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Briarcliff Mansion façade, 1930s

Briarcliff Mansion façade, 1930s

There is a once-grand mansion in our midst on Briarcliff Road. Blocked from view by a tall stone wall and thick overgrowth, it is easy to miss. Built for Asa “Buddie” Candler, Jr., and his family in the early 1920s, the 42-acre estate came to include greenhouses, a terraced garden, a swimming pool where neighborhood children were welcome, a bathhouse, a commercial laundry, a dairy, and a (short-lived) private zoo. This mansion has fallen on hard times.

The Coca-Cola tycoon Asa Candler and his wife had four sons (and a daughter) who all built their homes in Druid Hills. The patriarch himself built a one-story home in Druid Hills when his wife became incapacitated. And at least three Candler grandchildren received houses in Druid Hills as wedding presents (or so the story goes). These are the houses that “Coca-Cola built.”

After World War II, the Federal Government purchased the Briarcliff estate from Candler and planned to build a Veterans Administration Hospital on the site. When the government decided instead to build the VA Hospital on the Walter Candler racetrack property, the State of Georgia purchased the estate and turned the mansion into The Georgian Clinic, the state’s first residential treatment center for alcoholism. During the early 1960s, the Georgia Mental Health Institute [GMHI] was built to the south of the mansion (gobbling up the terraced garden), and The Georgian Clinic began to operate as an outpatient drug and alcohol treatment center known as DeKalb Addiction Center [DAC].

During the 1980s, North Georgia’s federal community service officer instituted an innovative program for first-time offenders who undertook the rehabilitation of the greenhouses. In 1988, the mansion was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, it is part of the Local DeKalb Druid Hills Historic District.

Emory University acquired the Briarcliff mansion and its property in the late 1990s. Today it is known as Emory’s Briarcliff Campus or Emory West. The old GMHI building contains classrooms. The mansion is empty, used occasionally as a movie set mostly for horror films. Windows and doors are boarded up. In July 2007, the DeKalb County Historic Preservation Commission described the house as a “demolition by neglect” item leading to the specified procedure for such a situation. The present securing of the house resulted from that procedure.

In summer 2010, the Druid Hills Civic Association board of directors was informed that the roof had been repaired with funds donated to Emory by the Chick-fil-A Foundation which planned to convert the mansion into a hospitality house for families of cancer patients at Emory Hospital (in memory of a vice-president’s wife who had been treated at Emory). That effort did not succeed.

Recently neighbors have rallied around Charlie Paine, who has just graduated from high school and is headed for the College of Charleston’s historic preservation program in the fall. At the DHCA’s May board meeting, Charlie addressed the group and asked for help. Check out this recent Creative Loafing article: about Charlie’s effort and the Facebook page he has created.

Contributed by Alida Silverman and Jennifer J. Richardson

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  1. Also, the former GMHI building (the big hospital building) is completely empty. There are no classrooms there.

  2. Contact Emory to let your opinions be known! They plan to wall it off and redevelop the rest of the property, which is not in the best interests of anyone.


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