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View Point Inn owners sound alarm on ability to pay for repairs

Fire damages historic structure atop Columbia River Gorge
by: Jim Clark View Ppoint Inn owners Geoff Thompson, left,  and Angelo Simione talk with reporters in front of the historic inn that caught fire on Sunday, July 10.

In the wake of a sudden fire on Sunday, July 10, that caused major damage to the financially troubled View Point Inn in Corbett, and the further bad news that the inn's insurance had expired a few months earlier, the property owners have received a 'phenomenal amount of calls,' visits and emails of support from people locally and around the world.

Geoff Thompson said Tuesday afternoon that the inn had been a major topic of Internet discussion among fans of 'Twilight,' the best-selling vampire-themed book and movie series. The inn gained major attention among fans when it served as the backdrop for the dance in the first 'Twilight' movie and has continued to attract fans from around the globe.

Vanguard Restoration of Portland donated $20,000 worth of materials and work to cover up the inn's exposed roof and to clean out the damaged interior, Thompson said, noting that workers were at the property until 4 a.m. Tuesday and had returned at 9 a.m. Thompson also is working with Multnomah County to determine if electricity can be turned on and if the kitchen - largely undamaged by the fire - can still be used for upcoming events.

Thompson and Simione said they hope support will also lead to donations through PayPal on the inn's website at theviewpointinn.com or at any US Bank branch.

Thompson said it could take between $1 million and $2 million to fully restore the inn and bring it up to county building codes. He learned Monday that the inn's insurance had lapsed on the property in April because of nonpayment, so nothing was covered.

Thompson said he is looking into whether they and their bank, Chase Bank, were properly notified that the insurance had expired. Angelo Simione, co-owner of the View Point Inn and Thompson's partner, said the lapse in insurance was 'a big screw up' that was overlooked by the two because of family issues.

'It's a drag beyond a drag that we didn't have insurance,' Thompson said.

It's another case of financial woe that has dogged the inn since Thompson and Simione went through a costly three-year legal battle with government and environmental agencies to open the inn, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Thompson filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in June to prevent an auction of the inn to pay off debts to contractors, according to the Portland Business Journal. He listed $1.7 million in unsecured debt on the petition. A concessionaire now holds the building's lease.

Simione also had to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2010 while undergoing treatment for cancer.

A fire in December 2008 damaged the kitchen after heat ignited dried-out wood adjacent to the fireplace and chimney. It caused $40,000 to $50,000 in damage.

'We wouldn't not have insurance just not to have it,' Simione said about Sunday's fire, noting that the 2008 fire was paid for with insurance.

Thompson said he was determined to keep the inn open and that all donations would go directly into restoration.

The fire

Two visiting female 'Twilight' fans alerted staff and guests to the rooftop fire on the inn, which reportedly started around 11:30 a.m. Sunday.

Firefighters from the Multnomah County Rural Fire Protection District 14, with assistance from the Boring Fire District, Gresham Fire and Emergency Services and Portland Fire and Rescue, responded to the 11:49 a.m. dispatch and contained the fire by 2:40 p.m.

District 14 Fire Chief Tom Layton said 58 firefighters responded to the fire. The last crews didn't leave the inn until around 8 p.m.

Layton said a state fire marshal's investigator and an Oregon State Police officer found that sparks from the chimney had landed on the dry cedar-shingle rooftop and spread into the attic.

'Nobody inside had any idea there was a fire because it wasn't smoky inside,' Layton said.

The fire ultimately damaged the attic and roof. The first and second floors sustained smoke and water damage.

Firefighters were able to salvage several items, including furniture and historical artifacts, Layton said.

Layton responded to the 2008 fire at the inn and noted that Sunday's fire was much bigger, although he said the structure wasn't a total loss and could be rebuilt.

Adding that he grew up within half a mile of the inn, Layton said he hoped it could be salvaged.

Weddings, events canceled

Thompson said the fire happened 'at the worst possible time,' given that the inn had booked 50 weddings through the end of October. One wedding was supposed to be held at the inn on the day of the fire. The fireplace had been lit that morning to give some additional ambience to the dining room. The inn also had banquets scheduled and was fully booked up with guests, Thompson said.

Two of the inn's four rooms were badly damaged in the fire. Thompson said eight guests were staying at the inn when the fire was reported, although they had checked out by 11 a.m., so none of their possessions were damaged. Members of a local car club also were having brunch at the inn when the fire was reported.

Actor Daniel Baldwin, who was going to stay overnight at the inn with his children, arrived while firefighters were still at the scene, Thompson said.

Thompson said visitors would get their reservation fee deposits back, and that inn guests had been directed to other area hotels and inns. He still hopes to have outdoor events, even if it means bringing in mobile kitchens and portable toilets, he said.

'The view didn't burn down, so we still have that,' Simione said, referring to the view of the gorge from the inn's property. 'We can certainly put up some tents and make it look presentable.'

Thompson said everyone who had called to cancel or change plans has been sympathetic and supportive.

He said he would discuss future plans with the inn's 20 employees on Wednesday.

At the Riverview Restaurant in Troutdale, another popular spot for weddings, Service Captain Alan Stevens said the business got several phone calls from wedding parties after the news of the fire at the View Point Inn broke. He said they were able to take in two weddings on Sunday and Monday that had originally been scheduled at the inn.

On Sunday, the wedding party pitched in to help the staff put together a wedding celebration for 100 people in about three hours, he said.

'When they left last night (on Sunday), everyone was happy,' Stevens said, noting that the business was trying to accommodate the new wedding parties in addition to the weddings it had already scheduled.

Local response

Portland resident Peter Velluschi, a friend of Thompson and Simione, said they were determined to make the inn work, running it on a tight budget.

'It just makes me sick because this place doesn't deserve this fate,' Velluschi said, while surveying the damage on Monday. 'I hope (Thompson and Simione) can pull it together. I just feel so badly for them.'

Simione said a friend from Australia contacted him to say a radio station in Sydney was telling listeners to donate to the inn.

Thompson said the public's support for the inn ultimately will determine its fate.

'If we get there, great,' Thompson said. 'If we don't get there, I know I gave everything I had to this property, no question.'