Listing of the Week: Lavish '20s house that became a school
Tacoma home overlooking Puget Sound was built for a rich family, but after the Depression and a rash of kidnappings, it became a convent, a college and later a seminary.
It's not often you get the chance to buy a former Catholic convent and Baptist seminary that was once the home of a lumber baron and has grounds designed by the designer of New York's Central Park.
The price of Haddaway Hall – named because the wife of the original owner "had her way" in the design in 1923 – was recently cut to $5.4 million from the original listing price of $6.4 million when it went on the market in October 2010.
The unique property in Tacoma, Wash., has expansive views of Puget Sound and the Cascade Mountains. It includes a 15,600-square-foot main house, a 3,300-square-foot carriage house, a 16,800-square-foot school building with commercial kitchen and a 5,800-square-foot chapel. The 5.97-acre property has gardens designed by Frederick Jr. and Charles Olmsted, whose father designed Central Park and the U.S. Capitol grounds in Washington, D.C.
The home was built for John and Anna Weyerhaeuser in 1923 at a cost of about $250,000, or about $3.3 million in today's dollars. (Other sources say building the home cost $100,000, but the landscaping, furnishings and cost of acquiring the property took the cost to $500,000.) At the time, John Weyerhaeuser was president of Weyerhaeuser Lumber Co., founded by his father.
According to information from the archives of the Tacoma Public Library, the strong-willed Anna Weyerhaeuser wanted a grand home in the style of an English manor. The ceiling of the library was imported from a European castle, and the living room included a pipe organ, which is still there.
A photo caption from the library, which has a lot of historical photos of the property online, notes, "The structure was also built at the peak of the big house period, when the Pacific Northwest saw most of the affluent construction in its cities. Shortly thereafter, homes of this magnitude were considered ostentatious, and as the Depression loomed, impossible for an individual family to maintain."
The 1930s were also a time when wealthy families had to worry about their children being kidnapped. Nine-year-old George Weyerhaeuser, the grandson of John and Anna, was kidnapped in 1935 on his way from his school to his sister's home, while the family still lived in the house. After the family paid a $200,000 ransom, he was released unharmed and grew up to run the family business.
The family sold the home in 1935 or 1936, after John Weyerhaeuser's death, for $26,000 plus back taxes. The next owner, George G. Franklin of Franklin Food Stores, didn't stay long, after attempts were made to kidnap his 6-year-old son from his bedroom at the house.
By 1942, the home had become a convent for the Dominican Sisters of Marymount, who added a chapel and classrooms and used the site for Tacoma Catholic College until 1968, when it became the honors dormitory for the University of Puget Sound, according to the library. In 1974, the property was sold to Northwest Baptist Seminary for $250,000. The seminary has merged with another school and wants to sell the property.
The home has local and national historic designations.
Dec. 3, 2012: Frederick Law Olmsted designed Central Park and the U.S. Capitol grounds. This corrects information that originally appeared in this blog post.
About Teresa Mears
Teresa Mears is a veteran journalist who has been interested in houses since her father took her to tax auctions to carry the cash at age 10. A former editor of The Miami Herald's Home & Design section, she lives in South Florida where, in addition to writing about real estate, she publishes Miami on the Cheap to help her neighbors adjust to the loss of 60% of their property value.