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Callanwolde offers glimpse into Atlanta’s past

Q: Who built Callanwolde and what is it used for today?

A: In Atlanta’s Druid Hills, the Callanwolde estate has overlooked its leafy, affluent neighborhood for nearly 100 years.

Above a window in its dining room is a colorful, stained glass and metal shield etched with the Latin words “Ad Mortem Fidelis,” or “Faithful until death.”

The window, which overlooks the gardens, serves as a reminder to visitors of the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center that before the estate was a bustling property for training visual and performing artists, it was home to the Candler family, one of Atlanta’s most prominent families during the 19th and 20th centuries.

“The Candler family helped define the Atlanta we know today,” said Peggy Still Johnson, who has served as the center’s executive director since 2013 and plans to depart from the role in 2018. “Without them, we would not have modern-day Coca-Cola or so many other notable landmarks and institutions.”

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That’s because in 1891, Atlanta pharmacist Asa Griggs Candler purchased the rights for the Coca-Cola formula and founded The Coca-Cola Co. That bubbly beverage’s success cemented the Southern city’s legacy as the home of the world-famous soft drink.

In 1920, Asa’s son, Howard Candler, who by that time was president of The Coca-Cola Co., built the Tudor revival-style Callanwolde estate for his family.

The 27,000-square-foot mansion derives its name from the family’s ancestral connection to the Irish town of Callan and wolde, the Old English word for woods. The home was designed by Henry Hornbostel, who also designed Emory University, Johnson said.

Owned by the Candler family for 39 years, the estate and many original furnishings were donated to Emory University in 1959, two years after Howard Candler’s death.

The First Christian Church later acquired the house and temporarily leased the property to an artist who planned to establish a gallery. The estate then fell into disarray.

Community members saw a historic property worth saving and by 1972 had raised the funds to purchase it. The home was soon placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the nonprofit Callanwolde Fine Arts Center was created.

The center offers classes and workshops in visual, literary and performing arts. Seasonal events include Christmas at Callanwolde, which runs through Dec. 12.

A capital campaign has raised $2.1 million since 2014 to restore buildings on the 12-acre campus for classes and workshops.

The Atlanta office of Lord Aeck Sargent recently restored two historic outbuildings including a greenhouse and a barn. The barn was adaptively reused as a music-recording studio where Grammy Award-winning producer Phil Tan has worked to create albums for artists such as Rihanna and Coldplay. Entertainer CeeLo Green in October dedicated with his family the greenhouse to his grandmother, Ruby Callaway Robinson.

If you’re new in town or have questions about this special place we call home, ask us! E-mail q&a@ajc.com or call 404-222-2002.

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