The resurrection of Geoff Thompson
What's new with Geoff Thompson?
The last time newspaper readers encountered the one-time Playgirl centerfold, he was vowing to rebuild the flame-licked remains of his historic hotel and restaurant, the View Point Inn in Corbett.
That was 2013 — the Inn remains roofless — and few have heard from him since.
Now he has a fresh promise: He's seriously considering a run for governor.
"I know I can run a hell of a campaign. I know I can certainly weigh in on the issues," Thompson said during a recent interview. "I don't see anyone else worth voting for."
For most people, that would be a plateful. But in his free time, Thompson is starring in a new documentary by the Academy Award-winning Director Ramona Ramdeen.
"Citizen on Fire" focuses on Thompson's decision to represent himself in a million-dollar legal battle over his debts with Chase Bank, which essentially ended in a draw. A producer describes the film as a portrait of the human condition.
"It's 'Rocky' meets 'Erin Brockovich' meets 'Seabiscuit,'" Thompson explained.
The longtime Corbett resident says his independent campaign for governor would promote better schooling, foster free enterprise and harness Oregon's natural resources to support cottage industry.
Already, he's calling out fraud in the Oregon Department of Transportation, which he argues has botched the Interstate 5 corridor through Portland. And that's just one bomb in his arsenal.
"I'm over Ron Wyden. I'm over Earl Blumenauer," he declared of the two Oregon congressmen. "They're bought and paid for by radical environmentalists who know nothing about balance."
For Thompson, balance would likely mean more opportunities to develop in the gorge, where the damaged View Point Inn sits at 40301 E. Larch Mountain Road.
But if he runs and wins — and yes, that's a big if — Thompson would have ample opportunity to tip the scales.
At 56, Thompson has been jailed twice (by his own count) and thrice bankrupt. He's never held or run for elected office before, though he seems ready to pitch a campaign.
"We need people who are not worried about their legacy, but about fighting for the rights of the people," Thompson said. "I'd vote for a guy like me."
The provocative restaurateur has been racking up headlines in increasingly large font sizes for decades. He was even hailed "one of Portland's biggest bullies" by the Willamette Week newspaper in 1999.
At the time, Thompson had been banned from the offices of Multnomah County after officials claimed threats, verbal abuse and angry displays from Thompson.
"We were very well behaved and we followed the process," Thompson said of the incident now, "and we won."
That's debatable. In truth, the View Point has been slipping in and out of the innkeeper's grasp for about 20 years.
Round one ended with the judge's gavel in 1999. Round two would finish in flames.
In 1997, Thompson leased the View Point Inn with a $5,000 cash advance from a Visa credit card. At the time, land-use laws required the site be used as a private residence based on a National Scenic Area designation that restricts commercial activity.
Thompson found a loophole, and cast the property as a vocational school for special-needs people such as his brother, Matt Thompson.
That plan worked for about a year. But when Multnomah County found out the inn was serving as a hotel, restaurant and fully-booked wedding venue, a judge ordered it shuttered.
Time passed, and Thompson and his partner, Donn Angelo Simione, took out a $450,000 loan to buy the 4,200-square-foot property in 2004. After a three-year-long battle with the county, they were permitted to run a hotel at the site.
The View Point Inn re-opened for business on Memorial Day 2007. Built in 1924, the Tudor-style structure overlooks Oregon's Vista House and offers stunning views of the 1,100-foot drop to the Columbia River.
It's hosted everyone from President Franklin D. Roosevelt to Charlie Chaplin, and more recently was memorialized as the backdrop for a prom night kiss in "Twilight," a 2008 film about vampires and romance.
The cinematic setting was only appropriate for Thompson, who already called the inn his "Tara," a reference to the plantation Scarlett O'Hara returns to at the end of "Gone with the Wind."
"I can relate with begging, borrowing and stealing to save (your) home," Thompson said. "I did it. I did everything else to do what I could to save history."
Engulfed in flames
Thompson couldn't save the inn from the errant chimney spark that ignited the cedar-shake roof on Sunday, July 10, 2011. News choppers circled after flames tore through the ceiling and blackened the second story.
Worse news emerged the next day. Thompson — who had already filed for personal bankruptcy a month earlier — had let the fire insurance lapse.
In total, Thompson had racked up least $3.2 million in debt, including back taxes, two mortgages, unpaid contractor fees and at least 56 claims of bounced employee paychecks. Chase Bank alone wanted more than $1.7 million.
There was no choice but to let a court-appointed trustee take control of the View Point.
Thompson describes this time as the "dark night" of his soul. Then, as he tells it, an unexpected letter arrived, dated Nov. 30, 2012: The trustee had declared the inn valueless and was returning it. For the third and final time, the View Point was his.
By 2013, Thompson was crowing to reporters about his "world class, five-diamond" rebuilding plans. His legal battle with Chase slogged on the background.
"Nobody has the ability to fight you. I don't have the money to fight you. If I had the money, I'd hire the biggest firm in the country," Thompson said in a sworn deposition in 2016, "and I would take you down."
Then he stormed out.
Chase Bank and Thompson settled one day before a jury trial was scheduled to begin. No money changed hands, and both sides were barred from calling themselves the "prevailing party," court records show.
Last September, Thompson sold the View Point to its new owners, Sheron and Heiner Fruehauf, for $577,000.
Well-known local attorney Matt Wand represented several of Thompson's creditors. He helped a man who owed at least $300,000 foreclose on the inn's parking lot. Other plaintiffs were paid out by the bank.
"I sincerely wish the new owners well," Wand remarked, "and I hope that Thompson is a long way from all of us."
Geoff Thompson would vote for a guy like him. But who is Thompson?
With a booming speaking voice and a personal charisma even his detractors don't deny, Thompson has the stage presence of an actor and self-confidence to spare.
Politically, he's a novice. In the age of President Trump, however, his pronouncements have a populist ring.
"China is run by engineers. They have changed that country in such a short period of time because they operate by engineer minds," he said. "Our country is run by litigators (who say) 'No, you can't.'"
He has plenty of critics, including Multnomah County officials, his creditors and neighbors in Corbett.
But as Thompson himself points out, before him, the View Point was one of a handful of Oregon buildings on the National Register of Historic Places that wasn't open to the public.
In his opinion, it's absurd that the county would spend years enforcing a quirk in land-use law, only to turn around and gladly reap the economic stimulus created by increased tourism in the gorge.
"Angelo and I used to say, 'If we were white, straight (and) married with children, we never would have had a problem,'" he said.
Angelo is gone. The love of Thompson's life passed away on May 18, 2014, a victim of resurgent melanoma, which spread to his brain after a period of remission. Matt Thompson, Geoff's brother, died in August 2016 after an extend stay in hospice.
Thompson says he's quieted in his middle age. He no longer works out at the Pearl District 24 Hour Fitness in Portland, preferring walking, prayer and meditation.
He wants to travel to all 50 states and put his feet in the ocean. Then he's getting ready for his film premier, tentatively scheduled for October.
"I'm no longer a big, beefy bodybuilder. I'm no longer 'Buff Daddy,'" he said, referring to a nickname the news media bequeathed to him. "I'm Geoff Thompson. I'm very proud of who I am. I think I've become the man I was always meant to be."