With all of the recent news about Ashlar Hall and its ownership, I thought it would be a good time to look at the history of this property. This castle was constructed - and designed - by R. Brinkley Snowden on an elongated triangular lot at the southeast corner of Lamar and Central Avenue. The structure was completed in 1898, just eight years after Mr. Snowden graduated from Princeton. To quote Messrs. Johnson and Russell in their Memphis: An Architectural Guide, "one wonders what books about medieval castles Snowden brought back with him from Princeton, or perhaps the whole may have been influenced by a too-early reading of Ivanhoe."
Brinkley Snowden was Memphis royalty. He was the son of Robert Bogardus Snowden and Annie Overton Brinkley Snowden, who built Annesdale across Lamar in 1855. By the turn of the century, Brinkley Snowden had become one of the most prolific homebuilders in the city. In 1925, he took over ownership of the brand new and relocated Peabody Hotel, which had been started by his great-grandfather, Colonel Robert C. Brinkley, in 1869. Brinkley Snowden died in 1942 at the age of 73. Maintaining this very large house as a single-family residence thereafter became difficult for the heirs, and in 1960 an application was filed with the Board of Adjustment to allow a non-residential use in the structure.
This request from the attorney for the new owner of the property, Southern Distributing Company, was submitted to the Board to allow the structure to be used for a restaurant. The following letters were submitted in support of this application. As they indicate, the restaurant that would be located in the building was to be Grisanti's.
Eastern Side Of Ashler Hall
Throughout the 1960s, the property owner received one- and two-year approvals from the Board of Adjustment to operate a restaurant at the site through the variance process. By 1970, the owner was ready to make a request to the Planning Commission to permanently rezone the property. The letter below from John J. Griesbaum, Planning Director, indicates the Planning Commission was more comfortable with the Board of Adjustment granting a variance, which could be conditioned, rather than a rezoning, which cannot.
By 1970, the Kemmons Wilson Realty Co. owned the property.
Ashlar Hall in 1970. By this time, it was no longer known as Grisanti's, but as Ashlar Hall Restaurant. This restaurant continued for several years. The building was later purchased by Robert "Prince Mongo" Hodges, who would operate a club which may or may not have sold enough food to truly be classified as a restaurant until the mid-1990's. It has sat vacant since.