In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree…
– Kubla Khan, Samuel Taylor Coleridge
If you’re from the Atlanta area, you’ve probably heard about the crumbling, abandoned, and possibly haunted Briarcliff Mansion, aka “Candler Mansion,” near the campus of Emory University.
Briarcliff, shown in 2012. Source: Wikipedia
Boarded up and accessible only by permit, used as a shooting location for Netflix’s Stranger Things and the CW’s Vampire Diaries, the enormous house now hovers on the brink of annihilation as Emory University decides the fate of the property. In 2016 a proposal to turn it into a boutique hotel gained traction, but renovations are proceeding slowly.
Briarcliff, shown in 1953. Source: Georgia State University Library
Briarcliff is a relic of old Atlanta and is home to as many rumors as actual amenities. Built in the ’20s, sold to the state in the ’40s, used as a mental health hospital from the ’60s to the late ’90s, and then abandoned to the elements around the turn of the century, Briarcliff’s history is long and convoluted.
At first glance the property seems like an anomaly, a huge estate that still hints at its past as an ostentatious show home, plopped in the middle of a bustling suburb. But a bit of digging into Briarcliff’s past reveals the truth: it’s not an anomaly. It’s simply the largest member of a family of similarly fated homes.
To understand how Briarcliff Mansion ended up in its current state of disrepair, one must understand its original owner, his family, and the homes they built.
Asa Candler Jr. and family. Source: Emory University Archives
Briarcliff Mansion is a former estate home in the Druid Hills neighborhood east of Midtown Atlanta. Druid Hills is known for its exceptional urban planning designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, as well as a collection of designer homes that were built by wealthy families in the early 1900s. One of the businessmen who helped make Druid Hills what it is today was Asa Griggs Candler, founder of Coca Cola and primary financier of the Druid Hills land development. In a way Druid Hills is the neighborhood Coke built. In 1902 the Candlers began what would become a 20-year mansion boom, and when they were done they left behind a legacy of 1910s and 1920s architecture, palace-like estates with all of the trappings of old royalty.
Back row L-R: Charles Howard, Asa Jr. Front row L-R: William, Asa Sr. (father), Walter, Lucy, and Lucy Elizabeth (mother). Source: US Library of Congress
Asa Sr. had five children, four boys and one girl. In order of birth: Charles Howard (1878–1957), Asa Jr. (1880–1953), Lucy (1882–1962), Walter (1885–1967), and William (1890-1936).
The Candler family came from humble beginnings, but Asa Sr. developed a taste for large homes early in his success. When his business first took off he moved his family from their one-story farmhouse in Edgewood to a “modest” 14-room clapboard house at 1069 Seaboard Avenue, Atlanta. Life was good, but when the big money started rolling in he desired bigger and better things.
Callan Castle (1902-1904), Inman Park
Callan Castle ( completed 1904) as it stands today. Source: Wikipedia
Asa Sr.’s first mansion wasn’t built in Druid Hills. It was built in Inman Park, a planned community where wealthy families clustered together in elaborately designed homes. Side note: one of the Candler family’s neighbors was Ernest Woodruff. Remember the name Ernest Woodruff, it will come up again later.
Located at 145 Elizabeth Street NE, Callan Castle was designed by George Murphy in the Beaux Arts Style. It is 14,000 sq feet and features a 2-story pedimented portico, a bowling alley, and a steam room. Some sources claim that the inner courtyard was inspired by Biltmore Estate, a property known as “Americas largest home,” which was completed by the Vanderbilt family just 7 years before Callan Castle broke ground.
The family lived here for six years. Then the property changed hands and over the decades it fell into disrepair, a common theme among most of the Candler houses. In 2011 a Roswell-based home builder spent a year restoring the property, with special attention paid to the original design. Everything from roof to floor was refurbished using materials that closely matched the existing structure. Today the home is occupied and has an estimated value of $1.4mm.
Sons Charles Howard, Asa Jr., and Walter all built houses in the Inman Park neighborhood during that time, all within walking distance of their Papa’s home. Charles Howard’s house still stands at the corner of Elizabeth St. and Waverly Way.
Charles Howard Candler’s first home. Personal photo taken during the 2017 Inman Park Tour of Homes.
Sidebar 1: The Development of Druid Hills (1908)
In the 1890s a land developer by the name of Joel Hurt devised a plan with his brother-in-law Ernest Woodruff to develop the Druid Hills area into a premier planned community on the outskirts of downtown Atlanta. He had just completed the Inman Park neighborhood, and for this project he reached out to famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted to design the plan in 1893. In 1908 Hurt and Woodruff sold the plan to key investor Asa Candler Sr. for $500k ($12mm in 2017). Development was completed by Olmsted’s sons, who also designed Atlanta’s largest green space, Piedmont Park. Joel Hurt’s house still stands directly across Euclid Ave from Callan Castle.
