Leaving The Winthrop

It’s less than a five-mile stretch between downtown Tacoma and the city’s North End. But for Glenn Grigsby, the distance could be measured in years.

After a little more than 15 years of living in the same apartment unit in the 85-year-old, 12-story Winthrop Hotel downtown, and sitting tight during a three-year waiting period, Grigsby has moved on. On July 31, he packed his belongings and moved into the Redwood Park Apartments near North 30th Street and North Pearl Street. During a recent visit, he offered a reporter a tour of his new home. Compared to the Winthrop, the setting is almost idyllic: children ride bikes and play outside; sunshine glimmers through the leaves of trees that line clean walkways and well-tended lawns; a shopping center is one block away; and his apartment is bigger than his old unit at the Winthrop.

“Is this place perfect? Is this paradise? Is this heaven?” Grigsby — tall and stocky with short, wavy hair parted down the middle, wire-frame glasses, and a distinctive baritone voice — asked rhetorically while lounging on his sofa. “It’s still HUD-subsidized housing. Every place you go, there’s something going on. But not to the degree at the Winthrop. I’m just trying to relax. It was starting to weigh on me. I’m not immune to the plight of the homeless downtown. That would weigh on me sometimes. Watching it all the time, there’s only so much you can do. I’m just relaxing and trying to get to know my new environment here. Where my life is headed next, I don’t know.”

Tacoma Daily Index readers met Grigsby, 52, in June 2009, when he was the first of several Winthrop residents to be interviewed for a series entitled “A Voice From the Winthrop.”

Grigsby moved into the building when he was in his mid-thirties. He was addicted to methamphetamine and alcohol, sold drugs, and spent a lot of time in Pierce County Jail. As the years went by, Grigsby matured and the lifestyle wore on him. He participated in treatment for drug and alcohol abuse and reconnected with his family.

“I started getting straightened out and my life started improving when I started regaining my trust with my family,” Grigsby, the oldest of six siblings, told the Index last year. “There was a long period of time when my relationship with my family was really rocky. Now I have that back and I don’t want to lose that. That helps me keep on the straight and narrow.”

From his small apartment overlooking Ninth and Commerce, Grigsby was the eyes and ears of the building. He saw big-time drug dealers move into the building only to be hauled out in handcuffs during periodic raids by Tacoma police. He saw the sad and graphic results of desperate people who climbed out of high windows and jumped to their deaths. Last year, an arsonist was on the loose and setting fires in the building; he was later captured, pleaded guilty, and began to serve a seven-year prison sentence in April.

Indeed, the Winthrop has earned a rough reputation in the community. In 2006, the Tacoma Police Department (TPD) reported that the Winthrop is the number one location downtown for emergency service providers responding to calls for assistance. Also in 2006, the Business Improvement Area (BIA) reported that approximately 21 percent of downtown incident reports compiled by BIA bike patrols occurred near the Winthrop.

In the meantime, Grigsby became the face of the Winthrop. He was a block captain for Safe Streets and earned an award from the organization last year. “Glenn is great,” Anders Ibsen, then a community mobilization specialist with Safe Streets, told the Index last summer. “He’s a real doer. He helped organize a regular downtown monthly clean-up.”

“He’s one of those people in the Winthrop who wants to see things better and seems to be involved,” said BIA bike patrol officer and supervisor John Leitheiser, who patrolled downtown for as long as Grigsby has lived in the Winthrop.

But Grigsby’s relationship to the building was always complicated. Like everyone, he wanted a safe and comfortable place to live. To that end, he involved himself in community meetings. But he also couldn’t deny that the Winthrop’s negative reputation was deserved. For every upstanding neighbor he knew, he also understood a police car was parked outside the lobby most days of the week for a reason.

Three years ago, he put his name on a waiting list to move into the Redwood Park Apartments. It’s a quieter, safer low-income residential building near the North End. Last month, Grigsby got a phone call from the apartment manager. An apartment was available for Grigsby.

Although he’s only lived in the new apartment complex for a couple weeks, he feels like he’s turning a page. “That’s a chapter in my life that I’m closing and I’m beginning a new one,” says Grigsby. “It’s peaceful here. It’s quiet. Some people thought, ‘You’re going to miss [the Winthrop]. It’s not going to be as exciting.’ I don’t miss that one bit. Not at all. I’m moving on. This is a new beginning for me. Hopefully, after this interview with you, that will kind of be it for me and the Winthrop. We’ll see where my life heads.”

The Tacoma Daily Index recently spoke with Grigsby about his recent experience.

“It was like being on a never-ending episode of Jerry Springer.”

