Sarasota’s failed first try at Ritz-Carlton a long saga

At the beginning of December 1963, the Big Chief Salvage Company arrived at a forlorn reminder of John Ringling’s Roaring ’20s dream, the nearly completed Sarasota Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

Situated on the southern tip of Longboat Key, it was to have been the hallmark of his multimillion-dollar development program, stymied to a standstill by the real estate bust followed by the Great Depression, which put such grandiose projects on hold.

Until his death in 1936 Ringling, and afterward his executor, nephew John Ringling North, periodically announced plans to finish the lavish hotel.

It was once considered to be completed as a VA hospital.

This was a formidable building. Five stories tall, a veritable fortress with brick walls between 16 and 20 inches thick. Two hundred and fifty rooms would each have a waterfront view. A Donald Ross designed golf course was built adjacent to it.

But despite the hopes and promises, the grand building languished, a ghost-hotel to explore, and more than a few perished falling into the elevator shafts.

The arrival of the Arvida Corp. signaled that Sarasota was headed into a modern future.

In 1959, the Arvida Corp. purchased John Ringling’s holdings from his estate for $13.5 million.

That company’s heralded arrival signaled that modern Sarasota was at hand as they began to develop Bird Key, St. Armands, Longboat Key and Lido Key.

At the end of January 1964, Big Chief finished its job, and rubble from the would-be hotel was used by the city as fill behind the Municipal Auditorium and City Island.

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