The St. Armands Circle experience is indeed a memorable one.
Renowned as a continental marketplace, the Circle is a charming and graceful synthesis of the past and present. Explore the shops, dine in the sidewalk cafes, relax in the lush tropical gardens, St. Armands Circle is unique in concept, history, and beauty.
With over 100 stores, St. Armands Circle is an unforgettable destination for visitors worldwide. From trinkets to treasures, gourmet snacks to candlelight feasts, you’ll find it all on St. Armands Circle.
What's in a name?
In 1893, Charles St. Amand, A Frenchman and first resident of the island, purchased three tracts of land totaling 131.89 acres for $21.71. He homesteaded the land, fishing in the waters of the Gulf and Bay, and, along with other early pioneers, raised produce which he brought by boat to the market at City Pier in Sarasota. In later land deeds, his name was misspelled “St. Armand” and this spelling has persisted to the present day.
St. Armands Circle was the vision of circus magnate John Ringling, who purchased the key in 1917. He designed a luxury development including custom residences and an upscale shopping retreat laid out along streets radiating from a central park roundabout. As no bridge to the key had yet been built, Ringling engaged an old paddle-wheel steamboat, the “Success”, to serve as a work-boat. His crews labored at dredging canals, building seawalls, and installing sidewalks and streets lined with rose-colored curbs. In 1925, work began on a causeway to join St. Armands Key to the mainland. Circus elephants were used to haul the huge timbers from which the bridge and causeway were built.
One year later, amid much pomp and ceremony, both the John Ringling Causeway and Ringling Estates development opened to the public, with John Ringling himself leading a parade across the causeway and his Circus Band playing from a bandstand in the center of the Circle. Every hour there was free bus service from downtown to St. Armands for prospective buyers and sightseers.
Property sales that the first day was estimated to exceed one million dollars but the boom ended quickly. As the nationwide depression worsened, land sales in Florida and on St. Armands stopped completely. In 1928, the City of Sarasota accepted as a gift the causeway which Ringling himself could no longer afford to maintain. Gradually, the wooden causeway began to rot, the Circle bandstand sagged, and the native vegetation covered the carefully planned streets and sidewalks.
For nearly 20 years, St. Armands slept …. children played ball where the bandstand once stood and only curious tourists ventured out to view the once-famous key. During the 1940s, several courageous investors opened restaurants and a service station on the Circle but not until 1953 did business once again resume on St. Armands. By 1955 a number of stores had opened.
Gone are the pioneer farms, vacant lots, and the bandstand featuring Sunday afternoon concerts. But John Ringling’s influence is still evident today in the planning and design of streets radiating from the circle at the island’s hub and the Italian statuary from his personal collection strategically placed around the key. The shopping circle looks very much as Ringling originally envisioned it, with the palm-lined medians, park-like setting, and tropical plantings. The promise of greatness, the truly cosmopolitan shopping area envisioned by John Ringling, has become a reality.
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