I lived [at the Winthrop] for 15 years in that same unit. I’m extremely happy to get out of there. Although there were experiences there I was involved in, such as Safe Streets, the tenants association in the building, and other meetings I attended in the community downtown that I see as valuable experiences and I would like to believe helped me be a better person, I’m kind of out of there. It’s a relief. I believe I’m fortunate. I believe I have come to a better neighborhood and complex. Living at the Winthrop, it’s just the setup. You have maybe five city blocks of people stacked, packed in there like sardines. In some ways, it was like being on a never-ending episode of Jerry Springer because everything is so magnified there because you are in such close quarters. In some ways, you become acclimated to the negative behavior around the building. Living there, I was always like, ‘Oh, no. Here we go. What is it now?’ I don’t have that anymore.

“I wanted to make sure that when I moved, it would be to an area I thought would be better.”

I’ve been telling everyone at the Winthrop for years that I wanted to move. But I wasn’t just going to get out of there to get out of there. I wanted to make sure that when I moved, it would be to an area I thought would be better. So I waited. I was beginning to think this place wasn’t going to accept me. Just being patient and diligent and calling every three to six months to say, ‘Hey, I’m still here. My name is on the list. Don’t take it off.’ What could I do? Subsidized housing is at a premium right now. I tried everything I could, leaving numerous messages. I just kept at it. Eventually it happened.

‘Is this Glenn? This is Jo Anne of the Redwood Park Apartments? We have an opening. Do you want to move in?’

I had been busy that day. My mother had just had eye surgery. I had to go with her to her doctor’s appointment. I took her home. She let me have the vehicle because she couldn’t drive. On the way home, I stopped by to do some shopping and parked out in front of the Winthrop I took my groceries in. I was heading back out the door. I was starting to walk down the hallway when my phone rang. Fortunately, I went back in and answered it. ‘Is this Glenn? This is Jo Anne of the Redwood Park Apartments? We have an opening. Do you want to move in?’ I said, ‘Absolutely. What do you need me to do?’ Fortunately, the management company, Allied Management, manages the Winthrop and the Redwood Park Apartments. They were able to work out a deal to get me in here a little quicker than normal, which I greatly appreciated. I drove over here and we started the process. She told me to go back to the Winthrop and tell them I wanted to sign a vacate notice. That was probably two weeks before the first of the month. I just started slowly cleaning and getting my stuff out. On a Saturday, my family showed up at the Winthrop. I had everything ready to go. It took two hours for us to load up two pickups and an SUV and unload everything here.

“Now my family will park and come inside. That’s a good thing.”

My sisters are so glad that I’m out of there. I was just texting my sister Cindy, who is one of the Tacoma Link light rail operators, and she wrote, ‘I’m so glad you’re out of there and you don’t have to deal with the stuff down here anymore.’ They have actually stopped by my new apartment and sat here and talked and visited with me. My mom, when she would come over to visit me at the Winthrop, she would say, ‘I’m sitting out front waiting for you.’ Now my family will park and come inside. That’s a good thing.

"That's a chapter in my life that I'm closing and I'm beginning a new one," says Glenn Grigsby, referring to the 15 years he spent living at the Winthrop Hotel in downtown Tacoma. He recently moved to HUD-subsidized housing in Tacoma's North End. "It's peaceful here. It's quiet. This is a new beginning for me." (PHOTO BY TODD MATTHEWS)


To read the Tacoma Daily Index‘s complete and comprehensive coverage of the Winthrop Hotel, click on the following links:

In 2009, the Tacoma Daily Index published a series of interviews with many residents of the Winthrop Hotel. To read the complete series, click on the following links:

Todd Matthews is editor of the Tacoma Daily Index and recipient of an award for Outstanding Achievement in Media from the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation for his work covering historic preservation in Tacoma and Pierce County. He has earned four awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, including third-place honors for his feature article about the University of Washington’s Innocence Project; first-place honors for his feature article about Seattle’s bike messengers; third-place honors for his feature interview with Prison Legal News founder Paul Wright; and second-place honors for his feature article about whistle-blowers in Washington State. His work has also appeared in All About Jazz, City Arts Tacoma, Earshot Jazz, Homeland Security Today, Jazz Steps, Journal of the San Juans, Lynnwood-Mountlake Terrace Enterprise, Prison Legal News, Rain Taxi, Real Change, Seattle Business Monthly, Seattle magazine, Tablet, Washington CEO, Washington Law & Politics, and Washington Free Press. He is a graduate of the University of Washington and holds a bachelor’s degree in communications. His journalism is collected online at wahmee.com.