Once touted the “Paradise of Pocono Pleasure,” Penn Hills was a popular honeymoon mountain resort for young newlyweds throughout the ’60s and ’70s. Empty but still speckled along Pennsylvania’s busy Route 447, the vacant resort is both surreal and impossible to ignore, attracting a different breed of traveler these days.
It humbly began as a tavern in 1944 and grew to over 100 rooms across 500 acres by the 1960’s. Atomic-era streetlights repurposed from the 1964 World’s Fair dotted the landscape with dreamy rainbow colors, guiding guests’ late night walks to the resort’s nightclubs and bars. Here’s one at the fair (in front of the Uniroyal ferris wheel that still sits along I-94 outside of Detroit today!):
Also, check out this super saccharine commercial from 1978:
Several employees said there are only a hanful [sic] of guests at the resort on weekends.
“It’s like we work for a haunted hotel,” one employee said. “People check in and check out within 15 minutes. They say, ‘I don’t want to stay here. It’s not what I expected.’
“The disappointment on their faces — you can’t do that to people.”
“The rooms are around $300 a night. You can get a better room at the Howard Johnson’s for $55,” another employee said.
Employees say Penn Hills has not been properly maintained and housekeeping cannot hide chipped tubs, broken mirrors and mold behind the carpet on bathroom walls.
The deteriorating resort could no longer stay afloat by the charm of its kitsch and mild internet fraud alone, especially with the travel industry changing to reflect the poor economic conditions of the time. Katherine Wisniewski wrote for Curbed, “The demise of old-school Poconos loves [sic] nests could be blamed on the rise of Vegas as a tourist attraction, AirBnB, and/or affordable cruise lines.” Penn Hills closed with the death of its 102-year-old co-founder in 2009, too deeply in debt to pay its staff, and was quickly ravaged by metal scrappers and teenage taggers.
The heart-shaped bathtubs and round mattresses left in ruin gained widespread notoriety across the internet, much to the chagrin of embarrassed locals. The residents of Alanomink and Stroud Township seem pretty unanimous in their desire to have the very visible blighted property wiped off their busy street.
And, as of 2016, a lot of it will be. While there are plans to reopen parts of the resort (though no announcement has been made regarding what exactly it will become), certain buildings feature Videofied security and dumpsters have appeared around the well-boarded windows and doorways. According to PAHomepage, construction crews arrived around March of this year to clear out the restaurant and ice skating arena. Luckily, some/all of the World’s Fair light fixtures have been saved and were gone by the time we got there. A chain link fence has also been erected in front of the property.
Now in September, stasis seems to have temporarily returned to Penn Hills. The intimidatingly playful Space Age Brutalist architecture, considered outdated by some, hated by others, and utterly condemned, is coming cautiously back into style, though there isn’t much else in the area to attract tourists anymore. It does appear that the restaurant/bar, where cameras have been installed, will be the focus of any renovation effort, but I hope against hope that if restoration does actually happen, they try to save a few of these weird angular red and white buildings as well. Like so many other examples of retro futuristic style, Penn Hills has fallen so far down a hole of kitsch that it’s starting to become sort of timeless.
Each angular, lofted room in these buildings had a big red, heart-shaped bathtub downstairs and a round mattress circled by pillars up a short flight of stairs. Mirrors and carpet are everywhere. It’s wonderfully, breathtakingly tacky.
The furthest guest buildings run along a sort of canal carved out of the landscape in concrete and crossed by pedestrian bridges, once lined by the World’s Fair light fixtures. At the center of the property are the pools, both indoor and outdoor, with yet another indoor hot tub for those looking for a more public and less heart-shaped experience. The outdoor pool is supposed to be shaped like a wedding bell.
At the base of one of the main guest buildings was a ground-level Tiki bar to service the pools. The funky vintage bar stools have been scrapped to their ornate little bases.
Here’s the main restaurant/bar, where plywood boards have been securely installed and cameras have been implemented.
Past the restaurant, all kinds of recreational complexes were available for the visiting couples’ amusement as well, including tennis courts, basketball, skiing, golfing, archery, swimming, and an indoor ice skating arena. Beyond were individual guest bungalows for more private accommodations.
Furniture had once been piled into the ice skating arena after the resort was abandoned, but cleanup crews have since cleared it out.
Watching the colorful Pennsylvania sunset over the once lavish resort was still weirdly romantic. Most of what I’ve encountered in my research is about how much people passionately despise Penn Hills both before and after its closure, but I live for this silly nostalgia. I’ve been looking forward to seeing this place for a long time.