The Movie Star in our Backyard: Thornewood Castle
An old-world mansion hidden away in Tacoma beckons modern visitors, including film crews.
By Rachel Pritchett
[Bremerton] Sun Staff
December 14, 2002
History meets fiction at Lakewood's breathtaking Thornewood Castle Inn & Gardens, a 56-room Tudor Gothic manor on American Lake, an hour south of Bremerton.
The nation's great architects and landscapers devoted their genius to making Thornewood. Presidents -- Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft -- once kicked up their feet at this home built by one of the Northwest's pioneering financiers nearly a century ago.
But all this history is just fodder for modern movie-makers, who time and again have banged on Thornewood's massive double doors when in need of a haunted castle.
At first glance, the sprawling manor, now run as a bed and breakfast, seems out of place in this small oasis of nice homes adjacent to a bare-bones section of Lakewood. The three-story, 36,000-square-foot brick edifice, with its many Wilkeson sandstone chimneys and grand fountain, seems better set in old England.
But the original Thornewood grounds covered more than 100 acres in 1911, when it was completed. Greater Tacoma has since encroached, and today the estate covers only 4 1/2 acres.
Deanna Robinson, who owns Thornewood with her husband, Wayne, a financial officer with a Seattle law firm, greets visitors warmly, inviting them through massive oak doors.
Walls in the Great Hall boast 16th-century oak panels shipped from England at the turn of the century. A giant blazing fireplace stands nearby, and tall, mullioned windows each hold a miniature stained-glass vignette.
Visitors relax on elegantly upholstered couches as Robinson, dressed in warm-ups and managing a constantly ringing cell phone, greets a Hollywood film crew shooting "The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer."
Avid Stephen King fan Nancy Sampson of Sheridan, Wyo., was checking out Monday after spending two nights clamoring about the home's rooms and hallways, then viewing King's "Rose Red," also filmed here, in her suite with her husband.
Their stay, she said, was "amazing."
Robinson leads visitors into the elegant ballroom, graced with an intricate molded plaster ceiling.
Then, it's up the 16th-century grand staircase taken from a European castle to Thornewood's opulent suites, which can be rented for about $175 to $300 per night.
The Presidential Suite, done in stately crimson, the luxurious Grandview Suite and the understated Blue Room all overlook the lake, along with several more suites. Anna's Suite looks out on a sunken garden with Mount Rainier in the distance. Tiny rooms for the most specific of tasks are tucked in every nook, along with 22 baths.
Cozy fireplaces of Florentine marble, antique beds with fluffy comforters and piped music lend an inviting touch. A large, curved, second-floor balcony overlooks the grounds.
Thornewood Castle was designed by one of the nation's premiere architects, Kirtland Cutter (1860-1939), also known for designing Seattle's Rainier Club, the Stimson-Green Mansion and Spokane's Davenport Hotel. The home was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986, and it serves as the Robinson residence.
The Olmsted Brothers, known for laying out many of America's cities, parks and cemeteries, designed Thornewood's expansive grounds, installing formal English gardens across 35 acres and placing a magnificent sunken garden next to the manor.
In 1926, House Beautiful named Thornewood among America's five most beautiful gardens, and the Smithsonian Institution included historic glass slides of the original grounds in a recent traveling exhibit.
The sunken garden, with its brick walls and classical statuary, survives today.
For a mere $1 million, Tacoma financier Chester Thorne built Thornewood for his wife, Anna. Thorne was a founder of the Port of Tacoma, president of the Bank of Tacoma and one of the leaders who oversaw the building of Paradise Inn at Mount Rainier National Park.
Five families owned Thornewood Castle over the years. The estate slipped into disrepair and in later years was converted into apartments.
But the Robinsons, who purchased Thornewood three years ago, had help in facing the almost insurmountable task of bringing it back to its original splendor. ABC/Disney threw in $500,000 so it could film "Rose Red" there.
Restoration work has been nonstop ever since, with crews tearing down newer walls to reveal the grand old fireplaces and other architectural treasures.
Robinson was running an Auburn dinner theater when she spotted a real-estate ad for the mansion. Convincing her husband of the enormous tax write-off benefits, the couple took the plunge, vowing to become stewards of the castle and to open it up to the public.
That they have done. Besides operating the estate as a bed and breakfast, they have hosted a number of public functions there. Robinson regularly invites school kids by for tours, with at-risk kids being her passion.
"I want to show it as much as I can," she said, adding that living in a close neighborhood poses limits.
Robinson, who grew up very poor in Texas, believes her arrival at Thornewood proves the American Dream still can come true.
"My goal is to show people that nothing is impossible," she said.
And visitors, after experiencing Thornewood, start to believe that.
Reach features coordinator Rachel Pritchett at (360) 792-5242 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• WHAT: Thornewood Castle Inn and Gardens, a regionally unparalleled Tudor Gothic manor containing about 56 rooms and 22 baths, open to the public for tours, celebrations and as a bed and breakfast
• WHERE: Lakewood, Pierce County
• OWNERS: Wayne and Deanna Robinson
• DIRECTIONS: Take I-5 south past Tacoma to Exit 123; go west on Thorne Lane 3/10ths of a mile to Thornewood Estates, on right. No casual drop-bys.
• INFORMATION on proceeding past the gate and for reservations: (253) 584-4393 or www.thornewoodcastle.com
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