The Goose (1910-1911), Druid Hills
In 1910 Asa Sr. began relocation efforts to transition from Inman Park to Druid Hills by building a new house known as “The Goose.” One source refers to it impersonally as “Land Lot 241 of the 15th District of Dekalb County, Georgia, being Lot 3, Block 9, Druid Hills,” but the site’s proper street address is 1449 South Ponce de Leon Ave. Photos of The Goose are hard to come by. Documentation is slim and the property’s current owners have made none publicly available. In 2009 The Goose was victim to a fire, and although an arson investigation took place, news reports and online records have been scrubbed of information about the event.
The Goose (completed 1911) as it stood in 2009 after the fire, the only photo I can find of the main house. Source: Architecture Tourist
The Goose was built by Asa Sr. as a gift for his daughter Lucy and her husband Bill Owens. After Bill Owens’ death by influenza Lucy moved back in with her parents at Callan Castle. Asa Sr. held ownership of The Goose until he sold it to Lucy in 1916. Size, unknown. Style, unknown. Some sources speak of an extensive farm and formal English garden in the back, as well as a separate carriage house with an apartment above it, where a full-time chauffeur lived. I can find no background on the property’s name, although one could speculate that “goose” is often paired as a rhyming nickname with “Lucy” (one source claims her childhood nickname was “sweet fish,” so that theory may be far-fetched). After Asa Sr. and Lucy Elizabeth moved to their next home The Goose held too many painful memories for Lucy. She sold the property so she could move on from the pain of loss.
The house has had several owners since then, and even spent a few years as a daycare center, when the name evolved to “The Mother Goose House.” The property is currently owned by a private school which occupies multiple buildings on the site. In 2012 they rebuilt with the intention of preserving some of the visual elements of the original structure, including the large curved porch, but the house’s history is slowly disappearing.
The Goose’s Carriage House as it appeared in the 1970s. Source: Paidiea School
One of the best accounts of The Goose’s history was captured in a November 2009 newsletter that was published by the property’s current owners. The newsletter is no longer hosted on the school’s site, but thanks to the Wayback Machine I was able to pull it and fill in some of the gaps. Read more history via screen captures here: page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4
Sidebar 2: Emory College (1914)
Bishop Warren Candler, Asa Sr.’s brother and graduate of Emory College in Oxford, GA, dedicated his life to the Methodist Episcopal Church South. He served on the Board of Trustees at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, which was a Methodist institution at the time. In 1910 a power shift at the university occurred, which resulted in Bishop Candler losing influence over the school. Following an unsuccessful lawsuit to regain control, he decided to leave Vanderbilt and focus on advancing the status of his alma mater by moving it from Oxford to Atlanta, where it could grow into an institution to rival Vanderbilt. In 1914 Bishop Candler convinced his brother Asa Sr. to provide a $1mm endowment (approx $24mm in 2017) to facilitate the move, an investment that mirrored the $1mm endowment that Cornelius Vanderbilt provided to establish Vanderbilt University. Asa Sr. also donated some of the Druid Hills land development for use as Emory’s campus. Architect Henry Hornbostel was hired to design many of Emory’s original buildings.
The Lemon Pie House (1916), Druid Hills
The Lemon Pie House (completed 1916) as it stands today as the St. John Chrysostom Melkite Catholic Church. Source: Greg Williams, Flickr
In 1916 Asa Sr. won election as Atlanta’s 41st mayor, resulting in the transition of power that put Coca Cola’s fate in his children’s hands. This was also the year that he and Lucy Elizabeth moved into the Lemon Pie House at 1428 Ponce de Leon Ave., directly across the street from The Goose. Most sources refer to this house simply as Candler Mansion, a confusing designation since modern usage equates Candler Mansion with Briarcliff. At first I thought this was the only mansion without an estate name, but then I found several independent sources referring to it as “The Lemon Pie” house, likely earning its name from the gold brick and white marble exterior.
Built at a cost of $210k (S4.6mm in 2017) by Reid and Shutze, this 17,000 sq ft neo-classical Greek revival mansion was the most extravagant Candler home to date. It featured a bowling alley, a soft coal bituminous heating system (possibly chosen due to anthracite coal shortages during the years of its construction), and 5 bedrooms that opened onto a glass-topped central court, the design of which was inspired by the silent movie The Last Days of Pompeii. View the film in its entirety here. Read more about the home’s opulent features here.
The court as it stands today. Some pillars were removed to make room for church pews. Religious elements were added by the current owners.
The marble throughout the house was quarried in Tate, Ga. This was interesting to me, since I knew that Asa, Sr. had ensured that his Candler Building in downtown Atlanta used exclusively local marble from Ball Ground, Ga. Given that the Tate quarry is only 11 minutes from the town center of Ball Ground, it’s likely that both buildings derived their marble from the same quarry.
