If you lived in Tacoma during the 1960s and early-1970s and
listened to local radio broadcasts, the name Tom Read should
ring a bell. The Tacoma native with the smooth voice, boyish
face, black thick-framed glasses, and natural talent for
on-air broadcasting brought much of the city’s live
entertainment to listeners at a time when AM radio was still
What’s more: he did it all from the third floor of the
“I covered the Music Box fire [in 1963] live on KTAC by
stringing long microphone cords out of the studio, up the
stairs, out the Broadway entrance and onto Ninth and
Broadway,” says Read, during a telephone interview Thursday
from Spokane. “I remember, as a young kid, describing the
Daffodil Parade on KTBI from the top of the Winthrop’s
Broadway marquee. I think we climbed out a window of the
Crystal Ballroom for that one.”
He also remembers the Winthrop as the city’s central hub
and meeting place. “It was the economic center in downtown
Tacoma for many years,” says Read. “It has tremendous
history from the standpoint of broadcasting.”
Last week, Read came across an article about the Winthrop
in the Tacoma Daily Index (“Spokane’s Davenport Hotel
provides one perspective on Winthrop renovation,” 9/22/06).
Currently, two developers are looking at the hotel through
separate lenses. Citizens Hotel is hoping to raise $6.1
million to purchase the 80-year-old, 12-story, 194-unit
building and turn it into a four-star, historic hotel.
Meanwhile, developer AF Evans, which holds a purchase and sale
agreement with the building’s owner, wants to convert the
Winthrop into a mixed blend of market-rate and low-income,
affordable housing. Citizens Hotel has until Oct. 19 to
complete due diligence on its plan before its letter of intent
with AF Evans expires.
After discussing the article over lunch with a manager of
Spokane’s Davenport Hotel (a building that historic hotel
supporters in Tacoma point to as a model for the Winthrop),
Read’s interest was piqued. He sent an email to Tacoma
Mayor Bill Baarsma inviting him to visit the Davenport to get
a better sense of the Winthrop’s possibilities (Mayor
Baarsma supports the idea of restoring the Winthrop as a
historic hotel; the Index attempted to contact the mayor to
see if he would visit the Davenport, but he was out of the
country until Oct. 3).
Read also e-mailed a letter to the Index.
During a two-hour phone interview, Read recapped his life
in Tacoma and broadcasting:
-- his early childhood in Tacoma (he attended Lowell
elementary, Mason middle school, Stadium high, and UPS.);
-- entry into broadcasting as a small child involved with
Tacoma Little Theater -- at first recording children’s
commercials and then volunteering at the station during
summers and after school (“I must have been a mature
10-year-old,” he recalls. “They made a deal with me. They
didn’t want any kids hanging around the radio station. So
they put me on a schedule and assigned chores. The first thing
they had me do was make 4 x 5 file cards for each record that
-- moving to Spokane to work in communications for the 1974
At the Winthrop in the late-1960s, Read ran his own radio
production company -- TWR Productions, his own initials:
Thomas Wilmot Read -- and didn’t have trouble finding work.
Three radio stations operated out of the hotel: KTBI, KMO, and
KTAC. A popular breakfast show aired from the Daffodil Room.
And Read often dragged a mike down to the Crystal Ballroom and
lounge to broadcast live performances.
“It was very common in the early days of radio to locate
stations in hotels,” he explains. “I can’t really tell
you why or how that got started other than I assume that the
pioneers in the radio business probably wanted to have a
studio in the center of the city. They probably wanted to be
within walking distance to the business district. Certainly,
in Tacoma, the businesses a broadcaster wanted to sell airtime
to were right down Broadway.”
Read had his own deal with the building’s owner. When
Read’s parents moved from the Stadium District to Lakewood,
Winthrop owner Bill Hammond offered him a room. “We had a
trade-out,” Read recalls. As part of a deal for handling
advertising, the manager put Read up in a
sleeping-room-turned-studio. “I looked right out the window
across Ninth Street to the Roxy Theater.”
Later, as a staffer at KTAC, Read ran a microphone from his
room down to the Saber Room, where he aired programs.
Today, Read, lives in Spokane
and owns a network of Christian radio stations broadcasting in
Eastern Washington, Northern Idaho, and Northeast Oregon.
He still visits Tacoma. His feelings about the Winthrop are
candid and twinged by disappointment.
“I think the Winthrop, in its present condition, is a
disgrace,” he says. During a trip through Tacoma with his wife, he was excited about revisiting his old
haunt. “I was going to show her this grand and glorious
building. We walked down from the Sheraton. I knew the
Winthrop was closed, but I didn’t know exactly what had
transpired. The building was dingy. We walked toward the main
entrance, and I felt like I needed a bodyguard with a machine
In Spokane, the Davenport Hotel was bankrolled by a
commercial-real-estate investor, Walter Worthy, who sank more
than $40 million into its purchase and renovation. In Tacoma,
no one with pockets as deep has come forward; though two
investors are currently trying to drum up support and dollars.
The story is familiar to Read. He remembers all the years
when the Davenport sat empty and rundown. Some major hotel
corporations looked at the property, but full restoration
didn’t pencil out. Spokane was too small. A full restoration
was too expensive. It wasn’t until Worthy stepped forward
that the hotel was restored.
“If Tacoma could really see what’s been done at the
Davenport,” says Read. “I’ve seen what restoration of
the Davenport has done for Spokane. That’s why I want to get
the mayor over here.
“I don’t think Tacoma sees the Winthrop the way we see
it -- people who were born there, raised there, and spent some
great years at the Winthrop,” adds Read.