Decaying and abandoned, Briarcliff Mansion-formerly owned by Coca-Cola heir Asa “Buddie” Candler Jr.-sits on 42 acres steeped in history. Once a symbol of Atlanta’s elite, the 40-room mega-mansion has been dormant for years. Now, a community developer plans to revive the estate.

The mansion isn’t just a former residence; it’s a reminder of one of the city’s most influential and intriguing figures.

From Coca-Cola Heir’s Mansion To Emory’s Campus

Briarcliff used to be the owner of the mansion and estate of Asa Griggs “Buddy” Candler Jr. (1880-1953), and now it’s part of Emory University. The estate was built in 1922 on 42 acres of land on Williams Mill Road, which is now called Briarcliff Road, in Druid Hills near Atlanta.

Source: US Library of Congress

It was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. Asa Jr. was the interesting son of Asa Griggs Candler, who helped start Coca-Cola. Asa Jr. also helped grow his dad’s business and later started building stuff like the Briarcliff Hotel in Atlanta’s Virginia Highland neighborhood.

Candler Jr.’s Legacy: Shaping Atlanta’s Landmarks And Streets

According to Butler, from the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to Zoo Atlanta to the Fernbank Science Center, Candler Jr.’s influence has played a significant role in making the city what it is today.

Source: Alyssa Pointer

“He’s the reason Atlanta has the busiest airport in the world,” she said. “He’s the reason the Clermont Hotel is named the Clermont. He gave Briarcliff Road its name, and by extension every side street and business with Briarcliff in its name.”

From Mansions To Farm Life

In 1910, Asa Jr. left the trendy Inman Park neighborhood, where his father also owned a mansion, and moved to a “ramshackle” farmhouse on Briarcliff Farm, spanning 42 acres.

Source: Wikimedia Commons/Caroline Sheridan Baker

The farm was located just north of Callanwolde, his brother Charles’ estate. Asa Jr. oversaw a large agricultural operation that supplied meat and produce to local stores. They raised cows, sheep, pigs, and chickens on the farm.

From Farm To Mansion

During World War I, Briarcliff Farm provided milk to Fort Gordon. The farm gathered praises for its modern amenities, like fans. It even had individual drinking fountains for the cows. It was known for its cleanliness, fresh air, and ample light, which resulted in much better quality produce.

Source: Wikimedia Commons/Keizers

Briarcliff was built from 1920 to 1922 with a Georgian Revival design. Architect Dan Bodin assisted Frazier in overseeing the project’s completion. By 1925, Candler had the mansion expanded, which included the addition of a music room. The Briarcliff mansion boasted a grand 1,700 square feet music room, a lavish entry hall, a paneled library, and spacious living areas.

Coca-Cola Cash Clash

In a race against his siblings, who all got $25 million from their Coca-Cola shares, Candler Jr. wanted to have the best possessions in the Candler family.

Source: Facebook/Save Briarcliff/Candler Mansion

The heir eventually succeeded in his goal. He had the biggest private magic collection worldwide back then, and he often put on magic shows for Atlanta’s elite at the mansion.

Briarcliff: A Symbol Of Atlanta’s Past And Present

He even built a special zoo with elephants and bears on the land. Candler Jr.’s money and big dreams didn’t just change the Briarcliff Farm; they also impacted the whole city of Georgia.

Source: Youtube/Emory University

“This property represents that unique mixture of Atlanta myth and reality – that is both convenient and uncomfortable,” Atlanta Preservation Center executive director David Mitchell told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Luxury And Extravagance At Briarcliff

Its dining rooms had the capacity to house large gatherings. It was adorned with exquisite marble fireplaces and sterling silver chandeliers.

Source: Youtube/Emory University

The estate also had tennis courts, stables, greenhouses, and even a zoo, reflecting the extravagant lifestyle of its owner, Asa Candler Jr.

Candler Jr.’s Bid To Outshine

In 1925, Asa Candler Jr. sought to outdo his father and brother by purchasing a grand Aeolian organ worth $94,000 in the music room. This impressive instrument boasted 88 ranks and 187 stops. This made it the largest privately owned organ in Georgia and the 8th largest ever built by Aeolian for a residence.

Source: Wikimedia Commons/University of Washington

Its debut in November 1925 featured a recital by family friend Palmer Christian, broadcasted over radio station WSB. Eventually, in 1952, the organ was donated to Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, where it underwent renovation in 2008 and is now called the Goodwyn-Candler-Panoz organ.

