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Doug Clark: Security director a ‘gem’ at downtown’s crown jewel

Thu., May 22, 2014

Chris Powell, head of security at the Davenport Hotel, poses for a photo Wednesday in the Spokane hotel’s lobby. (Tyler Tjomsland)
Chris Powell, head of security at the Davenport Hotel, poses for a photo Wednesday in the Spokane hotel’s lobby. (Tyler Tjomsland)

When I called Chris Powell to set up an interview, the Davenport Hotel’s director of security was up to his eyebrows in just the sort of thing I wanted to talk to him about.

Powell was trying to locate a guest, a young man who had been seen wandering about the posh hotel lobby in a T-shirt emblazoned with an alliterative phrase that cannot be published in many venues, let alone a fine family newspaper like The Spokesman-Review.

Let’s just say that the first word was “Magical.”

And the second began with “Mother.”

Amid the chaos, Powell managed to set a time for a chat, and on Wednesday morning he finished the story over coffee.

As I expected, Powell caught up with the lad, who had come to Spokane from Moses Lake to catch a rock concert.

Powell, 65, is a tall, lanky guy with a likable face that often can defuse a volatile situation.

He took the rocker aside. In a calm, fatherly voice, Powell introduced himself and explained that such a wardrobe malfunction could not be tolerated at a five-star property like the Davenport.

“Just not a good fit,” added the security man.

The young man saw the light. Off he went to slip into something a little less vulgar.

Another crisis solved by a master communicator.

That’s how I’ve always viewed Powell, whom I consider a friend. Not to mention that he’s married to another friend, a Spokesman-Review copy editor.

But here’s the reason I called.

Powell is retiring after running Davenport security for 12 years. That’s how long it’s been since Walt and Karen Worthy brought our grand old hotel back to life. To think that we almost lost this civic treasure boggles the brain.

Powell will be replaced by Kevin Miller, a retired Secret Service agent, I’m told.

So with Powell’s last day coming in a few weeks, I wanted to give him a send-off for a job well done.

More selfishly, I wanted to rehash some of the quirky, hilarious stories that Powell has witnessed from his unique catbird perch.

“I wish I had kept a log of everything,” he said. “I have forgotten way more than I remember.”

Every hotel is like a small city, a destination where humanity’s good, bad and everything inbetween co-mingle with unpredictable results.

The Davenport, though, is something special.

Maybe it’s because this crown jewel is located but a short walk away from the happy loitering grounds outside the Garage Mahal.

Did I say that? I meant STA Plaza.

Think of the Davenport as a glittering beacon that attracts everyone from movie stars to political powerbrokers to that street kid who was caught stealing toilet paper last December out of the hotel commodes.

Asked why she did the deed, the Charmin varmint replied with sincerity: “I have been told the toilet paper from the Davenport Hotel is like wiping your butt with a cloud.”

Quality is the bottom line at the Davenport.

Before he came there, Powell spent 27 years with the Washington State Patrol. I got to know him best when he started serving as the patrol’s PIO, or public information officer.

That’s a deceitful acronym at most law enforcement agencies.

Most of the PIOs I’ve encountered were more like PMOs, the “M” standing for misinformation.

Powell’s the exception to the fools. As a trooper, he supplied the Spokane media with the unvarnished truth, regardless of what it made his bosses look like.

One of my favorite Powell tips was about a guy who drove to patrol headquarters for a standard vehicle inspection. During which, the trooper noticed that the driver was not only sauced but brazenly sipping booze from his sippy cup.

It might’ve been the easiest drunken driving bust in WSP history.

At the Davenport, Powell continued his straight-talk ways.

The guy probably would’ve made a good journalist if he had less sense.

Powell said he still “marvels” at the ever-changing drama that comes from keeping the peace at this hotel of hotels.

But the challenge has grown considerably over the past dozen years.

What is now called the Davenport Hotel Collection includes the historic Davenport, the not-so-historic Tower, the Hotel Lusso and the new, as-yet-to-be-named, 716-room hotel that is going up across from the Convention Center.

“It was just time,” Powell said of pulling the plug. “I think I may have run out of steam a little bit.”

What he’ll never run out of are great stories.

Like the respected out-of-town educator who during the wee hours decided to take up mountaineering in the hotel crawl spaces.

Like the convention-going Republican official who dolled himself up in sexy women’s lingerie and then hit the town at night with a male hooker.

Like the visiting federal judge who dropped his pants at Riverfront Park, claiming after he was caught that he was merely inspecting a bee sting.

Actor Burt Reynolds left one of his toupees at the Davenport after a stay. Don’t worry. The thing was returned.

I have a thing for the bizarre and the twisted, of course.

Most Davenport stories are G-rated with happy endings.

The point is that Chris Powell has lived through it all, as dependable and consistent as the smell of newsprint on your morning paper.

“It’s been an incredible ride,” Powell said. “What a gorgeous, great place.”

And the feeling is mutual.

“He is a gem, an absolute gem,” said Matt Jensen, the Davenport’s director of marketing. “It’s going to be hard to replace Mr. Powell.”

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432

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