The Ringling Estate Interior
The principal entrance to the house is through the double doors of the front porch. This pair of doors opens into a vestibule measuring approximately eleven feet by five feet. The floor is inset with 3/4 inch glazed white tiles with a Greek key design in red forming a border, typical of a Ferry & Clas design. The interior door arrangement mirrors the outer doors, the second pair of glazed doors flanked by sidelights opens into the main hall.
The central hall (measuring ll’l” x 27’8″) provides access to the principal rooms of the house. At the head of the hall is the main staircase to the second floor. The landing contains a large triple window in a leaded floral design. The ceiling of the hall contains nine, transverse false beams in oak above a dentilled frieze. At the staircase end, a larger transverse beam supporting the landing rests on elaborately carved oak brackets. The free side of the staircase, the small panel between the two flights, and the underside of the upper flight are paneled in the same oak with simple moldings. The turned balusters and the molded handrail terminate in a square fluted newel at the base. A chair rail runs around the hall and continues up the stairs. The wall beneath it is of the original painted canvas. Below the upper flight of stairs is a paneled oak door with inset glazing. It provides access by one step to a lower rear hall, which contains to the right a cloakroom and a toilet, and to the left a step up to the library. At the back of the hall is a paneled oak door leading to the porte-cochere.
At the left front of the house is the parlor (22’5 M x 14’4″). The eight-foot entrance from the main hall may be closed with a pair of paneled sliding doors. Along the opposite wall, but not aligned with the hall opening, is a shallow bay containing an inglenook. The central fireplace has a surround of red marble with carved oak molding. On either side of the fireplace are inset window seats with paneled backs rising to the height of the mantle. Over each seat is a half size window. In the main part of the room, two larger windows, each with a rectangular fixed pane above, face onto the west and south sides of the house. The parlor ceiling is decorated with an oval plaster frieze in the Adam style. The room’s woodwork has been lightened from its original golden varnish, but all of the fittings, including those to the sliding doors, are original. The chandelier is a replacement, as are those in the main hall and the music room.
The music room (13’1″ x 17’10”) is entered from the parlor or the main hall by sliding doors. Those from the living room create an eight-foot opening, allowing the two rooms to be joined for entertaining. Opposite these doors, and slightly left of center, is a fireplace and hearth in green tile with an oak surround, rising to a wide mantelpiece. The surround was somewhat altered during interior renovations in the 1950s; it was flattened by removing two columns to the front. To the west is a shallow bay containing a large window divided by molding into a larger center section flanked by two smaller windows, all surmounted by rectangular glazed panels. The suspended canvas ceiling bears a rectangular, plaster frieze in the Adam Style. Although now painted a light olive green, the canvas-covered walls were originally Pompeian red; a bit of the original color is visible beneath rub marks from furniture.
The library (18’2″ x 17’10”) is located at the back of the house and is reached by the service hall or the music room. The walls are paneled to a height of six feet in varnished Honduran mahogany. The paneling is divided into approximately eighteen-inch sections by simple moldings and is topped by a carved Greek key frieze supporting a narrow shelf. Family legend says that the wood was present to Charles Ringling from a business contact during the period from 1898 to 1915 when the Ringlings were involved in a great deal of business concerning railway and real estate development, especially in Florida and the Wyoming-Montana area. The north side of the room, opposite the arched entry to the music room, is lined with bookcases with leaded glass doors.
The bookcases rise to the same height as the paneling along the other walls. Above the bookcases is a wide tripartite leaded glass window with the same stylized floral motif. The glass is thought to be by the Chicago Glass Company as it resembles some of their designs. On the west side of the room is a bay window, 4’9″ in depth, the opening from the room framed in mahogany. At the center of the south wall is a fireplace of green Wisconsin marble. The mahogany surround lacks a mantelpiece, instead, above the fireplace is an oval panel framed by two pilasters. The pilasters rise from the floor and support a heavily molded pediment with a carved fleur-de-lis at its center. The entire composition rises to nearly ceiling height. The ceiling is decorated with false beams with carved supports, also in mahogany. The polished bronze chandelier hanging in the room is original, converted from gas jets to electricity.
Located at the right front of the house is the dining room. This large room, approximately 21* x 18′, is paneled in dark, quarter sawn oak to a height of six feet. The sliding pocket doors from the central hall are in matching paneled dark oak. The room’s paneling has vertical channels of quarter-sawed oak about every seven inches, and each of these channels terminates in a carved bracket supporting a plate shelf. The room contains two shallow bays with built in cupboards. Along the north wall, four cabinets with leaded glass doors are located above the plate shelf. Along the east wall, two shallow dish cupboards are set to either side of a pierced central panel which covers the large original radiator; these too have leaded glass doors. Above the plate, shelf is three leaded windows matching the design of the cupboards, as does the upper glass panel of the door leading to the pantry. In addition, the room contains two windows with fixed glazed panels above facing the front porch.
Immediately behind the dining room is the butler’s pantry (measuring approximately 13′ x 5’7″). It is furnished with cupboards and a countertop. The cupboards below the counter are closed and painted, while those above have glazed doors. At the eastern end, there is a slender window, and a metal bar sink with a marble counter is laid into the adjoining countertop. At the west end is a large walk-in cupboard. It was originally zinc lined and used as an icebox; the metal has been removed and now it serves as a broom closet. A painted paneled swing door with a single glazed pane leads from the pantry to the kitchen (14* x 12′). A large arched opening leads to an attached breakfast room (14′ x 10′) on the north side of the house. Although the woodwork and structure of the kitchen are original, the room has been altered over time. A second walk-in cupboard is located on the west wall and next to it is the door leading to the service hall and elevator. by the main stairs in the main hall, or from the back service door. In addition to the elevator, the service hall contains a second set of stairs. They are in dark oak with a molded newel and give access to the service hall above.
The hall itself is paneled in oak to a height of seven feet; the doors are also of oak. Above the paneling by the kitchen door is a fire hose fitting and control wheel (the canvas hose has been removed). The house has undergone few structural changes since its construction. The exception was the installation of an Otis elevator 1917-1918. It was put in because of the illness of the second owner, Henry Ringling Sr. (Charles’ younger brother). The lift’s installation involved halving the original size of the main and second story service halls and the construction of a tower to house the I-beams and upper machinery to support the elevator’s weight. The elevator runs in an encased shaft. The machinery is in an enclosed space below in the basement. The original Otis control panel is still in use. The cage, with a carrying weight of 500 pounds, is of black painted steel. The occupants are protected by a sliding grille door, also in steel, which must be shut to provide contact before the elevator can be started by push buttons on the outside or inside on a wooden panel. Although it occasionally shows signs of aging, the elevator normally runs well. Because it does not conform to modern building codes, the elevator is not available for public use.