St. Armands circles strollers with history

Contributing Columnists

St. Armands Circle today is a must-see destination.  Walking around the Circle this time of year is both stimulating and pulsing with life.  The people strolling by are often smiling, gesturing and conversing in relaxed, happy tones.  Passing small groups, we can hear American accents from different regions of the country, as well as foreign languages representing an influx of worldwide visitors to Sarasota and its Islands.  St. Armands Circle is a truly global gathering place.

There is an eclectic mix of businesses with something for everyone.  Visitors can peruse over 130 stores consisting of boutiques, high fashion, casual beach clothing, gift shops, restaurants and so much more; some visitors sit on benches in the park or on the sidewalk; they drink, eat,  enjoy an ice cream or just people-watch. Whether you’re here for window shopping, serious buying, gourmet or simple dining, it can all be found within the confines of St. Armands Circle.

That was not always the case; the Circle went through many transformations before it became the St. Armands we know today.   It has a rich history that reaches back to Charles St. Armand, who purchased a 131 acre mangrove island west of the fishing village called Sarasota in 1893.  He settled there, fished and raised produce.

In 1917 John Ringling bought St. Armands Key and worked his magic on the land planning a European style shopping plaza in the round, and preparing to build luxury homes on streets radiating out from the Shopping Circle.  Groups of workers dredged canals and built seawalls, sidewalks and streets.  A Causeway was constructed by 1926 that connected St. Armands Circle to Sarasota.  With great pomp and circumstance Ringling set out to develop the John Ringling Estates and exceeded all expectations with property sales the first day surpassing one million dollars.

However, the plan was not brought to fruition, as the Depression intervened, and shortly thereafter the Real Estate market crumbled; Ringling had to donate the Causeway to the city of Sarasota, as he couldn’t afford to maintain it any longer.  The area languished and deteriorated in the ensuing years.  It wasn’t until the 1940s that investors came back into the Sarasota market.  By the 1960s the Circle’s shops and restaurants were permanently back in business, leading to today’s exceptionally successful St. Armands Circle.

Ringling’s influence remains in the design of the Circle and streets built out from its core.  The Italian statuary that dot the landscape is from Ringling’s own collection.   Thus, John Ringling lives on, his concept alive and well in a singular area where there is more to enjoy than ever imagined.  We can’t help but think he would have been very proud.

Sheldon Paley, a resident of Longboat Key for 20 years and a realtor for 13 years, is affiliated with Premier Sotheby’s International Realty. Prior to moving to Longboat Key, Paley attended Ohio State University; U of Pennsylvania School of Dentistry and Harvard Medical School for 18 months for a degree in Implantation.

Joyce Paley attended Miami University, Ohio State University and Capital University, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Major in Professional Writing.



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