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Penn Hills





 
 
 

Penn Hills 

Driving down Rt 447 is not unlike many of the throughways that crisscross the Poconos - You cruise through near-infinite acres of forest, all the while breaking up the monotony by avoiding potholes, fighting road hypnosis, and avoiding the occasional wild animal that has somehow managed to find the singular strip of asphalt among all the trees. What sets 447 apart however, is that just when your eyes are about to glaze over from the blandness of it all, you find yourself driving right through the center of a massive retro honeymoon resort... and it's completely abandoned. At this point you're to likely pull over onto the dirt shoulder in an abrupt stop, rubbing your eyes to assure yourself that you're not just hallucinating from lack of mental stimulation. It's a surreal sight, but very much a real one. This sad collection of overgrown and outdated architecture is all that remains of what was once among the most popular vacation destinations in the region. Welcome to Penn Hills.

Occasionally there are places that through some chain of events, planned or not, come to embody a specific era in American popular culture. Penn Hills resort is one such place, though today it is a far cry from the nightlife epicenter of the Poconos that it used to be. The shells of buildings which stand before you grew from the humble roots of an small inn, owned and operated by Italian immigrants Frances and Charles Paolillo, which opened in 1944. However, it didn't take long for the Paolillos to throw the quaint family-oriented entertainment of their roadside inn out the window, as they quickly became influenced by the numerous honeymoon destinations that surrounded them. Within only a few years the small inn was transformed into a honeymoon resort. The first half of the 1950's were not good years for the new resort. Charles passed away in 1953, leaving behind his wife and son to run things. Just two short years later, in the summer of 1955, a flood destroyed most all of the property. Frances and Charles Jr, not being ones to let their family's business be felled by death and extreme weather, not only rebuilt the resort from ruins, but massively expanded it. Now, where once a small roadside resort stood, were sprawling grounds with all the amenities that one could as of a high-end vacation destination. In addition to the general expansion of suites and additional cottages, they constructed the first indoor ice skating rink in the Poconos, as well as indoor and outdoor pools, the later constructed in the shape of a giant wedding bell. As the resort grew, so did its popularity.

During its prime in the 1960's and 1970's, Penn Hills came to be the honeymoon resort of choice in the Poconos, often requiring guests to make reservations months in advance. Always crowded, even during the winter months, Penn Hills was a place renowned for its on-site accommodations. The popularity allowed the resort to continue expanding through the years, adding a large apartment-style bungalow building, complete with ground-level tiki bar, so that visitors could enjoy a poolside drink without having to change out of their swimwear. At night rainbow-tinted streetlights illuminated the wooded hillside, made of large lamps housings re-purposed from the 1964 Worlds Fair. Across the street could be found an extensive new sports complex, featuring an archery range, snowmobile courses, ski slopes, and multiple tennis courts. There was even a massive dining hall, and popular night club, to keep guests busy long after the sun had set (if they weren't yet retired to their rooms).

The problem with popularity is that it's often fleeting. As time went on Penn Hills began a slow and steady decline, one that intensified after crossing over into the new millennium. Though it had fallen out of popularity, the resort had always tried to maintain a clean (though very out-dated) environment for travelers, but 1970's era expansion wasn't nearly as shiny and new as it used to be. Disinterested owners years of neglect were starting to take their toll upon the buildings. Without proper funding for maintenance and repair work, small problems began to turn into very large ones. In the end Penn Hills was doing nothing short of committing online fraud; promising a romantic getaway via their website, while in reality offering guests musty bedrooms decorated with out-dated furniture, a stagnate swimming pool, and shag carpeting full of dead insects. The resort eventually died at the hands of foreclosure in 2009, at which time it owed over one million dollars in back taxes.
 
The honeymoon may have ended for Penn Hills long ago, however time and nature have carried on here even after the last visitors packed their bags and departed. All along the hilltop lovers cabins are slowly being reclaimed by the surrounding forest. Columned beds sit in dark corners, as ivy and thorns slowly grow over cottage windows. Heart shaped tubs reside in dusty mirrored rooms, the walls of which reflect nothing save for the occasional woodland creatures that briefly wander through. Though it is unquestionably sad to see a place that people once held dear fall so far from grace, there is also an air of curious beauty to it all. Penn Hills has retired from a long and tumultuous career, and one could not ask for a more picturesque setting in which to spend their twilight years.





From what we understand, the pool looked more-or-less exactly like this while the resort was still open.


Heart shaped tubs and fake ivy. No expense spared.




These smaller bungalows were simpler units that lacked the heart-shaped tubs and fancy beds of the other accommodations. 


