The Rust Mansion on North I Street in Tacoma always has held the attention of passersby. But in recent months, the massive 118-year-old dwelling has had all eyes upon it as a major construction project sought to restore the home to its original glory.
For the uninitiated, the historic residence — often referred to as “the White House of the West” — originally was designed for William Ross Rust and his family by architect Ambrose J. Russell from the Tacoma-based firm Russell and Babcock. Rust ran the American Smelting and Refining Co. in its heyday, and it is for him that the town of Ruston and the waterfront drive Ruston Way are named.
For the past year, the well-known abode has been owned by Tacoma real estate developer Ashley Burks. The serial entrepreneur — Burks is founder and CEO of Meade Ventures, L&H Luxury Homes, and more — purchased the house in an off-market sale brokered by Morrison House Sotheby’s International Realty. She closed on the property two days after Christmas 2021 for $2.5 million, according to data from the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.
Burks since has been painstakingly hunting down historical tiles, casting and recreating original moldings, and replenishing tired hardwood floors to restore the home’s original splendor, which has diminished over the years as it went from a private single-family home to a multifamily apartment building and back to a single-family home once more.
As construction draws to a close, Burks gave South Sound magazine a behind-the-scenes look at the revitalized residence and shared with us what she and her team went through during the yearlong restoration.
“The process was meticulous as expected but unfolded beautifully,” Burks said. “Each room held its own challenge, sustaining my excitement and enjoyment. I’m very proud of the work we accomplished.”
Outside, the colossal three-story neoclassical home stands stoic. Gone is the scaffolding that marked its façade these many months. Passersby can now more clearly see the grandiose portico marked by massive Roman Doric columns supporting an open veranda, as well as the sunken porte-cochère.
The columns and the veranda both needed a lot of TLC, according to Burks, who said the woodwork on the veranda was rotting in places, and the columns were cast in molds to match the exact look of the existing structure.
On the main floor, the reception hall and living room practically glow with beautifully restored wood paneling and flooring. The original green tapestry wallpaper dazzles, while the ornamental ceilings are coffered and decorated with intricate plaster pargework.
Many of the 100-plus-year-old materials here and elsewhere in the home were hard to replicate. Fortunately, Burks made several vital discoveries throughout the process that helped with that conundrum in the form of original surplus supplies.
“Finding original doors, hardwood, trim work, and tapestry tucked away in compartments of the home and garage are just some of the wonderful surprises I experienced,” she said. “I could not have had better fortune with all the treasures found throughout this process.”
This is most evident up the home’s grand mahogany staircase to the second floor. Gone are the marks on the aged floors that show where walls were added when the home was converted into apartments from the 1920s through 1983.
“I was able to (revive) the original hardwood throughout the entire home and, with spare floorboards found in the garage, repair and salvage the upper hallway flooring,” Burks said. Where surplus materials were absent or exhausted, Burks and team stayed as true to the original as possible.
“Almost every single fixture in the home is original or from 1900-10, from flooring, silk tapestry, and light fixtures to doorknobs, beaded bulb covers, and mirrors. We salvaged the original tubs, hardwood, doors, trim pieces, and more,” she said. “(What was not) salvageable was procured via molds or (obtained through) shopping for historic items from that time period.”
Of the items that had to be shopped for, bathroom tiles were both the easiest and the hardest items to procure. Most of the bathrooms were outfitted in classic white subway tiles.
“Something very prevalent today,” Burks said with a laugh. “As a perfectionist, my only major gripe is that the main bathroom’s penny-tile flooring is ¼-inch larger than the original tile,” she continued. “Unfortunately, I could not find an exact swap, but the completed look does mirror historic bath photos and match other bathrooms in the home, so I am content with our efforts.”
According to listing broker Michael Morrison of Tacoma-based Morrison House Sotheby’s International Realty, that attention to detail and the home’s history hopefully will see it sell for approximately $4.8 million. Both Burks and Morrison hope the future owner respects the building’s storied past.
“When someone purchases a unique property like this, they need to understand that they are taking on the task of stewardship,” Morrison said. “It is more than just buying a house; it is a place in the lineage of the home that will be forever noted. … This is a purchase of love that (the future buyer) must be willing to adhere to not only some historical preservation restrictions, but the fact that (they) have a place in the lineage. (They) must feel the inner desire to maintain our local heritage.”
When asked at the beginning of construction which part of the house was her favorite, Burks was quick to answer that she favored Rust’s practically untouched office. But after spending a year with the home as her stewardship winds to a close, Burks is thoughtful before replying.
“While the office is still my favorite room, I’m more drawn to the small details of the home,” she said. “Every tiny detail factored into the overall finish is what really stole my heart: the gold decorative dusting, the beaded bulb covers, the copper-glazed ceilings. There are layers upon layers of grand and tiny details, all tied together, setting the home in a class of its own.”