El Vernona-John Ringling Hotel, 111 North Tamiami Trail (U.S. Highway 41), Sarasota, Sarasota County, FL
Significance: It was designed by Dwight James Baum and constructed in 1926 by the Burns Construction Company. From the beginning, the hotel was the center of glamour and activity in Sarasota. Although constructed by Owen Burns, a Sarasota real estate developer, John Ringling of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus purchased the property four years after it opened. Ringling changed the name and management of the hotel, but it remained a posh destination for the wealthy and elite. After Ringling's death in 1936, his nephew, John Ringling North, introduced a circus theme to the hotel. Trapeze artists and aerialists swung from ropes tied to wood beams in the dining room during the heyday of the hotel in the 1940s and early 1950s. The hotel closed ca. 1957, was converted to apartments, and reopened in 1964. It closed again in 1980, and remained vacant for eighteen years. After numerous unsuccessful attempts to rehabilitate the building, it was demolished in June 1998.
Unprocessed Field note material exists for this structure: N1162
Survey number: HABS FL-405
Building/structure dates: 1926 Initial Construction
Building/structure dates: 1964 Subsequent Work
Building/structure dates: 1998 Demolished
National Register of Historic Places NRIS Number: 87000197
Hachaliah Bailey established one of the earliest circuses in the United States around 1806. Barnum, who as a boy had worked as a ticket seller for Hachaliah Bailey's show, had run the Barnum's American Museum from New York City since 1841. Barnum brought in to the museum animals to add zoo-like elements, and a freak show and took the Museum on road tours, named "P.T. Barnum's Grand Traveling American Museum". The latter show was named "P.T. Barnum's Great Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Hippodrome". The show combined elements of museum, menagerie, variety performance, concert hall, and circus", and considered it to potentially be "the Greatest Show on Earth", which subsequently became part of the circus's name. In the 1860s, The Cooper and Bailey Circus became the chief competitor to Barnum's circus. The two groups agreed to combine their shows in 1881 under name "P.T. Barnum's Greatest Show On Earth, And The Great London Circus, Sanger's Royal British Menagerie and The Grand International Allied Shows United", it was eventually shortened to "Barnum and Bailey's Circus". Bailey acquired Jumbo, advertised as the world's largest elephant, for the show that was touring the eastern United States and Europe. European tour started on December 27, 1897, and lasted until 1902 while dozens of small circuses toured the Midwest and the Northeast. Ringling brothers circus was one of them, it rapidly grew and soon started to move by train, becoming the largest traveling amusement enterprise of that time. Bailey's European tour gave the Ringling brothers an opportunity to move their show from the Midwest to the eastern seaboard. After Bailey died, the circus was sold to the Ringling Brothers in 1907. On March 29, 1919, "Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows" debuted in New York City. The posters declared, "The Ringling Bros. World's Greatest Shows and the Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth are now combined into one record-breaking giant of all exhibitions." The circus flourished through the Roaring Twenties. The circus suffered during the 1930s due to the Great Depression, but managed to stay in business. During War, a special dispensation was given to the circus by President Roosevelt to use the rails to operate, in spite of travel restrictions imposed as a result of World War II. Many of the most famous images from the circus that were published in magazine and posters were captured by American Photographer Maxwell Frederic Coplan, who traveled the world with the circus. The Hartford circus fire occurred on July 6, 1944, in Hartford, Connecticut, during an afternoon performance that was attended by approximately 7,500 to 8,700 people. It was one of the worst fire disasters in the history of the United States. In the following investigation, it was discovered that the tent had not been fireproofed. Ringling Bros. had applied to the Army, which had an absolute priority on the material, for enough fireproofing liquid to treat their Big Top, but the Army had refused to release it to them. The post-war prosperity enjoyed by the rest of the nation was not shared by the circus as crowds dwindled and costs increased. Public tastes, influenced by the movies and television, abandoned the circus, which gave its last performance under the big top in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on July 16, 1956. In late 1967, Irvin Feld, Israel Feld, and Judge Roy Mark Hofheinz of Texas, together with backing from Richard C. Blum, the founder of Blum Capital, bought the company outright from North and the Ringling family interests for $8 million at a ceremony at Rome's Colosseum. The company was taken public in 1969. The circus's last performance was its "Out of This World" tour at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on May 21, 2017.