Legendary Oregon wrestler got pinned by a heavyweight real-estate dream
Olympic gold medalist and OSU legend Robin Reed might have been the best wrestler of all time; throughout his 20-plus-year career he was never once pinned. But his plan for the "Delake Rod and Gun Club" was more than he could pull off.
By Finn J.D. John — June 12, 2011
In late May, 1978, the wreckers went to work on Lincoln City's most eligible Haunted Mansion: the sprawling, Timberline Lodge-shaped husk of what was to have been the Delake Rod and Gun Club, on the shore of Devil's Lake.
It couldn't have really been haunted, of course. To be haunted (if you believe in that sort of thing), a house needs to have been occupied at some point, and this one never was. No, the only ghosts in this sportsman's palace were the dreams of a fellow named Robin Reed — former shipyard worker, newspaper editor, real-estate agent and Olympic gold medalist, and quite possibly the best amateur wrestler of any weight in American history.
Reed was an Arkansas native, but his wrestling story started after his family moved to Portland — and it was almost an accident.
Stumbling into his destiny
Looking cool and professional, Robin Reed pins an opponent at Oregon
State University, then known as
Oregon Agricultural College, in the
1920s. (Image: OSU Athletics) [Larger image: 1200 x 856 px]
"I needed gymnasium credits to graduate from high school, but I didn't want any gym because I was already getting all the exercise I needed operating an air hammer at the shipyards," Reed once said. "I was only 125 pounds and could barely hold onto that hammer, so that was all the gym I needed."
So he went for wrestling instead — and quickly found he was a natural.
By 1921, he was already a legend, attending college at Oregon Agricultural College (now Oregon State University) and winning wrestling matches at the collegiate level. By 1924 he had three National Freestyle Wrestling championships under his belt and had earned a berth on the U.S. Olympic team — and had still never once been pinned.
Quest for Olympic gold
The entire U.S. Olympic wrestling team traveled to Paris for the games on the same ship. En route, of course, they did what they did best — and Reed did it better than any of them. Reed pinned every member of the team but one, whom he battled to either a draw or a pinless victory, depending on who you asked. One of the men he pinned would go on to take the gold in the heavyweight class in Paris.
So, in the 134.5-pound class, would Reed. And there are those who believe if he'd been allowed to wrestle in every weight class, the U.S. would have swept the gold medals that year.
"He had a genius for knowing how to handle the human body in wrestling," one of his former coaches told authors Jeff Welsch and George Edmonston. "He was tremendously flexible and quick. He had great balance, was a keen competitor, and his ingenuity was so remarkable that he would figure out a way to beat you."
But he was definitely not someone you wrestled with for fun. He was notoriously nasty on the mat.
"He is generally regarded as the most feared and punishing wrestler of all time," Mike Chapman writes, "a man who would break an opponent's arm if the mood struck him to do so."
Coaching the Beavers, wrestling with the pros
On his return from the Olympics, Reed coached the OAC Beavers for a couple years, bringing them to a national championship in 1926. But in that same year, he was accused of cheating at a tournament, and OAC dropped the wrestling program entirely in response.
Reed spent some time in professional wrestling, but was never very happy with the flashy show-biz image of the pros — no Macho Man Randy Savage, he. So in the mid-1930s, he quit to get into real estate development.
Robin Reed, real estate man
Reed had a plan that was perhaps a few dozen years ahead of its time. He'd build a mammoth lodge on the shore of Devil's Lake. It would be like a hotel — complete with lobby, lounge, swimming pool and casino — but the living quarters would be condominiums, not guest rooms. He called it the Delake Rod and Gun Club.
It took Reed a couple years to get the project under way. The Depression took a large divot out of his timeline. Finally, in 1938, ground was broken on the huge building.
Reed styled his creation after Timberline Lodge, built just a few years earlier and already something of an icon for the state. It featured three giant stone fireplaces built with stone blocks salvaged from the ruins of the Polk County Courthouse, which had burned earlier.
But the following year, Hitler invaded Poland. The U.S. started gearing up for the war its leaders knew was probably coming, and the markets started to tremble a bit. Reed also found he was having trouble selling the concept of a condo-hotel. Progress slowed to a crawl.
The dream begins to die
Then World War II broke out, and Reed's project was dead in the water as resources and workers were concentrated on the fight. By 1942 he was facing legal hassles over the whole thing, and after the war ended construction never resumed. Reed moved on.
So there the Rod and Gun Club sat, vacant, gaping and full of nothing but echoes, the salty air turning its cedar siding grayer every year as the decades rolled by.
Finally, in 1978, wrecking and salvage crews moved in and started taking the massive structure apart. Within a few months, it was all gone.
1978 was also the year Reed was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame — and also the year in which, on Dec. 20, he died.
The only wrestler who'd never been pinned
Throughout his wrestling career, Reed was famous for his willingness to wrestle opponents of any weight, up to and including heavyweights. He was also known for winning. Not once in his entire 19-year career did Robin Reed lose a wrestling match. This is a record that only one other Olympic wrestler — Japan's Osamu Watanabe — has ever matched, and Watanabe's career was much shorter.
But in the arena of condominium development, well, Reed did get himself pinned once — by a super-heavyweight dream.
(Sources: Widing, Roy. "Robin Reed/The Case of the Vanishing Mansion," www.oregonbiographies.com; Welsch, Jeff and Edmonston, George Jr. Tales from Oregon State Sports. Champaign, Ill: Sports Publishing LLC, 2003; Chapman, Mike. Encyclopedia of American Wrestling. West Point, N.Y.: Leisure Press, 1991. Thanks to Peter Bellant for the story tip.)