Ashlar Hall’s new owner hopes to restore historic landmark soon

MEMPHIS, Tenn. —Ashlar Hall, the fortress-like landmark remembered by many as a notorious nightclub owned by a self-proclaimed space alien, may have a new lease on life after years of vacancy and failed efforts at renovation.

Juan Montoya bought the 11,000-square-foot Victorian Gothic building in a tax sale last year, though it's a bit of a fixer-upper.

"We're putting it together from rubble, basically," said project architect Hunter Fleming with Memphis-based Facture Design.

Montoya, a contractor and real estate investor, said he's been fascinated by the gargoyle-studded structure since he moved to Memphis from Colombia 16 years ago.

He says he's stabilizing the building now and has the financing and know-how to finish his project in 18 months. He doesn't yet have a cost estimate and Fleming says the work will likely be done in phases.

"We like to do everything like original," Montoya said.

He hasn't decided on a use for the building yet, but is planning on commercial office space, or a reception hall to tie into rental venues at nearby Annesdale and the University Club.

► Take a 360-degree tour inside Ashlar Hall, a historic Memphis landmark.

Last year, Montoya snapped up Ashlar Hall for $59,000 after a renovation attempt by a previous owner stalled and ran afoul of the city's blight ordinance.

That project was halted by Environmental Court Judge Larry Potter after a person leasing the space for a restaurant removed part of the roof and copper and stone from the exterior.

Montoya said his project would begin on the exterior, starting by restoring the missing front portico.

"He's meticulous, and he does what he says," said attorney Josh Hardison, who has worked with Montoya on the project for the past year.

But there are roadblocks. The property still faces an active citation in Environmental Court, and the case has been continued several times.

Hardin said the structure is basically sound and built like a "bomb shelter," but tarps cover areas where stone is missing from the facade. Layers of paint and wallpaper would have to be peeled from carved woodwork, windows and plaster inside.

Montoya is waiting for a review by the Memphis Landmarks Commission to begin work, he said.

A Landmarks staff member indicated they were aware of Montoya's plans but offered no comment because it is outside their districts. Ashlar Hall sits just outside the Central Gardens and Annesdale-Snowden districts.

June West of historic preservation advocacy group Memphis Heritage said she was concerned that she hasn't seen any of Montoya's plans for the historic structure.

"We'd love to hear about it, we'd love to be supportive if it's a legitimate plan," she said.

Ashlar Hall is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Robert Brinkley Snowden, a former owner of Memphis' Peabody Hotel and great-grandson of the hotel's founder, designed and built it as his family's home in 1896.

It was converted to a restaurant run by the Grisanti family in the 1960s, and was used as a restaurant and nightclub into the 1990s, most famously as Prince Mongo's Castle.

Prince Mongo, an eccentric perennial mayoral candidate who claims to be from the planet Zambodia and was cited by code inspectors for his "artwork" displays outside the club, turned over the keys to the building in 2013.