It may not be Hogwarts, but Prince Mongo's "castle" on Central might be the next best thing for Memphis Harry Potter fans and followers of all sorts of geek culture if the Memphis Comic & Fantasty Convention has its way.
This past weekend, the Memphis Comic & Fantasy Convention team held an open house at the University Club across the street from the historic, long-abandoned Ashlar Hall, where they shared their plans for transforming the castle into a center for the arts.
Ashlar Hall Center for the Arts would offer classes in film-making, comic book design, painting, creative writing, theater, costume design, and more. And Memphis Comic & Fantasy Convention founder Joe Thordarson said they'd also host other weekend festivals.
"If you're into geek culture, prepare to be spoiled rotten," Thordarson said. "We could have Harry Potter mini-conventions or steampunk mystery dinners. We would have the ultimate clubhouse."
Alternatively, Ty Cobb, founder of the Have a Standard Foundation, has dreams of using Ashlar Hall as another location for his CoreFire Commandos training program.
CoreFire Commandos, which Cobb founded in 2001, uses existing training centers in the Kroc Center and Dulins Sports Complex in Cordova to train kids in decision-making and life skills. A team of students is given a fictional scenario, such as the Mississippi River experiencing record flooding, and they must complete an obstacle course, using math and other skills, to solve the problem.
Ashlar Hall was declared a public nuisance because of numerous code violations, and in September, the city agreed to help its current owner, Hodges, find a new owner to donate the property to.
Shortly after that, a man named Kenny Medlin said Hodges had quitclaimed the property to him, but the move was illegal since the property was being dealt with in Environmental Court. Judge Larry Potter decided to give Medlin a chance however, giving him two weeks to come up with a plan to restore the home. Medlin, who wanted to use the space as a home for kids with cancer, was unable to meet the judge's request. That deal was voided, and the field was reopened for possible new owners of the property.
Both Thordasen and Cobb will present their plans to Judge Potter at a compliance hearing on February 28th.
Cobb said he was in ongoing talks with Thordarson about possibly collaborating on their plans, but nothing has been decided for certain.
"If we're all positive and working together, it's better for all of us and better for Memphis," Cobb said.
Thordarson acknowledges that the crumbling Ashlar Hall needs a lot of work, but since he works as a contractor, he has managed to get pledges from other contractors to help with the stone work and other needed repairs. Of particular concern are damage to the roof and swimming pool.
And he said his group has been encouraged by the postive reaction from Ashlar Hall's Central Gardens neighbors.
"We want to reassure them that we're not looking to change the architecture, and we're not going to be out there at 4 a.m. with wild stuff going on," Thordarson said, referring to Ashlar Hall's time as a nightclub run by Hodges.