Also included in this house was the first of three in-home pipe organs to appear in a Candler mansion. During the Gilded Age (1870-1900) the practice of installing extravagant custom-built pipe organs in personal residences rose in popularity among the wealthy. George Vanderbilt intended to have one installed in his Biltmore home, but the plans faltered until well after his death. Asa Sr. commissioned a large pipe organ from the Aeolian Company which was the brand de rigueur for residential organs in the late 1800s and early 1900s. After Asa, Sr.’s death the organ was removed and gifted to the Glenn Memorial Methodist Church at Emory University. The organ remained in Glenn Memorial’s Little Chapel even after it was replaced in 1985. Sometime after that the organ was removed. I am attempting to track down where it went from there. View the photos below to see the pierced detailing that concealed organ pipes in the ceilings and walls, similar to the work done later in Callanwolde Mansion.
Pierced Rosette in the music room
Pierced details surrounding the main courtyard
Out back the property had a flower garden for Lucy Elizabeth, a two-car carriage house with upstairs chauffeur’s apartment, and a greenhouse. Asa Sr.’s two oldest sons also built greenhouses on their properties, both hiring Lord & Burnham for the design work. The structure in the photo below is a significantly different design and does not seem to be connected to the family’s later properties.
Photo provided by St. John Chrysostom Melkite Catholic Church
Asa Sr. lived out the rest of his life at the Lemon Pie House. After his death the property changed hands, stood empty for years, and declined in maintenance. During the ’40s it served as a boarding house, and at one point it was slated to become a state house or war memorial. In 1955 the property was purchased by the Greek Melkite Catholic community and was retrofitted to accommodate parishioners. The property now stands beautifully intact, with most of its original architectural details unchanged.
In January of 2018 I had an opportunity to tour the former Candler Mansion and take photos. The church community has done a wonderful job maintaining the structure and incorporating truly breathtaking religious artwork throughout. The use of color in the space merges so seamlessly with the original architectural design that they seem as though they were made for each other.
One notable addition by the church is the group of stained glass religious icons in the glass canopy. When necessity called for a full repair and restoration to be undertaken, the church hired Llorens Leaded Art Glass, Inc. to do the work. This was a significant decision, since Joseph Llorens, Sr. was the artist who designed and built the original canopy in 1916. Incidentally, Joseph Llorens, Sr. also designed many of the stained glass windows in the Abbey at Westview Mausoleum, commissioned by Asa Candler, Jr. I have not confirmed but strongly suspect that Llorens also contributed to the leaded glass work in other Candler properties.
For the church canopy restoration, Joseph Llorens’ grandson took on the job and worked with the church to design and specially select the colored glass for the new inserts. The photo below does not do it justice. The depth and intensity of the blue glass is absolutely stunning when seen in person.
Stained glass canopy. My camera’s attempt to compensate for the brightness of the sky dimmed the intensity of the colors. Believe me, it is best seen in person.
The St. John Chrysostom Melkite Catholic Church holds services every Sunday morning, followed by a coffee hour in the cultural center, which resides on the site of the original carriage house. Non-church members are welcome to attend.
An illustrated postcard from the mansion’s early days. In general the postcard artists during this period were generous in their depiction of scale and landscaping.
Sidebar 3: Asa Sr leaves Coca Cola (1916)
Asa Sr. and Lucy Elizabeth moved out of Callan Castle and into their new home at 1428 Ponce de Leon Avenue in 1916. That same year Asa Sr. stepped down as head of Coca Cola and installed his oldest son Charles Howard as the company’s second president.
Howard had been groomed for this role, acting as company vice president since 1906, and in archived correspondences Howard’s eagerness to fulfill his father’s expectations is apparent. He was a nervous man, pushed by his father to run various parts of the company including Coca Cola’s New York office, a move that made him quite miserable. But his dedication was unquestionable, and as he demonstrated his competence he earned his father’s trust as an adviser.
Callanwolde (1917-1921), Druid Hills
Callanwolde (completed 1921) as it stands today. Source: Wikipedia
Now president of Coca Cola, Howard went to work building his legacy in the form of a Gothic Tudor home designed by Henry Hornbostel, the same architect who designed Emory. At 27,000 sq ft it was the largest of the Candler homes to date, and featured a bowling alley, greenhouses, pool, and an Aeolian organ with 3,742 pipes distributed among four separate chambers that were hidden throughout the house. The mansion was a full 10,000 sq ft larger than his father’s home, the property was 10 acres larger than his father’s property, and by all accounts the organ was larger and more elaborately constructed than his father’s organ. Howard had rewarded his own hard work with a palatial home that stood in a class of its own. He resided at Callanwolde until his death in 1957.
Located at 980 Briarcliff Rd, NE, Callanwolde almost faced the same fate as Briarcliff Mansion, and the fate the Lemon Pie House narrowly escaped. In 1959 Howard’s widow donated the estate to Emory University, which subsequently sold the property to the First Christian Church. Maintenance declined, but in 1971 the community rallied to acquire the property and preserve its legacy, rather than lose it to decay or developers. Callanwolde is now a non-profit community arts center and event hall. Every December visitors can tour the house and hear visiting performers play the Aeolian organ, which was restored to working order. A unique experience that I have personally enjoyed, the tone of the organ changes as you walk through the house and pass beneath the various chambers. Detailed pierced tracery conceals the pipework in the two main chambers. False ceiling panels conceal the third and fourth chambers. Read more about Callanwolde’s organ here.
