C d'Zan, John and Mable Ringling's Venetian Gothic mansion on Sarasota Bay, is one of America's important historic houses. The imposing structure was originally intended to combine certain architectural features drawn from two of Mrs. Ringling's favorite Venetian hotels: the Danieli and the Bauer-Grnwald. Dwight James Baum of New York supervised final plans and the actual construction. The Ringlings moved into the mansion just before the Holidays in 1926. Bricks, terra cotta "T" blocks and poured concrete were the primary construction materials, and terra cotta was the principal decorative material used (exterior and interior) because the glazed finishes would best withstand Florida's brilliant sun. Mable Ringling personally visited the kilns to make sure the colors - soft red, yellow, blue, green and ivory - were precisely what she wanted. Shipped from Barcelona were thousands of old, red barrel tiles for the roof. The mansion is topped by a 60-foot tower, which the Ringlings kept illuminated when they were in residence.

The house is 200 feet long with 32 rooms and 15 baths. Its interior plan features the Court, a vast two-and-a-half story room which served as the main living room. Kitchens, pantries and servants' quarters are located in the south wing.

Terra cotta balustrades enclose an 8,000-square-foot terrace of variegated marble overlooking Sarasota Bay. Thirteen steps of English veined marble lead down to a dock where John Ringling's yacht, Zalophus, was moored. Mable's gondola was docked opposite the terrace on a tiny island that was washed away by a hurricane in 1926.

All windows originally had handmade European tinted glass. Legend relates that the construction problems, difficult though they were, were simple compared with those of having to accommodate the shiploads of Ringling treasures that were always arriving from Italy and elsewhere: columns, doorways, tiles, balustrades, intricate arched windows with tinted glass, and a great variety of other decorative accents that characterize the Venetian Renaissance style. Many of the furnishings were acquired from other estates, including those of the Astors and Goulds, and reflect Italian and French Renaissance influence and the styles of Louis XIV, XV, and XVI of France.

Hungarian-born artist, Willy Pogany, a popular book illustrator whose accomplishments include set designs for the Ziegfeld Follies and the New York Metropolitan Opera, painted the ballroom and playroom ceiling. In the latter are several scenes in which the Ringlings appear in Venetian Carnival costumes with their in-house menagerie. Two life-sized watercolor portraits of John and Mable, painted by a popular Russian-American portraitist, Savely Sorine in 1927, now hang in the Court.

C d'Zan --which means "House of John" in Venetian dialect--took two years to build at a cost of approximately $1.5 million. The interior furnishings, including the $50,000 Aeolian organ, the Steinway grand piano with its heavily ornamented rosewood case, the 17th-century Flemish and English tapestries, and other furnishings and works of art, added another $400,000 to the cost.

Mable died in June of 1929, at the age of 54, just two-and-a-half years after C d'Zan was completed. John died in 1936, at the age of 70, and willed his collection of art, the Museum of Art, the mansion and grounds to the state of Florida. Ten years passed before his estate was settled and the Museum was able to open its doors in 1946. In July 2000, Florida legislation appointed Florida State University as the guardian of the estate .