You might call Tacoma’s Dickson House the Cary Grant of homes. Comfortable yet sophisticated, manly but not afraid to show its cheeky side.
Built in 1909, it’s just a few years younger than the Hollywood star was.
While the house was born in the era of silent films and Model Ts, it’s still a living, breathing home. This weekend it and other homes in the North Slope and Stadium areas, along with the Knights of Pythias Temple, will be open for touring as part of the Tacoma Historical Society’s Historic Homes of Tacoma Tour.
The $25 tour is self-guided and covers a different part of the city every year.
Tacoma architect Ambrose Russell designed the grand Prairie-style home on Tacoma Avenue North. His other notable achievements in Tacoma include the Rust mansion, Temple Theatre (now the Landmark Convention Center) and the downtown Perkins Building. He also designed the Governor’s Mansion on the Capitol Campus in Olympia.
The 5,597-square-feet Dickson House was built for George and Minnie Dickson for $30,000. George Dickson came to Tacoma in 1882 and opened Dickson Brothers clothing the following year with his brother William.
The home is now owned by Tacoma tax attorney Devitt Barnett and his wife, Deborah, an occupational therapist for the Tacoma School District.
The Barnetts bought the house in 2004. Devitt Barnett describes the couple’s decadelong project as bringing the house from the “70 percent level to the 95 percent level of restoration.”
Barnett said that Russell was influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie style as well as the Arts and Crafts movement.
The Barnetts weren’t looking for a Prairie style home. “We were looking for a unique home,” he said.
Though the house sat vacant for many years in the 1940s, it had remained in good shape. Its original lighting hadn’t been looted or sold off.
The fireplaces needed major restoration, but thankfully no one had ever painted over the extensive interior woodwork, Barnett said.
From the outside, the home’s low-pitch tile roof makes the house less imposing. The roof extends over a long and broad veranda that incorporates outdoor seating.
The main floor and basement exteriors are encased in large blocks of locally quarried granite. Solid pieces of granite provide window headers. The upper floor is covered in stucco. Moravian and other accent tiles run in bands through the stucco and provide visual interest.
Near the door is a built-in metal umbrella stand with a slightly depressed area and drain. The wide oak front door has its original ornate bronze doorknocker.
Stepping inside the house, a visitor is overwhelmed by the extensive use of wood and grand spaces. But the lower ceilings, compared to the preceding homes of the Victorian era, make the spaces homey and comfortable.
The spacious foyer features tapered posts paneled in mahogany and surrounded by inlaid oak. To the left is a dining room finished in oak while to the right is a large living room organized by mahogany beams.
The living room has an arched fireplace with teal-colored Rookwood tiles. Two andirons are maquette-size replicas of a Florentine statue. Next to the fireplace is a small buzzer that would ring to the garage to let the chauffeur know the family was ready to leave.
A dumbwaiter, now disused, travels between floors, as does a laundry chute.
The Barnetts aren’t obsessed with bringing every detail of the home to its original 1909 period. “There’s a limit as to what you can find,” Barnett said. Reproduction arts and crafts-style wallpaper adorn several rooms.
In the dining room, another fireplace also has Rookwood tiles, these done in a leaves-and-grapes motif. The original stained glass mosaic chandelier is by Duffner & Kimberly.
“In 1910 you would have either published Tiffany or Duffner & Kimberly,” Barnett said.
The foyer, wall sconces and living room lighting fixtures all feature Stueben gold aurene lighting shades.
Stained glass adorns doors on built-in bookcases and even on garage windows. Many of the wood-framed mirrors in the home are built-in.
The grand staircase at the rear of the entry leads to a wide landing that features a window seat. The front posts are adorned with carved images of winged lions.
The second floor has four bedrooms and a full bath but will not be open for the tour. The kitchen has been remodeled with period cabinets and a breakfast nook.
Descending into the basement, a visitor might feel as if they’re headed to an English pub. The entry to the room has the original pool cue holder.
The fully finished space seems like it could double as a dance hall. And it probably did. One end holds the space for a bandstand, and the other contains a pool table resting on a cork tile floor.
Bennett took a ball and dropped it on the vintage red floor. The ball barely bounced.