Rest Haven (1918), Druid Hills
Rest Haven belonged to William, the youngest of the Candler clan. Located at 940 Springdale Rd in Druid Hills and designed by Reid and Hentz, it’s the only Candler property to have remained a single family home with no periods of abandonment or disrepair. The home lacks some of the more gregarious amenities enjoyed by his father and older brothers, but it still retains its oak paneling, tigerwood fireplace mantle, and granite foundation that was recycled from the original govenor’s mansion. Most notable about the house is its coordination with the visual aesthetic of the surrounding neighborhood. William didn’t build a monument to himself, he fit right in among his neighbors in a home that reflected the community’s architectural features and color schemes.
According to various sources, William was not interested in spending his inheritance on a showboat mansion. His passions were fast cars and real estate development, so he chose to build small (relatively speaking) and keep the bulk of his money available for property speculation.
One of his best known investments was the Biltmore Hotel and Apartments (1924), an enormous development in Midtown Atlanta with a mixed reputation as a gorgeous example of 1920s architecture and a failed property. William threw his inheritance behind the Biltmore project, but when the stock market crash drove housing prices through the floor poor William washed out. He eventually sold Rest Haven and moved into the Biltmore as a resident. These days the Biltmore lives on as mixed-use office space, and only two historic ballrooms remain. Restored and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, here’s hoping it never falls into decline again.
The Biltmore (completed 1924) as it stands today. Source: Wikipedia
The Biltmore Imperial (L) and Georgian (R) ballrooms. Source: Novare Events
Interestingly, Atlanta’s Biltmore is in no way associated with the Vanderbilt Biltmore Estate. The building took its name from the property management company Bowman-Biltmore, which used the name to invoke the prestige of Biltmore Estate in spite of its lack of connection.
Sidebar 4: The Coca Cola Buy-Out (1919)
When he stepped down as head of Coca Cola, Asa Sr. divided up his interests, giving half to his wife and distributing the other half among his five children. Some accounts note that, true to his thrifty nature, he deducted any money that they had borrowed from him from their inheritance. Asa Jr.’s debt was the greatest, at $100k ($1.3mm in 2017).
In 1919 a team of investors led by Ernest Woodruff, the Candler’s former neighbor from Inman Park, made a handsome offer to the five siblings. Having spent their inheritances wildly, the five Candler offspring agreed sell their holdings in the business their father had poured his life into. This purchase made Woodruff and co. the majority shareholders, and just like that the company was no longer in Candler hands. Howard continued on as president for the next few years until he was replaced by Ernest’s son, Robert Woodruff.
Sidebar 5: The Early Homes of Buddie Candler
To put it mildly, Asa Jr. did not enjoy the same trust and responsibility that his father bestowed upon his older brother.
Known as Buddie or Bud to friends and family, Asa Jr was described as “fun loving” by some, “rambunctious” by others, and “eccentric” by most. While Howard went to New York City to drive East Coast sales and operations, Asa Sr. deployed his namesake to Los Angeles to serve the West Coast. Unlike his brother, Asa Jr. floundered. Sources drawn on correspondences claim Howard placed the blame directly on Asa Jr. for stagnant Coca Cola sales in California. Asa Jr. felt his older brother didn’t understand the unique challenges he faced as both seller and distributor to potential clients. In truth, Asa Jr. was distracted by temptation and fell in with a bad crowd. He spent much of his time in California visiting pool halls, drinking, and partying.
By all accounts, Howard and Asa Jr.’s personalities clashed. While Asa Jr. was upbeat, bubbly, and fun loving, Howard was serious, even dour. Although Asa Sr. received correspondences from both, he placed his trust in Howard’s judgement and decided to remove his second son from the family business and move him home to run a newly acquired cotton mill just outside of Atlanta. It was far enough from the city to avoid temptation, but close enough to keep an eye on him. The message was clear, Buddie was not to follow in his father’s footsteps.
The Boarding House Years
When he was 8 years old, Asa Jr. was sent away to Cartersville, GA, to attend an all-girls school called the West End Institute that was run by his Aunt Florence. He lived at the boarding house next door to the school and went home for summers and Christmases. When he left Cartersville he enrolled at Emory College in Oxford, GA, and lived with his Uncle Warren, then president of the college. Although no record of physical address exists for Warren during this time, local Oxford historians agree that sufficient real estate and related records exist to confirm that he resided at the President’s House, now known as the Dean’s House, near campus. After a falling out with their uncle, Asa Jr. and his brother Howard were kicked out and took up residence in one of the four boarding houses that served Oxford’s student body.
