Well, the sign is not nearly 30+ years old like the towers that stand behind it. Bricks are falling off of the side. Doors swing in the breeze. Pigeons fly in and out of the building. Planes fly over indifferently. Life moves on.
At one time, Jim Bakker (pronounced Baker) and Tammy Faye Bakker were at the top their game with Heritage USA. It was a good idea.
Heritage USA opened in 1978, and by 1986 had become one of the top vacation-destinations in the US, behind only Walt Disney World and Disneyland. It attracted nearly 6 million visitors annually and employed around 2,500 people.
The facilities included the 501-room Heritage Grand Hotel, Main Street USA, an indoor shopping complex, the Heritage Village Church, a 400-unit campground, The Jerusalem Amphitheater, conference facilities, a skating rink, prayer and counseling services, full cable TV network production studios, Bible and evangelism school, visitor retreat housing, staff and volunteer housing, timeshares and the Heritage Island water park and recreational facilities.
It wasn’t until last year that I learned that Heritage USA was basically right down the street from me. Why should I care? I wasn’t a follower of PTL, or Jim and Tammy. Well, I knew about them because my mother was a follower. She used to watch The 700 Club when Jim & Tammy were part of that group, then she followed them when they opened their own show, PTL or Praise The Lord. My mother was a a believer, not overly religious, but one of faith. I remember seeing the television show on the TV when I’d walk by.
Today, sunny, 67, was a good day to head over and see what it was all about. Most of it, though, has been sold off and replaced by homes, apartments, etc. As I walked around the crumbling edifice that was to be (or some say is still to be) the Heritage Towers, I met a man, a former airline pilot, who I came to know as Keith. We exchanged smalltalk for a few moments, then he offered to show me around inside and give me a bit of history.
We spent a good hour together, at least – I think, talking about life, about travel, about PTL, about good ideas, giving hope, blogging, and all manner of things. It was very pleasurable.
In re-reading the history of PTL, I was reminded that it was Jim Bakker that was in trouble with the IRS as well as for paying hush money, $265,000 to a secretary, Jessica Hahn, to cover up an alleged rape, though he said that the sex was consensual. Eventually he went to jail, for about 5 years of his original 45 year sentence. He is still paying on a $6,000,000 debt to the IRS from when they yanked his non-profit status.
In of the halls, the matriarch of PTL, Tammy Faye, her portrait is still displayed prominently; his, however, is nowhere to be found.
The more that I thought about it, the more that I thought that it had been a decent idea, but that the lure of the money and power just got to Jim Bakker, leading to his downfall and the subsequent downfall of the empire that he and his wife built.
It was cool to visit a bit of history to which I was somewhat connected, meet someone, and, as always, to be out with my camera.
There is still a church, a few shops, a hotel, and a few odds and ends, but it is certainly a shadow of its former self a whisper of what was and what could have been.