An Unwritten Chapter of Briarcliff Road

Between 1917 and 1925, two landmark Druid Hills estates, Callanwolde and Briarcliff, were built for two Candler brothers along Briarcliff Road.  The stories of these houses and their owners are remarkable, but an important chapter has never been told.   The contributions of Owen James Southwell and Daniel Herman Bodin, two young architects who came to Atlanta to work on Callanwolde, have yet to be acknowledged.

Cannanwolde

Cannanwolde

Main Stair at Callenwolde

Main Stair at Callenwolde

Callenwolde Pool

Callenwolde Pool

In 1917 the Candler family hired nationally renowned architect Henry Hornbostel to design the initial buildings at the new Atlanta campus of Emory University.  That same year Charles Howard Candler engaged Hornbostel to design his elaborate home, Callanwolde.  In 1919 Hornbostel transferred Owen Southwell from his Pittsburgh office to Atlanta to represent the firm and in 1920 hired Dan Bodin to provide additional help.  The architectural history of Callanwolde largely stops with Hornbostel, but architecture and construction are collaborative efforts. These two talented young architects played a significant role in the estate’s design and construction.  While Hornbostel increased Atlanta’s national reputation and laid a beautiful foundation in Druid Hills, his introduction of Southwell and Bodin was an equally significant contribution to Atlanta.

Owen Southwell, who was featured in the last edition of the Druid Hills News, won a scholarship to Tulane University where he studied architecture for two years before transferring to the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh where Hornbostel founded the architecture department in 1905.  Dan Bodin also studied architecture at Carnegie Tech and was hired by Hornbostel upon graduation.

There is no record that either architect had a “grand tour” of Europe, but the US military provided both men with a tour during WWI. Southwell was stationed in Southampton, England during his time with the Navy, and Bodin was stationed in Contreville, France with the Army. With their interest in historic European architecture, it is natural to assume that both men traveled as much as they were allowed in surrounding areas.

Because of the distance between Atlanta and Hornbostel’s northern offices, it is likely that the two men completed the working drawings and design details in addition to supervising the construction. Because little is known about the working relationship, these architects’ later work provides the only clues to their contributions.   Although neither Southwell nor Bodin achieved significant national recognition, their existing work speaks to their architectural talents.  Many of the features and details used on Callanwolde can be seen in later designs, and Briarcliff, the mansion built for Charles Howard Candler’s brother, provides an interesting study.

After Hornbostel’s Atlanta work was completed in 1921, Bodin began working for Charles Frazier, an established Atlanta architect. Since 1907 Frazier had maintained a small firm and hired Dan Bodin in 1921.  Frazier offered Bodin partnership in 1925, and Bodin quickly became the firm’s principle designer.  Frazier and Bodin continued to grow until Frazier’s death in December 1939, and Bodin would continue working until his passing in 1963.  Frazier and Bodin would become known primarily for its work in the Tuxedo Park neighborhood where the firm designed thirty-nine houses and set an impressive tone for the entire development.  Their designs for the Hugh Nunnally, Charles King, and Charles Nunnally houses are perhaps their best known, and they also designed a home for Bobby Jones in 1928 on Northside Drive.

 Asa Griggs Candler, Jr. engaged Frazier in 1920 to design an elegant estate that he would name “Briarcliff” on forty-two acres just north of Callanwolde. Briarcliff was built between 1920 and 1922, and as with Hornbostel in 1920, Bodin would help see Frazier’s original design to completion.  The house was completed in 1922, but Frazier and Bodin continued to work on the property for another thirteen years.  In 1925 Candler asked Bodin to enlarge the estate, and while there were several additions, the music room, now known as DeOvies Hall, provides the best insight into Bodin’s participation at Callanwolde and his design acumen.

Briarcliffe

Briarcliff

Briarcliff Music Room

The music room is Bodin’s most elaborate Tudor interior. This impressive room with its vaulted ceiling, limestone fireplace, and paneled walls recalls the winter living room at Callanwolde. The restrained Georgian Revival exterior gives no hint of the music room’s interior, but this was a common theme during the creative electric period.  Hornbostel and his associates had employed a similar device at Callanwolde where the dining room featured an eclectic mix of Regency inspired ornamentation.

The elaborate Tudor room was not Buddy Candler’s only surprise at Briarcliff, and his zoo and other monkey business are Atlanta legends.  In 1920 when Bodin began his relationship with the Candler family, he could never have anticipated designing cages for wild animals and lanning a zoo fifteen years later.   After designing formal residences for many years, building cages was quite an aberration for the architect.

Briarcliff was sold in 1948, and it has continued to have an interesting role in the area’s history.  Unfortunately, the house is only a shell of its former glory and is deteriorating in obscurity.  Callanwolde was sold in 1959 and languished under several owners and tenants but has been painstakingly restored to serve Druid Hills as an arts center.  The legacies of Southwell and Bodin may follow similar paths to the mansions that they helped design.  Hopefully, new chapters will be written not only about these talented architects but also Briarcliff as well.

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