In the end, radical environmentalists did not bring about the Viewpoint’s demise. Instead, it was chicken coops and Thompson’s negligence.
Before the Viewpoint Inn reopened on Memorial Day 2007, Thompson hired Corbett contractor Richard Wand to build chicken coops.The Viewpoint Inn Fire
But Thompson failed to pay Wand about $10,000, one of many, many bills that would go unpaid.
“I’m actually a brilliant businessman,” Thompson says. “It’s easy to run a business when you have all the money in the world. Try it with nothing.”
He would come to owe others vastly more. The biggest creditors: Chase Bank, $1.87 million for the inn and his home; two other lenders to the inn, Gerald Wilson and Steve Serafini, about $300,000 each; and the Internal Revenue Service and Oregon Department of Revenue, a total of $125,000.
Wand contacted his nephew, Matt Wand, who practices construction law.
Like Thompson, Matt Wand grew up poor in East County, and like Thompson, he does not quit.
“Matt Wand was the catalyst for what’s happened to us,” Thompson says. “He’s relentless, just a ruthless creditors’ representative.”
Wand latched onto Thompson’s leg like a badger, seeking payment for his uncle; another contractor who had done work on the inn; and Serafini.
For a time, the inn appeared to thrive. In 2009, USA Today called it “one of the ten great places to stage a romantic scene.”
That accolade followed the filming of key scenes of the movie Twilight in the inn’s Roosevelt suite.
Twilight fans flowed through the front door, but the recession, the short wedding season and the inn’s relative remoteness conspired against the owners.
In January 2010, Matt Wand’s clients had lost patience. Wand sent a sheriff’s deputy to the inn to do what Thompson calls a “till tap.”
The deputy confiscated booze from the bar and Twilight T-shirts from the gift shop. He stripped Thompson of his possessions.
“They took the Swiss Army watch off my wrist and $60—all I had on me—out of my wallet,” Thompson says.
Those takings got auctioned but did not dent what Thompson owed.
By the time Thompson declared bankruptcy in June of this year (for the third time), the inn had racked up at least $3.2 million in debts. Among those left holding the bag: dozens of couples who made down payments of $160,000 for future weddings.
The weddings planned for summer 2011 never happened—at least not at the Viewpoint Inn. And those brides and grooms never got their money back.
“What’s amazing is how easy it was for them to jilt 50 brides out of their deposits,” Matt Wand says. “And how hard it is for creditors to collect.”
The weddings never happened because just before noon on July 10, a spark from the inn’s chimney caught its ancient cedar-shake roof on fire. That was the roof Thompson had pledged to replace but never did.
There were dozens of people at the inn, including several enjoying brunch.
“People say your life can change in a moment—like when Christopher Reeve fell off his horse and got paralyzed,” Thompson says. “I finally experienced that.”
As brunch guests looked on, the blaze grew into a three-alarm fire. The news would get worse.
“The next day, I found out that our fire insurance had lapsed,” Thompson says.
Today, the inn is in limbo in bankruptcy court. Matt Wand says it should be sold for creditors’ benefit; Thompson is desperate to get it back.
Lang, of Friends of the Columbia Gorge, blames Thompson for the mess and the failure to insure the inn, but says the agencies charged with protecting the Gorge contributed to creditors losing millions and the inn burning. (Although policymakers extended commercial operating rights to other historic Gorge properties, only one other property has jumped in.)
“A lot of people bought into the idea of restoring the inn,” Lang says. “But what has happened here is the destruction of the inn for personal gain.
“Did the Gorge Commission and Multnomah County enable this to happen? I believe that they did.”
Matt Wand, who won election to the Oregon House in 2009 as a Republican representing Troutdale, says state laws need to be strengthened and better enforced so people like Thompson cannot dodge their bills for years.
“The entire system is broken,” Wand says. “The collection process even for crooks allowed them to run roughshod over the entire community.”
Thompson says he never made a dime from the inn. He drives a 2004 Ford Focus, lives in a house that is worth far less than he owes on it and is applying for minimum-wage jobs. He and Simione live off Simione’s $2,800-a-month union pension from his days as an actor.
“I never misappropriated a penny,” Thompson says.
His dream is to retain control of the inn and rebuild it.
“They’ll have to rip this place from my claws,” he says. “Bankruptcy isn’t the end of the world. Walt Disney, Larry King—even Donald Trump—they’ve all been bankrupt. It’s not over yet.”
The Columbia River Gorge Commission
In 1986, Congress designated much of the Gorge a National Scenic Area, stretching from Troutdale and Washougal, Wash., 85 miles east to where the Deschutes River flows into the Columbia. The legislation prohibited commercial activity outside of designated “urban” areas such as the center of such towns as Corbett, Cascade Locks and Hood River.
The 1986 act came after years of pressure from environmentalists, led by late Portland resident Nancy Russell, who founded Friends of the Gorge in 1980.
In 1987, lawmakers in Washington and Oregon established a 12-member bi-state commission to oversee the area in concert with six Gorge counties and the National Forest Service.
Today, the allies and descendents of those who pushed for the act remain active in Friends of the Columbia Gorge. —NJ