Following graduation Asa Jr. was quickly sent out of state to Los Angeles, CA, to manage the West Coast office with his older cousin Samuel. Archived Los Angeles directories show his address as the Hotel Johnson, a boarding house on Fourth St. near the intersection of Fourth and Main, right next door to the opulent Hotel Westminster and just a half block from the Van Nuys Hotel. Of the three, only the Van Nuys remains, currently named the Barclay Hotel. In the photos below the red arrow points out the former location of the Hotel Johnson, next door to the Westminster.
When Asa Jr. came home in 1899 and moved to Hartwell, GA, he resided in a boarding house for approximately one year. In a letter to his sister from that time he wrote:
“…I am here now to stay. There is no way to get me away except for the mill to go to pieces, and if it were to do that my reputation would be lost. So I will have to make myself a little home up here and I intend to do it just as soon as I can. I am tired of boarding houses, having lived at them ever since I was eight years old.”
– Source: The Candler Papers collection at Emory University
Soon after that letter was written Asa Jr. married his first wife, Helen, and they settled down in their first home.
The Candler-Linder House (1900), Hartwell, GA
Candler-Linder House (estimated 1900) as of 2016. Source: Hartwell Downtown Development Authority.
An archived application for registry as a National Historic Place cites Asa Jr.’s first Georgia home as a 1900 construction. Purchased by Asa Sr., the house was occupied by Buddie until 1906. He married his first wife while living in Hartwell and became a father there. He lost his first-born son and namesake, Asa III, to illness in this house. On February 10, 2017 the city of Hartwell Downtown Development Authority chose to tear down the Candler-Linder house in spite of community efforts to save the property. It had simply decayed beyond salvation and posed a danger and insurance risk to anyone visiting the property. Unfortunately this makes Briarcliff the only remaining residence of Asa Candler Jr. that is still standing.
I had an opportunity to visit the site of the Candler-Linder house in early March of 2017. The Hartwell DDA generously permitted me to walk the cleared site, where I found a piece of scrap from the house where the foundation originally was located. I was also invited to sort through the salvaged woodwork, as well as handle some of the original hardware. In July I purchased a wood-grain enameled porcelain doorknob from the DDA’s Candler-Linder salvage auction. It had been painted over but I was able to gently restore it to its original condition. Both items would have been moderately priced during their day, certainly not representative of the extravagant decor their owner would install in future homes.
Fragment of an iron fireplace surround, likely original to the structure. Too damaged and small for salvage. US quarter included for scale.
Enameled porcelain doorknob from the original structure. Plenty of door knobs in this style can be found relatively inexpensively on eBay.
Jackson St. Residence (1906), Fourth Ward
In 1906 Asa Sr. gave up on the Hartwell cotton mill and brought Buddie home. While some records claim Asa Jr. made a mess of things at the mill, Asa Jr.’s correspondences place the blame on the mill’s manager, who gambled with company funds. The truth lies somewhere in the interpretation of subjective historic accounts. When Buddie moved home he lived briefly in the Fourth Ward (now Old Fourth Ward) in a house on Jackson St. between Angier Ave. and Pine St. This house no longer exists, likely having been burned in the great 1917 Atlanta fire. Historic Atlanta directories place the house’s location at the northern edge of Parkway-Angier Park.
Euclid Ave. Residence (1907), Inman Park
Buddie and his family occupied the Jackson St. house from 1906 to 1907, then moved to their Inman Park home, where they lived from 1907 to 1910. Asa Jr. and his younger brother Walter lived two houses apart, and unfortunately both were torn down in the 1960s as part of a plan to build a road from Inman Park and surrounding areas to the I75/85 connector. Conservation efforts managed to halt the roadwork but not before 500 residences were destroyed, including the middle two Candler boys’ former homes.
UPDATE 7/19/17: I found a photo and floorplan of the Inman Park home in an archived 1908 issue of the Atlanta Georgian newspaper. The architect, George Murphy, is the same one who designed and built Callan Castle, as well as the Candler Building in downtown Atlanta. To the right of the photo you can just make out the vent on top of an outbuilding, which was likely part of the garage area where he housed 6 automobiles.
In June of 1911 Buddie’s clan moved out to what Asa Sr described as a “ramshackle” farmhouse on Williamsville Rd. in Dekalb County. He named the property Briarcliff Farm, presumably after his favorite car, the Lozier Briarcliff, in which he set several speed records during this time period. Eventually the road that fronted the property took the name Briarcliff as well. And when he received his share of his inheritance in 1919, Asa Jr. put into motion his long-held plan to build a palatial home to dwarf all others. He moved his family temporarily into a home on Oakdale road while the farmhouse was razed and the new mansion was built.
Photo taken from Oakdale Road, Atlanta, GA, Dekalb County: Its history & Its People by Antoinette Johnson Matthews, courtesy of Sue Sullivan of Keller Williams Realty, Druid Hills
Which brings us to Briarcliff Mansion.
Briarcliff Mansion (1921-1922, 1925), Druid Hills
Described by some as a man with big ideas but no follow-through, Asa Jr. had dabbled in various businesses and real estate investments ever since his father brought him home to Atlanta. Now flush with cash from the buy-out, Asa Jr. went to work on his own estate.