Dry-rotted skates still hang upon the wall of the rental booth. All that remains of the Pocono's first indoor ice rink.


The Penn Hills rink during better times. Image courtesy of Louis Sam Inghilterra



The mirrored lobby was vertigo inducing.





The old billboard, painted over years ago, still bears the ghosted image of the Penn Hills logo.

 
Penn Hills invitation courtesy of Louis Sam Inghilterra








The following customer reviews are just a small sampling of what people had to say about Penn Hills on TripAdvisor.com. They serve to illustrate how bad things got at the resort in the years leading up to its eventual closure. Sadly TripAdvisor has since taken down all reviews on Penn Hills.

“Horror Hotel Film set!”
"My husband and I were looking to get away for a few days. We contacted a travel agent and she booked us an all inclusive package at the lovely Penn Hills Resort. Upon our arrival it looked shut down. Not a soul in site except for a few parked cars. Front desk people were friendly enough but from the look of the lobby it was a bit scary. They led us up the hill to our room where the building was deserted. We were the only ones in the building. Upon entering you could smell the odor of mold and stale smoke, out dated furniture, chipped paint, cracks in the ceiling, floors, heart shaped bathtub, which didn't work and stains everywhere you can image(carpets, bedding, curtains) I felt like we were some sort of horror flick. Really spooky. We immediately went down and asked if we could get an upgrade which they provided a private villa complete with round bed, bugs, dirt, old musty carpeting and again a tub that didn't work. The only laugh we got was when we opened the draws to see if we could actually put things safely in there, there was a ton of graffiti with saying like, you've been had, we got screwed, this place is a dump. We had the feeling that we were in a porn film set. The bar was decorated in cheap 70/80s decor. Drinks were watered down, food was edible but not worthy of anything more then the price of a happy meal. Needless to say we slept in our clothes on that night and decided to head out and ask for a refund. They refused to refund us and told that we were to contact our travel agent for the refund. The useless travel agent refunded $50 out of the almost $700 we paid them for the resort stay. If you like being spooked and alone with dirt and bugs then this is the place for you. HOLLYWOOD should check this place out for a great horror film."

“Honeymoon from HELL's PIT”
"OMG, you know the old saying that you get what you pay for? Well, in this case you don't even come close to getting what you've paid for and anyone associated with this place needs to be shot for false advertisement. Not only did our room not look like the website but my wife and I had to switch rooms when we got there because the first place was dirty (extremely filthy) and if we didn't come all the way from DC we would've requested a refund. We did make the most out of our honeymoon but the only thing that we could say was good about this place was the view when it snowed. We would never recommend this place to ANYONE."


“OMG!”
"We stayed at Penn Hills on our honeymoon over 30 years ago and returned once about 20 years ago. Today as we were driving home from a weekend getaway in the Poconos we drove past Penn Hills. OMG - initially I thought it must be abandoned, but here I am reading reviews about the poor guests that have made reservations for a romantic weekend. To say the resort is "outdated" would be one thing, but this once beautiful resort is literally falling apart. The wood on the buildings is rotted, anywhere there is cement, it is crumbling, the pool is peeling, tennis courts have potholes ... I saw one archery target laying on the ground ... the buildings look abandoned. Thankfully, we DID NOT book our getaway here ... I would have flipped-out thinking of sleeping in one of the rooms here. I wouldn't mind if it was "retro" and maintained, but this place is beyond neglected. I just think it's so sad that this once beautiful resort is in such disrepair. And worst yet, I can't believe they are accepting reservations and deceiving guests. I only write this to warn couples to stay away."

“This resort made me cry!”
"My fiance entrusted me with the task of booking our stay in the Poconos because we were heading there for race weekend. I made the BIG mistake of not referring to TripAdvisor first and booked a weekend at Penn Hills Resort. When we arrived, the front desk gave us keys to a room that was located in another building on the property. When we arrived to our room, the first thing we saw was a bag of garbage sitting by the door. Upon opening the door, we saw a trail of ants trying to exit the room from a crack around the door frame. Let's talk about the room. There is carpet everywhere. On the floors of both the bedroom and the bathroom AND on the walls of the bathroom!!! Anything that was once white is now smoke stained yellow, like the door to the refrigerator/freezer that is built in the wall! As I sat on the bed and sobbed, my fiance tried to open the sliding glass door that fell apart in his hand! When I called the front desk to ask if we could be moved to another room, we were told they were no other rooms available! Knowing we would lose our first night's deposit, we still decided to leave and fortunately found a room at the clean and updated Ramada Inn. Beware of Penn Hills!"