Geoff Thompson never served in the Marines. He might have missed his calling.
“He’s a drill sergeant, a perfectionist and can get militaristic,” says Simione, 58, his domestic and business partner of eight years.
Thompson micromanaged details at the inn, from paint colors in the five suites to the creases in the table linen.
“I’ve had middle-aged straight guys come out of the bathroom at the inn and say, ‘Thank you, that’s the cleanest bathroom I’ve ever seen,’” says Thompson, a grizzled former calendar model who spends a couple of hours a day pumping iron and running on the treadmill at the Pearl District 24-Hour Fitness.
One of five boys raised by a single mother on a Fred Meyer cashier’s salary, Thompson grew up in outer Southeast Portland’s Parkrose neighborhood.
“We didn’t have any money for vacations or trips,” he says. “So we’d come up to the Gorge.”
Thompson recalls that when he was about 8, he had a “Rosebud” moment when he first laid eyes on the Viewpoint Inn, the 4,200-square-foot property built in 1924.
It was love at first sight.
The Tudor-style mansion’s architect was Carl Linde, who also designed such Portland landmarks as the 1922 Sovereign Hotel on Southwest Broadway, now the Oregon History Center. And the Viewpoint Inn had a colorful history; President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Charlie Chaplin, among many others, visited.
“I knew if I could own that property someday, I’d be somebody,” Thompson says.
As a kid, Thompson loved design. “I lived behind the sofa in my mom’s house, drafting floor plans every day,” he says.
A committed truant, Thompson entered his senior year at Parkrose High well short of graduation requirements. A sympathetic teacher said she’d wangle him credits for every hour he could dance in a Charleston contest. The 1979 Guinness Book of World Records shows that Thompson and two classmates danced for 43 straight hours. He graduated.
After bouncing around for a decade, Thompson headed to Nashville, where he snagged a recording contract with Arista Records. As a gay Democrat who sang rockabilly, he did not fit the country mold.
“I hated the radio tours,” he says. “I remember sitting in a smoky bar in Paducah, Ky., eating deep-fried cheese sticks and kissing some DJ’s ass for air time. That was not for me.”
In 1997, after doing some modeling and making an abortive foray into men’s grooming products—he got caught relabeling another company’s merchandise—Thompson took the first step in realizing his dream: He leased the Viewpoint Inn with an option to purchase.
For decades, the Viewpoint had operated commercially, but by the time he leased it, the property had been a private residence for more than a decade, the laws had changed, and he could not legally operate it as a hotel (see “The Columbia River Gorge Commission,” below).
Thompson needed a way to make money from the Viewpoint, and he found a loophole that satisfied county land-use rules: He licensed the inn as a school that would teach job skills to people with developmental disabilities, including his younger brother, Matt. Those skills involved preparing and serving meals.
Over time, the inn became incrementally more commercial. Thompson began hosting weddings, taking advantage of the spectacular setting.
That activity ran afoul of the Gorge National Scenic Act and county zoning rules. In addition, the Oregon Department of Justice investigated in 1999 whether Thompson was fraudulently using state Medicaid funds and improperly soliciting charitable contributions under the guise of job training.
In 2000, DOJ and Thompson reached a settlement in which he agreed to close his business, stop soliciting contributions and never again seek government reimbursement for providing care to people with disabilities. He also agreed to pay $15,000 in fines. The loophole he’d found for the Viewpoint Inn suddenly squeezed shut.
Unable to serve meals or host weddings, Thompson could not afford the inn and surrendered his lease.
“I was in heaven, and then the battle began,” Thompson says. “Friends of the Columbia Gorge was fighting to shut me down. Then there was a [Department of Justice] investigation and I lost the place. That’s when I could see how powerful these people were.”