Briarcliff (completed 1925) in 2012. Source: Wikipedia
At its completion first in 1922 and again in 1925 Briarcliff Mansion stood out as the largest and most extravagant of the Candler properties, although you wouldn’t know it to look at it today. Today it stands empty, boarded up and slowly rotting as decades of deferred maintenance take their toll. The surrounding property was carved up by the state and Emory University into utilitarian units, and the pools were filled in long ago. But at its beginning it was an ostentatious home, a shining example of family one-upmanship that Asa Jr. seemed to thrive on.
Side view from the home’s earliest days, showing the landscaping and greenhouses.
Designed and built by Frazier and Bodin, the property included two enormous pools, one of which was open to the public and served Coca Cola products, the other of which was surrounded by grand, terraced gardens and reserved for family use.
A 1,700 sq ft music room which he named DeOvies Hall was added in 1925, housing the 8th largest Aeolian pipe organ in the world. It included three sets of chimes: main, echo, solarium, harp, and extended 4′ celesta. It also featured massive 32′ pipes, typically only installed in large church organs, rarely residential ones. The console housed a Duo-Art playing mechanism that enabled the organ to be played back using paper scrolls, similar to a player piano.
Itemized original contract detailing costs of organ components. Document kept on file at Wesleyan College in Macon, GA.
The greenhouses and surrounding gardens teemed with rare exotic plants gathered from around the country and across the globe. Although damaged and overgrown, the greenhouses still stand behind the abandoned mansion. The property also included servant quarters, tennis courts, a golf course, stables, and landscape lighting throughout the grounds so the gardens could be enjoyed at night. This last feature was particularly extravagant at the time.
Original floorplan with labeled rooms. Source: Unpublished Dan Bodin biography.
In 1932 Asa Jr. expanded his vision by adding a menagerie of exotic animals, which included six elephants named Coca, Cola, Pause, Refreshes, Refreshing, and Delicious. That’s right, Asa Jr had a personal zoo. Later, after a neighbor sued Asa Jr for damages when an escaped baboon stole and ate $60 out of her purse, he agreed to close his menagerie and donate the animals to Atlanta’s zoo, and later was forced to put his organ up for sale.
The organ was gifted to Wesleyan College in Macon, Ga, thanks to the efforts of Bishop Arthur J Moore, who convinced both the school and the Methodist church to accept the gift. The instrument was incomplete when it arrived, since the pipes from the solarium went to the Florence Candler Chapel at Westview Cemetery, where they remain in inoperable condition today. It is believed but unconfirmed that some of the pipes also went to a private owner in South Carolina. Of the remaining parts, the echo organ was water damaged and the school had to discard 10 ranks. A new console came with the organ but parts of the old console were included. The original value in 1924 was estimated at $92,354 ($1.3MM in 2017). In its disassembled state PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated its value in 1950 at $50,000 ($505,000 in 2017). The remaining instrument components were functional in 1958 when the building that houses it was complete, and Buddie’s second wife Florence attended the dedication. Family friend and organist Virgil Fox performed at the event. Sometime later the organ fell into disrepair and a minor restoration effort took place in 1986. In 2008-2009 a significant restoration effort took place and the organ was rededicated and renamed as the Goodwin-Candler-Panoz organ.
Read a long list of Briarcliff’s other amenities here.
Artist’s depiction of one of the pools
Buddie lived at Briarcliff until 1948, when mounting expenses and declining personal funds made the property too costly to keep. He sold his mansion and moved into the top floor of the Briarcliff Hotel and Apartments, his counterpart to William’s Biltmore project. He remained at that property until his death in January, 1953.
In June, 1953, final photographs of Briarcliff were captured before the property was renovated and converted into an alcoholism treatment center, a fitting end given Asa Jr’s lifelong struggle with alcohol.
Briarcliff’s music room in 1953. The organ’s guts had been sold off at this point, but the console at the right side of the photo remained. Source: Georgia State Archives
Rainbow Terrace (1922), Druid Hills
Back to the rest of the mansions. Lucy Candler lived with her family at the Lemon Pie House until she remarried in 1920. According to some sources her new husband built her next house as a gift for his bride. Others cite Asa Sr. as the financier, and say the house was built as a present for the newlyweds. They named the home Rainbow Terrace, supposedly chosen to reflect Lucy’s fun-loving, colorful personality. Parting ways with her family’s Tudor/Gothic/Classical Revival preferences, they hired architect G. Lloyd Preacher to design the mansion in a Spanish-Mediterranean style at 1610 Ponce de Leon Avenue. The same architect designed Atlanta City Hall.
