St. Armand’s Circle is known today for being one of the most frequently visited shopping destinations in the Sarasota area with over 140 points of interest. However, there is an interesting history behind this popular modern commercial center.
Charles St. Armand was a Frenchman and the first homesteader on the island. He left Europe in 1893 and bought 132 acres of land on the key for just under $22. His last name was incorrectly spelled on the original deed as “Armand”, and the misspelled name is still used to this day. Armand spent time developing the area into a small fishing and farming spot along with a few other pioneers.
St. Amrand later sold the land for $1,500 to Augus McInnes. After that it was later resold multiple times before falling into the hands of John Ringling, who bought it in 1917. Rumor has it that Mr. Ringling won the island in a poker game!
Mr. Ringling envisioned St. Armand’s Circle as an exclusive shopping center surrounded by high-income homes. He wanted to develop the area into the shape of a circle – perhaps because he loved the three-ring circus so much! He began working quickly on building a causeway that linked St. Armands Key to the mainland. Ringling famously used elephants from his circus to carry some of the building materials.
In 1927, the causeway was completed and Mr. Ringling had a band parade across it. Mr. Ringling also placed his remarkable personal collection of Roman and Greek statues around St. Armands Circle. His statues still line the walkway of the circle today along with a group of newer statues that total over 30. Some of those statues include King Neptune, Discobolus, Venus and Christopher Columbus as well as newer statues such as the Seven Virtues of Sarasota.
Many say that the island’s story can be told through these incredible works of art. One statue of a Roman general has a gaze that hypnotizes visitors who enter the Circle. Just beyond the first general, there is a second statue that depicts the same general holding grapes and pomegranates with his helmet removed. It is rumored that these statues symbolize St. Amand.
Unfortunately, the stock market crashed in 1929 and interrupted Mr. Ringling’s plans. Even though Mr. Ringling didn’t get to see all of his plans through after he passed away in 1936, he would be very satisfied with how St. Armands Circle has blossomed.
Today, there are over 140 different boutiques, art galleries and restaurants throughout St. Armands Circle.
There is even a Circus Ring of Fame located in St. Armands Circle Park that honors Mr. Ringling’s circus tradition. A new member is inducted every year by the Circus Ring of Fame Foundation. In 2017, Acrobats Reggie Armor and Dora Foster were inducted along with Henry Ringling North, nephew of Mr. Ringling and vice president of the Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey show from 1936-1967.
The bits and pieces of history that surround St. Armand’s Harding Circle … named in honor of President Warren Harding, a close friend of John Ringling … are a big part of what make it such a captivating place to explore and shop at. At almost every street corner, you can find a plaque or sign that tells a short story about the history of the area, but now you’ll know a thing or two about it before you arrive!
This morning, Debbie and I joined the Sun N Fun morning walking group to take a tour of the 42 statues which grace Harding Circle and the median greenbelts along the four major roads leading to Harding Circle. Many of the statues are copies of world-famous masterpieces whose originals reside in museums across Eurpoe … and some in marble while others are in other materials accounting for the differences in color.
Those on the Circle include:
Depicts the ideal representation of a youthful athletic body and shows the moment of rest between the athlete's backward swing and the unwinding forwad motion, combining the appearane of movement withclassical formation.
Diana of Versailles
John Ringling's Bust
Eight Caryatid Statue Lamps
Adapted from lighting fixtures which surrounded Randolph Hurst's San Simeon Castle in California, the design of the eight lights in the Circle is based on a limestone relief of the Greek head … Winged VIctory … at the Ringling Museum.
Statues along the median of North Ringling Boulevard (leading toward the John Ringling Bridge to downtown Sarasota):
Allegory of Sarasota – Its Seven Virtues
Michangelo was an Italian Renaissance painter, sculptor, poet, architect and engineer. His versatility in these disciplies was of such a high order that he is often considered as a contender for the title of "Renaissance Man" along with his rival and fellow Italian Leonaardo da Vinci.
Marzocco (Lion and Shield)
The Three Graces
Remotely at corner of Madison and North Adams:
Along North Boulevard of Presidents (toward Longboat Key):
Children with Lamb and Melon
Marzocco (Lion and Shield)
Athena Holding a Shield
Athena, the Greek Goddess of Wisdom, the Arts and Industry, was the favorite child of Zeus. To help Perseus kill Medusa, Athena took off her shield of polished bronze and gave it to him. She warned Perseus to use it as a mirror so as to avoid the direct sight of Medusa which could turn a man into stone. Perseus killed Medusa and used the severed head to kill a sea serpent and save the beautiful Amdromeda. He gave the head to Athena who mounted it on her shield.
Venus de Medici
Venus at Her Bath
Along South John Ringling Beach (toward Lido Beach):
Depicts Columbus with his hand resting on a globe which is resting on a chart of scroll, signifying a map or commission he received from Queen Isabella. Both rest on a support whcih has an anchor and sailing ship in bas relief.
It epitomizes the ideals fo classical antiquity for Eurpoeans from the Renaissance through the 19th century. Appollo is associated with the Arts of Music and Medicine; and for his role as the leader of the Muses establishing him as a patron of intellectual pursuits.
Birth of Venus
Depicts the birth of Venus, who was thought to have emerged from the sea as a full-grown woman, arriving at the shore on a shell. The naked goddess is a symbol not of earthly but spiritual love. Thus, this statue follows ancient trditions with Venus shown as slim and lon-limbed, with harmonious features. The modest pose is borrowed from the Venus Pudica type of ancient sculpture.
Apollo and Daphne
Ovid describes Daphne as Apollo's first love. As she was pursued, she called upon her father, Peneus, the River God, to come to her rescue. This statue represents the moment when her father starts changing her into a laurel tree so as to escape Apollo.
Statues located along South Boulevard of President (leading to Lido Key):
As punishment for giving fire to humans, Jupiter (Zeus) had Prometheus bound to a rock with unbreakable chains and set an eagle on him, which ate his liver by day. By night his liver would regrow, only to have the cycle repeat the following morning.
Apollo as a Hunter
Small Children Around a Column
Man in Cloak Nodding
Woman in Dress
The Four Seasons Allegory
Venus and Cupid
John Ringling Statue
Remote at the Corner of South Adams and Monroe
Small Children Around a Tree
Located at the corner of Van Buren and South Washington:
Hunter and Dog
While walking between the several boulevards and streets on which these statues were located, other items caught my eye …
Church and other Steeples
Sculptures in the Yards of Private Homes
Colorful Tile Roofs
Pedestrian Benches with Decorative Tile Inlays
An enormous Banyan Tree
and even Additions to my Growing File of Photographs of Mailboxes from Across the Uniited States and Canada
Beffor leaivng St. Amands, we have a wonderful lunch at the historic
Founded in 1905 by Cuban immigrant Casimiro Hernandez, Sr., the Columbia Restaurant is Florida’s oldest restaurant℠, and the largest Spanish restaurant in the world. It is currently owned and operated by the founder's great, great grandson!