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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This site is about the way history, in this case of a city and it's surrounds, is remembered or recorded in stories and small bits of memory. It's also about the way images and stories go together, how they inform and enrich each other and how we as thinking people fill in the content between a narrative and a visual document. So here is my city in time past, the way it looked and the people and events that create its character. For more than 20 years I have taught a 5 credit course on the History of Tacoma at the University of Washington Tacoma. With an average of 30 or 40 students a year, each doing a research paper as their primary focus for the course, I have benefited from many paths of inquiry and many researched and assembled stories. Here are some of them in the retelling along with the treasures of photographs and images in the collections of the Washington State Historical Society, Tacoma Public Library, University of Washington Digital Archives, Washington State Archives at the Office of the Secretary of State, Library of Congress, Washington State University, Alaska State Library, and many other archives, libraries and private collections.

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