At 12,000 sq ft Rainbow terrace had its own list of amenities such as a swimming pool, tennis courts and gardens, as well as a playhouse which was designed to look like a smaller version of the main house. In 1943 Lucy’s husband was shot by a burglar and died in the library. A man was eventually convicted for the crime but many sources question the evidence of his guilt. Like the other Candler properties Rainbow Terrace entered a period of uncertainty, and during this time maintenance declined. The property was eventually purchased by a developer who divided the main house into condominium units and built additional units around the perimeter. The complex is now known as Lullwater Estate, an inaccurate and confusing name given the existence of her younger brother Walter’s mansion.
Lullwater House (1925), Emory University
Lullwater House (completed 1925) as it stands today. Source: The Emory Wheel
At 11,000 sq ft, Walter’s Tudor-Gothic Revival home was designed by Ivey and Crook as an English country manor. The quarried stone exterior and central turret were intended to evoke a medieval castle aesthetic. An extravagance-loving alcoholic in his own right, Walter must have been cut from the same cloth as his older brother Asa Jr. He completed his home just as Buddie was adding his three-story music hall, but instead of installing a bountiful list of amenities, Walter built a horse race track where he focused much of his passion. The stones for the home’s exterior were taken from the surrounding property, and quite a bit of landscaping was required to make the natural surroundings accessible to guests.
Located at 1463 Clifton Rd NE and surrounded by 154 acres of Lullwater preserve on the edge of Emory’s campus, Lullwater House is now utilized as the residence of every sitting Emory University president. When Walter gifted the house to Emory he was unable to move his vast collection of furnishings with him. As a result, the home still contains many of Walter’s personal possessions. The surrounding land became a nature preserve that is accessible by Emory students and staff. Walking paths take visitors right up to Lullwater house, and wind through the woods to the site of the original 1920s powerhouse. Sadly, Walter’s beloved racetrack no longer exists.
As with Callanwolde, I had the pleasure of touring Lullwater Estate in the spring of 2017. The construction utilizes interesting visual techniques to create the sense of greater scale, such as roof shingles that are larger at the bottom and smaller at the top, so they appear to recede into the distance more than they actually do. While all of the houses feature the Candler family crest, Walter peppered the exterior and interior with the symbol, more than the Lemon Pie House, Callanwolde and Briarcliff. My favorite part of the tour was the stop in Walter’s personal bathroom, where a specially plumbed shower featured a half-dozen shower-heads. This was an extraordinary luxury during the early 1920s, and I found it a testament to the stories of his self-indulgent personality that he only went that far in his own dedicated space. His wife’s and guest bathrooms featured standard bath fixtures.
Sidebar 4: Glenridge Hall (1929) and Rhododendron Hall (1934)
While the houses listed so far include all of the in-town homes of the Candler family, there are two more estates that must be included in the list, if only for their shared provenance.
In 1929 Thomas K. Glenn built a home well outside of the city in Sandy Springs, GA. Sandy Springs is now a busy suburb of Atlanta, but at the time it was far out in the wilderness, and the estate was meant to be a country home, a getaway from the rigors of city life. Designed by Sam Inman Cooper (as in Inman Park), the 14,000 sq ft Tudor Revival house was said by Thomas’ family to be his effort rival Callanwolde. Why would Thomas K. Glenn want to compete with Callanwolde? Thomas’s sister was Flora Harper Glenn Candler, Charles Howard’s wife. Poor Howard had his biological brother and his brother-in-law gunning for him in the mansion game.
Interesting note, Thomas Glenn made his money in Atlanta Steel, a company that he was put in charge of after its acquisition by Ernest Woodruff, the same man who went on to architect the deal that took Coca Cola out of the Candler family’s hands.
Sadly, in 2015 Glennridge Hall was sold by one of Thomas’ descendants and the home was demolished. Although several proposals were submitted to use the house as an event hall and arts center similar to Callanwolde, Glenn’s descendant chose to sell the property to a developer who replaced the grand old estate with apartments. Some of the land will be developed into a Mercedes corporate headquarters. While most of the Candler mansion legacies have been preserved, sometimes money outweighs the value of history.
Samuel Candler Dobbs, Asa Sr.’s cousin and third president of Coca Cola, built Rhododendron Hall (originally Marcan Hall) for his son in the suburb now known as Buckhead. Designed by Sam Inman Cooper, this 15,000 sq ft Tudor Revival home features 11 bedrooms, a pool, and tennis courts. Located at 65 Valley Road, Tuxedo Park, it has enjoyed a long life in an elite neighborhood that the wealthy still consider high status. The 1998 book “The Aeolian Pipe Organ and Its Music” lists four organs sold to the Candler family and installed in their homes. The fourth, yet unaccounted for organ is recorded as sold to Samuel Candler Dobbs Jr. The serial number places it later than the Briarcliff installation. It’s possible, maybe even likely, that Rhododendron Hall is the former home of the fourth Candler organ, but I have not successfully confirmed that yet.
Back to Briarcliff’s Buddie
By all accounts, Asa Jr. was an eccentric man. That’s the word I’ve seen again and again as I’ve researched Briarcliff’s history, eccentric. It’s a mild but pointed word, a kind way to describe someone unpredictable in a society where money equals power. I’m reminded of a scene from the movie Speed where Dennis Hopper’s character describes himself similarly. “Crazy? No, poor people are crazy, Jack. I’m eccentric.”
