Monday, January 27, 2014

Buddy Candler's Briarcliff Manse in Disrepair

Briarcliff, the Georgian Revival mansion built for Asa Candler, Jr in 1920 sits vacant, and has for quite some time. The property was bought by Emory University in 1998 along with a dozen other buildings associated with the Georgia Mental Health Institute. The mansion in all of its decrepit misery is, astoundingly, located in historic Druid Hills, right here.

In 1910 Asa Candler, Jr, known to many as "Buddy", moved from Inman Park to a 42-acre farm in Druid Hills. He ran a commercial farming operation on the property that was lauded for its use of electric lights and fans to provide better conditions for the animals which reportedly increased yields.

In 1916, Buddy hired architects C.E. Frazier and Dan Boden to design his new home. Frazier must have been well known in Druid Hills at the time, having designed several large "English-American" houses that decade. Little is known about Boden. Buddy enlarged the mansion in 1925 with the three-story 'Music Hall' that included an incredibly large Aeolian organ, now owned by Wesleyan College in Macon.

"Abandoned Mansion" photography by Brian McGrath Davis

Perhaps the most distinguishing element to the mansion's history is the collection of exotic animals Candler kept on site. The collection included a Bengal tiger, four lions, a black leopard, a gorilla, baboons, and six elephants. Candler donated the entire menagerie of animals to what would later become the Grant Park Zoo.

The mansion also included two swimming pools, one open to the public for 25 cents per person. The pool had a neon-lit fountain and a concessionaire to buy Coca Cola and snacks.

In 1948, the Candlers sold the estate to the General Services Administration for use as a veterans hospital, which never materialized. Instead, the Georgian Clinic (later known as the DeKalb County Addiction Center) opened there as the first alcohol treatment facility in the state.

Today, the building is boarded up and only occasionally used for television and movie location filming. From Brian McGrath Davis' photographs and others, it is clear that the building is slowly rotting away.

It appears from Emory's 2005 master plan that they would like to demolish the 1950s-era Cross-shaped health building, its associated 'Bungalow' buildings, and the numerous pre-fab and utility buildings on the property and build housing for employees - though this plan does not seem to have any traction yet. The fate of Briarcliff is unknown, though, according to a PR piece on YouTube its too expensive to rehab and too expensive to tear down.

Sounds like Emory needs to initiate a capital campaign for this Architectural treasure...

Exterior of Asa Griggs Candler Jr.'s house (1922) on Briarcliff Road, Atlanta, Georgia, September 1953, courtesy of the Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library

Thanks for the tip on this sad story from an anonymous comment on this post.