Tacoma’s Citizen Kane was Chester Thorne and his Xanadu was Thornewood, a Gothic replication designed and built in 1910 by the eccentric, almost Daliesque, Spokane architect Kirkland Cutter. Still very much standing on the shores of American Lake, the extreme landmark was constructed in concrete then clad in old brick and cut stone and finished on the interior with woodwork, carvings and whole rooms stripped from real English Downton Abbeys that didn’t survive the Edwardian period. Like William Randolph Hearst’s castle in California, Thornewood was surrounded by acres of perfectly kept lawns and high formal gardens designed by the Olmsted Brothers. Its 40 rooms, 18 bathrooms and nine marble fireplaces took up 27,000 square feet on a lakeside estate that covered 100 acres. Chester never protested when claims were made that he spent a million 1910 dollars building the manor and grounds.

In a rather extraordinary way Chester Thorne seemed to be involved in everything Tacoma. He commissioned and then gave to the City its totem pole in 1903, led the campaign to buy 70,000 acres and give it to the U S Army for Camp Lewis in 1917 (JBLM), pushed for the creation of the Port of Tacoma and became its first president in 1918, advocated for and was a major funder of the Winthrop Hotel in 1925 and was a major investor in Weaver Studios, Tacoma’s silent film production company in 1926.

And of course Thornewood was used as a movie set several times, first in 1926 for the silent melodrama “Eyes of the Totem” and more recently the Stephan King horror story “Rose Red”. In the movie still shot of the convertible limo from the silent film The Eyes of the Totem, the dude in the back seat is the murderer Philip La Rue played by Tom Santschi and the ancestral home of the rich Huston family is played by Thornewood. In the Tudor arched frame shot a limousine departs with actress Ann Cornwall as Dorothy Llewellyn playing Peggy Huston bids her ado from Thornewood’s grand front entry. Its quite possible that one or both of the automobiles belonged to Chester, after all he was an owner of the movie studio and the Winthop Hotel where much of the fight action occurred in the movie, donor of the namesake totem pole, and builder of the mansion where the romance and resolution of the film plays out. If I take the whole Xanadu analogy any father Rosebud will begin to connect with Rose Red and things will get scary.


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