Asa Candler Jr. in 1909, aged 29
Biographers cite correspondences and interviews with those who knew Asa Jr., describing a bright and fun-loving man who descended into alcoholism and moodiness. Some accounts claim that he would throw enormous parties in the music hall, and rather than join the festivities he would drink and glower from his master bedroom balcony, which overlooked the room.
Asa Candler Jr. age 47 (1927, estimate). Source: archived eBay auction
His competitiveness with his family asserted itself again and again, sometimes in the form of philanthropy, sometimes in the form of social events. When Lucy’s oldest daughter was introduced as a debutante via an elaborate cotillion, Asa Jr. threw his oldest daughter an even more elaborate debut, one that filled the house with exotic plants and drove the journalists covering the event to purple prose.
In his 20s he was a car enthusiast who convinced his father to sink millions into the construction of the Atlanta Speedway, which failed within the first season of races. He later became an aviation enthusiast who threw financial backing behind Atlanta’s air field, now the Hartsfield Jackson Airport, which occupies the land formerly covered by the Atlanta Speedway. For history buffs Candler Field Museum in Williamson, GA offers a recreation of the ’20s and ’30s era of flight in the Atlanta area.
Asa Candler Jr. portrait, undated. Source: Wikitree
Later in life he became the owner and financier of Westview Cemetery, one of the largest nonprofit cemeteries in the United States. In this role he was responsible for the elaborately designed Westview Abbey, yet another example of Candler-inspired opulence and old world aesthetic in the suburbs of Atlanta, Ga. Is it any surprise that the man behind the grandiose Briarcliff Mansion ensured that Westview Mausoleum was the largest structure of its kind? Discover more about Westview Cemetery here. I highly recommend a visit to the Abbey, partly to marvel at the beauty of its construction, and partly to put its aesthetic into context with the other properties. While there you may visit the chapel where the silenced organ pipes from Briarcliff Mansion’s solarium reside.
Buddie lived his life for the sake of superlatives. Everything he did was the biggest, the fastest, the best, demonstrating again and again that his sense of achievement was derived by his ability to supersede those who came before him. His final superlative may have been the construction of what he claimed was the world’s largest trophy room, in which he displayed taxidermied animals that he had personally shot all over the globe. After his death many of those specimens found their way into Fernbank Science Center’s collection.
I have personally visited the taxidermy collection and observed interesting patterns that are consistent with the way in which he pursued other passions throughout his life. He couldn’t shoot just one specimen when seven, eight, or even fifteen would do. The breadth of the collection is one thing. The redundancy of some of the specimens beyond what would be necessary for scientific study is something else entirely.
Partial view of the taxidermy collection at Fernbank Science Center, Atlanta.
Over the decades following his death the surrounding Briarcliff property was transformed from sprawling lush gardens to inpatient housing for the mentally disturbed. Tunnels were dug beneath the grounds to transport maximum security patients to and from the outbuilding units. The largest structure, the Georgia Mental Health Institute, served as a major location for the first season of the Netflix series Stranger Things.
GMHI exterior. Personal photo from February 2015
In 2015 I visited Briarcliff Mansion with a friend, fellow Atlanta-based author A. K. Anderson, and we had the opportunity to get up close and personal with the property. We stayed outside with the exception of the pool house, which we explored thoroughly. We then explored the outpatient buildings and the courtyards of the Institute. The outpatient buildings have since been torn down, but the mansion and the Institute still stand.
At the time I had no idea that this encounter with Atlanta history would lead me on a journey two years later to uncover its story, as well as the stories of its brother and sister properties. I’ve tapped countless resources for details, only a fraction of which I shared in this post. Resources include the Atlanta History Center archives, the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System, the Georgia State Archives (including one archivist who helped guide me to valuable land records), the Emory University Archives, the Hartwell Downtown Development Authority (who permitted me to view and handle some of the salvaged architectural features of the Candler-Linder House), the Wesleyan College music department staff, Historic Dekalb County, an Illustrated History by Vivian Price, and Candler biographies including Asa Griggs Candler by C.H. Candler via the Georgia State Archives, God’s Capitalist: Asa Candler by Kathryn W. Kemp, The Real Ones: Four Generations of the First Family of Coca Cola by Elizabeth Candler Graham and Ralph Roberts, and the exceptionally well researched and written Formula for Fortune: How Asa Candler Discovered Coca Cola and Turned it into the Wealth His Children Enjoyed by Ann Uhry Abrams. I highly recommend Ms. Abrams book to anyone interested in understanding the Candler family dynamics, although many of Buddie’s most entertaining misadventures are not accounted for in this book, or any single book I can find.
If you would like to know more about the life of Asa Candler Jr. or if you would like some assistance in your own research, please feel free to comment or ask questions below. If you made it this far, I hope it was worth the journey. Thanks for reading.