Northwest NEWS

September 28, 1998

Front Page

Mystery mansion to become showcase for public


Photo by Tom Traeger

Wildcliffe Farm, or, as it is also known, the Thomsen Estate, is being spruced up and made ready to host visitors to a Designer Showcase sponsored by the American Society of Interior Designers. The event will benefit the Leukemia Society of America.


Mansion has been wrapped in mystery

   by Tom Traeger
   Kenmore reporter

   Where is Wildcliffe Farm? If you can answer this Kenmore trivia question you have a better knowledge of the area and its history than many residents.
   But soon, this historic Kenmore landmark, also known as the Thomsen Estate, will be familiar to many as it is opened for the public to visit.
   The estate, located in the Moorlands area, was built in 1927 by Charles Moritz Thomsen, the son of Moritz Thomsen, founder of Centennial Mill Company and later owner of Pacific Biscuit Company.
   While serving as president of the family business, Thomsen lived with his wife Elvera and two daughters in the family home on Capitol Hill, currently the site of Cabrini Hospital, until their new home in Kenmore was completed.
   The mansion is a 7,000 square foot, 27 room French Provincial structure located on what was once a flourishing blueberry farm.
   In its heyday during the 40s and 50s the multi-acre farm produced heavy yields of blueberries with over forty tons being shipped under the Wildcliffe Blueberry Farm label in 1954.
   A large segment of the property was developed into Wildcliffe Shores Condominiums and adjacent nature trails a few years ago.
   Mary Bowles, a longtime Arrowhead resident and grandniece of the Thomsens, has fond memories of her children picking blueberries on the farm.
   "Many kids in the area earned spending money picking blueberries at Wildcliffe," said Bowles.
   Mr. Thomsen had a great sense of humor according to Bowles. She said he used to have fun with the kids by weighing them before and after their day of blueberry picking to see how many berries they had eaten.
   The mansion, which was declared a Historical Landmark by King County in 1989, has been wrapped in mystery and folklore.
   One story tells of secret tunnels from the home to the Sammamish River used to bring illegal liquor in during Prohibition.
   A large basement extends beneath the east portion of the mansion and ends in a dirt floor which has been called the catacombs by visitors over the years.
   A similar area under the west wing was labeled the dungeon and can be accessed through a trap door in the foyer. The original use of the room is unknown.
   Both of these areas have inspired speculation and tall stories over the years and have only added to the charm and mystique of the old mansion.
   The brick and slate roof structure provides a perfect setting for such stories.
   The spatial layout of the Thomsen Mansion remains virtually intact as built. It is assumed that Thomsen himself was the designer and architect for his home.
   The first floor has seven major rooms of which the living room is the most striking with its high ceiling, open beams, leaded windows, carved wood frieze and massive stone fireplace.
   The second floor consists of eleven rooms including four bedrooms, four bathrooms, a sewing room and a small kitchen and pantry. Throughout the house, the original lighting fixtures, as well as decorative tilework in the kitchens and bathrooms has been preserved.
   The mansion also has a swimming pool on the grounds along with stone pathways, a grape arbor, a wooden bridge, fountains and a variety of gardens which have fallen into disrepair but are being restored.
   A large foundation of a greenhouse gives evidence of the integral part it played in the Thomsen's many gardens.
   In 1954, the Thomsens bequeathed the property to the Cerebral Palsy Association, which later became known as the Easter Seal Society. The ESS took possession of the property soon after Mrs. Thomsen's death in 1969.
   The mansion was later sold to the current owners, Charles Kerber and Trenton Eckhardt who began exploring its potential uses. Plans now call for a 15 room bed and breakfast to be known as Wildcliffe Inn.
   The total design will include an adjacent eight room structure similar in architectural style to be built next year.
   Kerber said, "We are working with the City of Kenmore on zoning and special use permit issues and will hopefully be able to have our bed and breakfast fully operational by summer of 1999."
   In the meantime, the mansion will be available this winter for events such as weddings, family reunions, and business meetings.
   The public will have an opportunity to view the mansion and the grounds located at 7332 NE 17th (Simonds Rd.) from Oct. 11-Nov. 8.
   A Designer Showcase sponsored by the American Society of Interior Designers is sponsoring a month long open house which will benefit the Leukemia Society of America.