2-bath ranch-style home on South Boulevard of the Presidents, priced at $1.495 million.