How did it all begin? In 1917 John Ringling of Ringling Brothers Circus fame conceived of a small metropolis composed of fine homes, a golf course, a shopping circle and a five star hotel within Sarasota. He purchased all of St. Armands Key (again, note the spelling), Bird Key and Lido Key. Dredging and filling of land began in 1923. Streets were laid out and sidewalks poured and a circle was formed in the middle of St. Armand’s Key. Sewer and water lines were installed. The finest statuary imported from Italy was placed at the sides of the main roads and the entire area was tropically landscaped. Alas, there was no auto access to the Ringling Estate.
He engaged a paddle-wheel steamboat named “Success” as a work boat and it was also used to bring prospective buyers to the island. Work began on a causeway joining St. Armand’s Key to the mainland.
With publicity in mind, Circus elephants were used to move the huge timbers into position. Thirteen months later, Ringling led a parade across the completed causeway to St. Armands Key where a Czecho-Slovakian band was in the middle of the circle waiting to play. It was estimated that sales of property exceeded one million dollars on that day. In June 1927, Ringling gave the causeway to the city and it was formally accepted in January 1928.
The stock market crashed in October 1929 and the United States fell into a deep depression. The Ringling Causeway closed because the timbers had rotted and there was no money to repair it. The lush landscaping withered and died; grass and weeds covered the road and sidewalks. It has been written that for nearly 20 years, St. Armands slept.
It wasn’t until 1960, however, that the island really awakened. Today, that property considerably enhanced, is a multi-billion dollar enterprise.
The large traffic circle encloses a lush park and occupies the center of the key. More than 120 elegant stores, art galleries, ice cream shops, boutiques and choice places to eat surround the circle. Luxury homes on streets named after presidents complete the island’s layout. The circle is the venue for world class exhibitions of automobiles, art and circus acts, and other unique performances.
The traffic circle branches off into several directions including the Saint Armand's residential district, Longboat Key (and further to Anna Maria Island), Lido Key & Lido Beach, or back to Sarasota via the Ringling Causeway Bridge to U.S. 41 (Tamiami Trail) in the direction of the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, and the Ringling Art Museum.
“Strolling the Circle” is an activity that thousands of visitors take pleasure in doing. Strollers bring the family dogs, some of whom get a treat from the open air restaurants and pet friendly shops. Cars stop and allow the pedestrians to cross the intersection unhurriedly, a delightful place to visit. Outdoor diners reserve a table days in advance in order to watch the passing parade.
When you visit St Armand's Key, be sure to look for the colorful wild parrots in the palm trees. Their origin is a matter of question.
Copyright © Leland G. Desmon for One Image Media Group, Inc. All rights reserved. - Some historical data - Wikipedia®
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