Since my freshman year in high school, when I first saw “Gone With the Wind,” I’ve had a magnetic attraction to classic white mansions with majestic pillars. So, about 10 years later, when I spotted the Moore Mansion near the banks of the Columbia River in Pasco, it was love at first sight. I remember looking through the windows of the then-deserted structure, as images of formal dances and drinking lemonade on the veranda flitted through my mind.
Today, the Moore Mansion is coming back to its early 20th century splendor, a showplace that now serves as both a home for retired Air Force Lt. Col. Brad Peck and his wife, Debra, as well as a popular event venue. Between 15 and 20 events, including weddings, proms and receptions, are held each year at this mansion, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Through painstaking research and quality craftsmanship, the couple is restoring the mansion and grounds with a finesse which would surely please its original owner, James Alexander Moore of Seattle, who built the home in 1908. It’s an upbeat chapter for this Beaux Arts mansion, with its 6,000 square feet of space (encompassing three stories and a basement), set amid 6 ½ acres of land.
While Brad manages the construction, Debra handles events and groundskeeping, planting 2,000 to 3,000 annuals per year.
“We have poured our lives into this place,” Brad said. And the results are beautiful.
In season, white petunias or white winter pansies line the walkway to the classic, pale-ivory-colored mansion (repainted in its original, historic hue), framed by fluted Roman columns and Corinthian capitals. Smaller pillars adorn the covered porch.
To the side of the house, a semi-circular balcony with urns of flowers offers a picturesque spot from which brides toss their bouquets. The side lawn contains an octagonal gazebo and white canopies. A covered pavilion for events sits on the opposite side of the house.
As you walk to the front door of the mansion, listening to small birds chirping in the trees, you’d never guess what a colorful history this place has had. After James Moore constructed the home, mostly from pieces and parts of the Washington Hotel he had owned in Seattle, there were numerous owners — and adventures — through the years, Brad said.
In the 1920s, a dairy farmer bought the house and built a barn and milk house on adjacent property. As the years passed, this was the site of a speakeasy offering moonshine in the early 1930s, then, a place for room rentals and a boarding house for migrant workers, according to “Big House On The Columbia,” a historical account by Jean Davis.
At one time, there were some 28,000 fruit trees on the extended property, with Concord grapes grown for the Welch company, Brad has heard.
The mansion served as a nursing home for a while in the 1950s. In the early 1970s, 11 residents described as hippies lived here and there was a memorable New Year’s Eve party that drew nearly 1,000 guests and a visit from the police, according to Davis. A restaurant operated in the mansion from 1989-1995. Then, the house was vacant for several years.
A devastating fire in 2001, believed to be arson, began what was one of the most difficult chapters in the Moore Mansion’s history. The blaze destroyed the roof and portions of the attic walls were burned, Brad said. The mansion sat empty, with rain and snow drifting in on hardwood floors and furnishings, causing extensive damage. One potential buyer planned to level the place and build condos.
Although there was local interest in saving the landmark, including efforts by a committee of Tri-Cities women, nothing came together. Finally, in 2003, the court decreed that the mansion would either be restored or demolished, Brad recalled. Forty-eight hours before the demolition order could be given, the Pecks stepped up and bought the mansion in 2004 for $267,000.
The couple had been living in Richland and, in all seriousness, “were looking for a small, relatively new house with relatively low maintenance,” Brad said. “We certainly weren’t out looking for a significant historic restoration. It kind of found us.”
Coming from a “woodworking and furniture-building family,” and with military training to “assess, analyze, research and go do it,” Brad’s background shines through in the restoration detail. He has just recreated several hundred 15-1/2-inch by 3-1/2-inch wooden balusters to restore the original, second- and third-story railings which adorn three sides of the house.
On his list of projects, he also plans to restore the original side staircase, front porch and interior staircase which ascends to the second floor. He figures that some 24 professionals have helped thus far in everything from reframing to plumbing, wiring, heating, cooling and plastering. The renovation has already cost “several times” the original purchase price of the house, Peck said, noting that that’s the cost of trying to do a “faithful restoration,” using the original materials or making exact replicas.
Today, the first-floor rooms, plus the “bride’s room,” “bridesmaids’ room” and grounds are picture perfect. Tours are available for prospective clients. The front music room has been decorated in neoclassical shades of dark slate blue and cream, with an eclectic mix of Federal, Empire and Victorian-style chairs, tables and loveseats. A silver tea service, green plants and a Tiffany-style floor lamp serve as decorations.
Polished European beech floors run through to the dining room with its Art Deco chandelier and subtle, hand-painted mural of a river and trees. The kitchen has a more modern feel, though still neoclassical in design, with cherry cabinets, granite and marble floor, granite countertops and antique lighting fixtures.
Upstairs, a second-floor parlor includes Victorian-style furnishings. The upstairs bride’s room features pale green walls, an Italian “custard-glass” chandelier and a large mirror set in an easel. The nearby bridesmaids’ room has red décor, a set of vintage bride and groom dolls, and a “Happily Ever After” sign resting on a marble-top dresser. The furnishings for the mansion have come from several sources: the Pecks’ personal collection, pieces purchased in travels around the country, and some items that were donated or sold to the couple by local residents.
“My current schedule has us finishing the project this year,” Brad said. “There are always unforeseen challenges and you think of things you’d like to add. It’s been a sizable elephant. We’ve adopted the attitude ‘one bite at a time.’ We do parts and pieces as possible … It’s been a long, steady and generally rewarding process.”
Brad says the “appreciation that’s been shown by the community” has served as encouragement along the way. Area residents are happy to see this piece of history that once seemed lost coming back to life — and tell him they’re “glad that it’s not condos,” he remarked.