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A mansion for the masses: Tour castle - after movie makers move on

Jim Szymanski; The News Tribune
7/25/2000

Bed-and-breakfast guests Peter Wolochow and Joanne Kahn of Portland relax at Thornewood Castle in Lakewood. The 54-room mansion's owners want to open the property to visitors.

Deanna and Wayne Robinson don't intend to spend the rest of their lives peeking at the world through their mansion's crystal-glass windows.

In a few months, the new owners of Lakewood's Thornewood Castle plan to invite the rest of the world in to experience the castle's hidden magic.

"How can you hide what God has made?" Deanna Robinson said. "This home really belongs to the people."

But before that happens, the historic home will put on new makeup. ABC and the Walt Disney Co. are spending $500,000 remodeling it to become the scene of horror novelist Stephen King's upcoming made-for-TV miniseries, "Red Rose." A month's worth of shooting for the February 2002 show is expected to begin in late September.

As the Robinsons settle into their 54-room home, they're planning a future for the castle in the same spirit as Tacoma banker Chester Thorne, who moved into it in 1911.

Besides being a founding Port of Tacoma commissioner and president of the National Bank of Commerce of Tacoma, Thorne formed a company that built the Paradise Inn, the lodge that opened Mount Rainier National Park to worldwide tourism.

The Robinsons share Thorne's spirit of openness.

"We don't have to share this place with the public, but we're going to," Deanna Robinson said. "You might say I haven't grown up yet. This is my retirement project."

For most of its 89 years, the English Tudor/Gothic castle has been a private residence, and it remains so for the Robinsons. In recent years, it has been a bed-and-breakfast hideaway for guests who pay up to $225 a night to stay where two U.S. presidents, Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt, have slept. The Robinsons will keep the bed-and-breakfast in operation.

"We're going to open it, but not in ways that would be obtrusive to the neighbors," Robinson said. "I don't want my husband thinking I'll give it away before I have it paid for."

The Robinsons hope to make their home an educational tool for schoolchildren and in the process, perhaps, an inspiration.

"I'm planning on trying to work with the schools to bring bus tours through here," Deanna said. "You could bring a bus load of kids through here and I guarantee you, they will be changed."

The Robinson see the castle as a living history lesson as well as an elegant home. A world-famous sunken English garden graces the 4-acre site on American Lake.

The house itself boasts 28 bedrooms, 22 baths and 27,000 square feet of living space, or as much as 15 typical family homes. It has marble fireplaces and brick and oak paneling imported from a European castle. Three ships brought supplies around Cape Horn to finish the castle.

It's estimated it would take $30 million to build it today. Including the bed-and-breakfast business, the Robinsons paid about $2 million to buy the castle nearly three months ago.

Wayne Robinson, the chief financial officer for a Seattle law firm, will keep a sharp eye on the place's finances once he and his wife extend it into the public arena.

"It still will have to carry itself financially, but we think it can," he said. "We think there's something to share here."

Deanna Robinson said she hopes to schedule tours of the gardens. Once remodeled, she said, the castle could accommodate corporate meetings and high teas, and even be host for holiday parties for the surrounding community.

The story author King is preparing to tell roughly parallels the mansion's history. But it includes King's bizarre twists.

"It's a story about a very wealthy banker and railroad executive who decides to build a home for a bride he hasn't met yet," producer Tom Brodek said. The couple honeymoons in Europe for three years, only to return to a grand home where the executive and their child die mysteriously.

"His wife learns that she won't die if she continues adding on to the house," Brodek said.

Though Thornewood is set in Lakewood, Hollywood will set the story in Seattle. The producers will use modern computer technology to expand the already-cavernous castle for the movie.

Meanwhile, the transformation the Robinsons are planning for the castle is no movie. It's real life.

Eventually, Deanna said, she's considering deeding the castle to local government so that it can remain permanently open to the public as a lasting legacy.

But for now, she marvels at the sturdiness of what Thorne built. It is symbolic, she believes, of the home she and her husband hope to one day leave to the community.

"This place has walls that are 18 inches thick, and a foundation that's 3 feet thick," Deanna Robinson said.

"It's a magical place. It gives a whole new meaning to the term 'built to last.'"

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* Staff writer Jim Szymanski covers real estate. Reach him at 253-597-8653 or jim.szymanski@mail.tribnet.com.

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SIDEBAR: Thornewood Castle is at 8601 N. Thorne Lane S.W., Lakewood. To learn more about it, go to thornewoodcastle.com on the Internet or call 253-584-4393.

© The News Tribune