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Tacoma's iconic Rust Mansion gets a million dollar makeover

New owner Ashley Burks wants to put the "White House of the West" on the market by summertime. #k5evening

TACOMA, Wash. — For years, Ashley Burks has admired the Rust Mansion from afar.

"It's regal," she said. "It's large. It has a lot of history. It's an amazing piece of property. It is an iconic piece of Tacoma."

And now, after a $2.5 million private sale, the real estate developer owns the home. Burks is giving herself just a couple of months to restore "The White House of the West" to its former glory.

"This is a massive undertaking, to say the least," Burks said. "But I knew I had to do it and I wanted to do it."

For Burks, this is a labor of love in more ways than one. She's dedicating the project to the memory of her late husband Bryan Meade, who died of a heart attack in 2017 at the age of 36.

"He had a saying, 'You can do anything you put your mind to. You just got to throw your energy behind it,'" Burks said.

Burks won't be renovating this six bath/seven bedroom home alone. She's teaming up with general contractor Sam Calabrese, who says the job is almost entirely cosmetic, but the biggest challenge is replacing materials with something that matches.

"A lot of this stuff was handmade," Calabrese said. "It just isn't something you could go to Home Depot and get off the shelf so that's been a challenge for sure."

Credit: KING TV
Sam Calabrese says almost the entire job is cosmetic. "You'll never see detail on the outside of the home like this house," he added. "It's pretty incredible!"

Calabrese is hammering away at the trim, working on the facia at the front of the house. Neighbors walk by, wondering what's going on. Many in Tacoma feel a sense of ownership for this house.

The Rust Mansion was built for one of the richest men in the Northwest. Smelter King William Rust moved his family into the 18-room house in 1906. The entire top floor served as maids quarters.

"This is one of the bedrooms in the maids quarters," Burks said on a tour that takes us into a room covered in debris. "As you can see it's quite a bit of work. We've been actively stripping off wallpaper that's already peeling and the glue that goes with it and we are going to have to resurface the walls. It looks like a mess now, but it's going to be amazing when we're done."

Credit: KING TV
Ashley Burks stands in the dining room of the Rust Mansion. "You walk into this room and you feel the time," she said. "It's just breath taking".

Burks has a vision for the home. She's not planning to modernize or modify. She uses historic photos as a reference point. 

In the 1970's the mansion had been converted into apartments. Floors were damaged. Bathrooms were rendered useless. But in every room, there remain touches of a glorious past.

Credit: Ashley Burks
The Rust Mansion living room in the early 1900's. Burks is using images like these to guide the renovation.

"Throughout the whole home you'll find greens and gold and pinks," she said. 

It's true. Pink flowers show up on stained glass, etched in the design of a fireplace and on wallpaper. 

"Honestly, it adds a lot of character," Burks said. 

A project like this means Burks gets a hundred questions a day. But her answers are all based on a painting of the Rust Mansion that hangs in the living room. It's the idealized version of the home she's trying to bring to life in a matter of weeks.

"I think we're making headway," she said. "I think we're gonna do it."

KING 5's Evening will be following the remodel in a series of stories airing over the course of a couple of months. 

Morrison House/Sotheby's International Realty is the exclusive broker for the Rust Mansion.

KING 5's Evening celebrates the Northwest. Contact us: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Email.

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