Oh, the stories that Charles at Smuggler’s Cove could tell

If the place could talk, oh the stories diners would hear. Charles at Smuggler’s Cove, a Mukilteo restaurant for decades, has a shady history as a haven for bootleggers.

The old brick mansion turned French restaurant will close forever at the end of the year. Its owner, Janet Faure, opened Charles at Smuggler’s Cove in 1989 with her husband Claude Faure, who died last year. Faure said Friday that she has sold the building to investors. She expects that with its sweeping Possession Sound view, the wooded property will be developed, possibly for condos.

New Year’s Eve will be the final night to savor the cuisine and ambience of Charles at Smuggler’s Cove. In decades past, under different ownership, it was known as the Waldheim, the 53rd Street Manor, and the Mukilteo Chop and Oyster House.

The mansion was built during Prohibition not as a residence, but as a hiding place for bootleggers and contraband.

For those interested in the area’s past, its legend won’t be forgotten — although getting to the facts is a murky business, for good reason.

“There’s a lot of oral history, but not much written down. We don’t really have an authenticated, verifiable record,” said John Collier, president of the Mukilteo Historical Society. Christopher Summit, first vice president of the historical society, said bootleggers could “jump out of a boat and be in that narrow ravine, with its twists and turns. It was a place you could be out of sight.”

One former owner, Trudy Tobiason, said in a 2009 Herald article that she and her husband were shown the wooded Mukilteo estate in 1950 when they were looking for a place for a business venture. The two-story mansion at 8340 53rd Ave. W. was not what it seemed, she said. Rather than a home, the place was an unfinished shell originally constructed to hide an illegal liquor business.

After they remodeled it, she and her husband Dennis Tobiason named the place “Waldheim,” a German word for “forest home.” Before selling it in 1979, they hosted weddings, receptions and special parties there.

The restaurant website includes historical information, credited to Cynthia Nunley and The Mukilteo Beacon, which describes Smuggler’s Gulch in Mukilteo as the center of a bootlegging operation.

Washington had anti-alcohol legislation before the nation went dry with the 18th Amendment, ratified in 1919. Prohibition would last until 1933.

It’s unclear exactly when the building was finished. The restaurant’s website says 1931, but according to a 1992 Seattle Times article, it was built in 1929. By all accounts, the brick manor served as a place where booze ferried by boats from Canada — where it was still legal — was stored before being transferred to thirsty customers.

Both the restaurant website and the 2011 PBS documentary “Prohibition” mention Roy Olmstead. A Seattle police lieutenant, Olmstead turned to rum-running and became known as the “King of the Puget Sound Bootleggers,” according to the film directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. The restaurant website says “Olmstead was caught in what was called the largest shipment of liquor ever seized in the Northwest, just south of Mukilteo.”

The restaurant’s first owner, according to the website, was C.P. Richards, a rum-runner who installed a second basement beneath the original.

“A large, fake furnace was the entrance to the 9-by-9 foot sub-basement which held the still, and a tunnel connected the operation to the gulch in case the smugglers needed to make a quick getaway,” the website says.

Janet Faure, who continues to operate the restaurant, has pictures of the old still. She also has fine memories of the years she and her husband ran the restaurant.

Claude Faure, a native of Lyon, France, moved to the United States in 1964, his widow said. He was a chef at Chez Claude in Edmonds, formerly a French restaurant called Henri de Navarre, for 20 years before they opened Charles at Smugger’s Cove. Faure said her husband “was just blessed with the gift of taste.” His parents had operated a bakery in Lyon.

There have been many longtime local clients, she said, but also “being so close to the Boeing Company, we get people from around the world.”

Collier, the historical society president, is sad to hear that Charles at Smuggler’s Cove will soon be gone.

“We’ve gone to events there and enjoyed it very much,” he said.

I’m sad, too. I treasure a memory of a Champagne toast in that lovely dining room. It was May 15, 1982. The bootleggers were long gone that day — the day of my wedding reception.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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