Legal Woes Over Exotic Menagerie

Candler kept an exhibition of exotic birds and animals in custom-designed cages at his estate, courtesy of architect Bodin. Among them were a Bengal tiger, four lions, a black leopard, a gorilla, baboons, and six elephants with playful names like Coca, Cola, Pause, Refreshes, Refreshing, and Delicious.

Source: Youtube/Emory University

Facing financial woes in 1935, Candler attempted to sell his pipe organ but encountered trouble when a neighbor sued after a baboon from the zoo snatched money from her purse, resulting in a $10,000 settlement. Eventually, Candler donated his entire menagerie to the Grant Park Zoo, now known as Zoo Atlanta.

Briarcliff’s Poolside Paradise

The mansion boasted two swimming pools, one of which was accessible to the public for a mere 25 cents per person. Adorned with a neon-lighted fountain that illuminated the pool area at night, the space was meticulously landscaped with flowers and shrubs.

Source: Georgia State University Library

Visitors could purchase Coca-Cola and snacks from a stand nearby, adding to the allure of this luxurious retreat.

Magical Nights At Briarcliff

On the third-floor ballroom of the mansion, Candler Jr. held his “magic parties.” It was a big deal for Atlanta’s fancy crowd. The ballroom even had a hidden door that was probably used for tricks where people disappear during the shows.

Source: Youtube/Emory University

“Buddie used to claim that Houdini was one of his best friends, but the evidence and the timeline suggest something a little more superficial. Well, let’s just say Buddie liked to spin a good yarn,” Butler said.

Candler Jr.’s Legendary Legacy: Fact Or Fiction?

Candler Jr. had a reputation that preceded him in the Peach State. This eventually led to the Coca-Cola heir being known for his drinking and the folklore of him haunting the Briarcliff Mansion after his death.

Source: Emory University Archives

Butler clarified that there is a local story about Briarcliff alleging that he would become intoxicated and sit on his balcony in the music hall, glaring at his guests. However, there is no evidence to support this claim.

Tragedy Strikes At Briarcliff

It is often said that he was a miserable drunk who now haunts the premises because it later became a treatment center for alcoholics. However, he actually quit drinking in the late 1930s and was not residing at the mansion when he died in 1953. Although he didn’t die there, someone else did, and it happened with his own gun.

Source: Youtube/Emory University

After meeting Jose Cruz, a magician, during a trip to the Philippines, Candler Jr. invited him to move to Atlanta. Cruz became his butler and also taught him magic tricks, among other duties, as one of the 15 servants and staff at Briarcliff Mansion.

Love, Obstacles, And Tragedy

On January 18, 1931, the bodies of Cruz and a young woman were discovered inside a vehicle on the property. A note was seen inside it which claimed that Gladys Friz and Jose Cruz took their lives because of objections from Louise Frix and Mrs. J.T Clay.

Source: Youtube/Emory University

The estate was later sold to the General Services Administration in 1948 with plans for a veterans’ hospital, which never happened. Instead, the Georgian Clinic, later known as the DeKalb County Addiction Center, opened in 1953 as Georgia’s first alcohol treatment facility. The pool remained open for patients until the late 1950s because of bankruptcy which led to its closure.

From Mental Health Institute To University Campus

Between 1965 and 1997, the estate housed the Georgia Mental Health Institute, consisting of a tall tower and several cottages connected by underground tunnels. Reports of hauntings have circulated around the estate.

Source: Youtube/Emory University

Today, it serves as the Briarcliff Campus of Emory University, yet the mansion remains vacant and rundown. Notably, the mansion has been featured as a filming location for the TV show Doom Patrol, as revealed in a behind-the-scenes feature on the season one Blu-ray.

Now A Haunted House

Images show that the house has become a scary place, with a spooky message painted on an indoor fountain in the old solarium saying, “It ran with blood.”

Source: Youtube/Emory University

People say the place is haunted by former patients from their hospital days. Charlie Paine, who is leading the effort to save the mansion, told The Southerner that he once saw an old lady, who claimed she used to be a nurse there, walking around the creepy property many years ago.

A Future In Limbo

He said: “I remember looking at her hands as she was talking and seeing blood where she had scratched and picked at her skin. Whatever happened had obviously taken some toll on her.”

Source: Youtube/Emory University

The home now sits on the Briarcliff Campus of Emory University, which purchased the property in 1998. The university had plans to turn the grounds into a 54-room boutique hotel, however, it is still in a state of disrepair.