A portrait hangs above the fireplace in the lobby of the Fairfield Hall at the Allenberry Resort Inn and Playhouse.
John Heinze, the 81-year-old co-owner of the resort, points at the picture and smiles.
“This is Mr. Allenberry,” he says, “Charles A.B. Heinze. He brought his family here in 1944 — June of 1944. His family consisted of my sister, Mary Jane, my brother, Jere, and myself. Jere had just been born. We all moved into the farmhouse.”
From there, it’s a long walk down memory lane. Heinze weaves the tale of how his father acquired the property, recalling former owners and famous people who’ve stayed here and how he spent one summer helping to build the playhouse.
Soon he’s telling the story of his wedding, too, which happened in Afghanistan (“back in the days before anyone knew what Afghanistan was, though they sure know now”). Heinze is a talker, but also a good listener and keen observer, key attributes for anyone in the hospitality business.
His daughter, Jackie, occasionally interjects with a memory of her own, while she keeps one eye her 5-year-old son coloring in the corner of the Fairfield, where Jackie and her sister themselves once played.
The Heinzes are comfortable here. It’s their home, their happy place, their comfort zone.
But it’s not going to be theirs much longer.
On Tuesday, Maas Companies, out of Minnesota, will conduct a retirement auction of the property, located on the banks of the Yellow Breeches.
The auction is a final attempt to unload the property, which was on the market for two years before this and didn’t find a buyer. It will also help the family pay off debts to banks and creditors in the area.
The Heinzes will have 30 days, after the new owner is picked, to vacate.
John, Jere and Mary Jane co-own the property. They grew up here, and, in some combination or another, one of them has lived here for seven decades.
In that time, the Allenberry has accumulated a lot of history. It’s inextricable from the history of the Heinzes themselves.
A.B. Heinze’s vision
John’s father bought the property at 1559 Boiling Springs Road in Monroe Township, which dates back to the late 1700s, with the idea of opening a restaurant.
Charles ran three military catering operations in the Carlisle/Harrisburg area during World War II. To open a restaurant, he needed building material that wasn’t widely available during wartime.
One of the great draws of the Allenberry property was that the then-owner, Dr. Horace Sadler, had already converted the dairy barn into a place where he entertained friends. That cut down on the materials Charles needed to acquire.
(The murals from the Sadler period of ownership, Heinze notes in an aside from his storytelling, are still in Fairfield Hall, including one mural that depicted Sadler and his brother. When the two had a falling out, Horace painted him out of the mural.)
Charles paid “less than the price of a Camry today” for the property, says John. Definitely under $100,000, and probably below $50,000.
Horace offered to sell Charles the furniture, too, but he couldn’t afford it. The Heinze family moved from a tiny apartment in Carlisle to their new digs on more than 50 acres, with little to their name but a great vision for the future.
“I remember the first day we came here, I ran over the hill to the creek, and it was the most exciting thing I’d ever seen,” John says.
“I can’t remember a whole lot of what went into restoring it. This building (Fairfield) was the primary building for food service, and it hasn’t changed a heck of a lot since we arrived. There’s walk-in refrigeration units, ovens and stoves, and over the years we’ve replaced some of the utilities down there.”
The birth of the playhouse
By the time John was 14 years old, his father decided to get into show business. Charles saw the growth of summer stock theaters across the country, and he visited shows in Mount Gretna to get a feel for how they were run.
In 1949, Charles brought in a crew to help with the theater. John worked with four others to build flats for the first show ever produced in the playhouse, “Life With Father.”
John notes that same structure has remained in place for the playhouse since. It seats 400 people now, down from a peak of 420, after some chairs were removed at the front of the theater and to make way for new lighting.
Jere played one of the kids in that first production, beginning a long tradition of Heinze family members participating in the plays.
Jackie enjoyed those childhood acting forays so much, she became an actress. The past eight years, she’s also written the annual Christmas and mystery weekend shows Allenberry has become known for.
“It was really fun and nice to stay connected here while I was living in New York or Los Angeles,” says Jackie, who currently resides in California. She comes out with her son during the summers to see her parents and further strengthen that connection.
In addition to adding the theater, Allenberry became a resort by 1950, welcoming guests and their families who often returned annually.
John Heinze left for a few years to attend college — he went to Penn State, like his father, another example of how deep the family’s ties run.
He subsequently served in the Air Force, and he met his future wife, Kathy, shortly after leaving the service. Kathy and her mother were on a ship in the Suez Canal, where they were sailing their home goods to her father, a British ambassador to the Middle East.
That, of course, is how Heinze, Charles A.B.’s son from the tiny town of Boiling Springs, ended up getting married in the exotic location of Kabul, where Kathy’s dad was posted.
The couple soon returned to Allenberry, and John became president of the resort. He’s pushed for expansion on the property, which has grown to “22 building s— well, some people say 24, but it’s at least 22,” John says.
Last summer, Jackie took her son, George, through the resort, knowing it would not be with the family much longer. She took pictures of him in nearly every room in those 22 (or is it 24?) buildings.
A story for every season
Everywhere John looks, there’s a memory.
Both his daughters got married at Allenberry. He points to the pine trees that surround the appropriately named Pine Lodge and says, “At one point, we had every type of pine tree in the United States planted here. But we’ve lost about 30 percent of them over the last 70 years.”
He remembers construction of the Players Studio, out behind the playhouse and adjacent to the Pine Lodge, where actors rehearsed the plays.
When he was a kid, the sets were constructed in a building down by the creek, and it was an arduous process to get them up to the playhouse in a big truck. After building the Players Studio, the Heinzes put a big garage door on the side to make it easier to transport the sets to and from the nearby playhouse.
John has a story about every building at Allenberry.
In the Stone Lodge, Allenberry first began serving alcohol in the downstairs Carriage Room in 1958.
“We got our first liquor license after my grandfather passed away,” John says. “My dad waited until then.”
Upstairs, there’s a room covered in Nittany Lion wallpaper — not surprising, considering the Heinze family’s close ties to Penn State. John and his wife still have an apartment in State College, and he says former football coach Rip Engle came to the Allenberry for years after every season.
Fairly soon, John will traipse the property only as a guest. He hopes the auction will bring in an owner who is sensitive to Allenberry’s past yet sees promise for the future.
But he admits it’s no longer time for his family to shepherd the resort. He and his siblings are dealing with health issues. Jere has Parkinson’s disease, and John suffered a heart attack last year.
Jackie’s generation has scattered across North America — her sister is in New York, a cousin moved to Toronto, another is in Florida.
It’s time for someone else to steward the resort, and two years of trying to find the right buyer has taken a toll.
“I’m probably taking a harder look at it now than everyone else,” John admits. “The family is nostalgic. But over the past couple years, I’m viewing it a little less so.”
It’s hard even for those outside the family to imagine Allenberry without the Heinzes.
“It’s a family business, and the Heinzes treat the employees like family,” says bookkeeper Marjorie Laman. She’s worked for John since 1973, but she’s known him even longer — they went to high school together.
“It’s going to be a lot different when they’re not here because, like I said, they treat the employees like family. Whether someone else will do that, I don’t know.”
She will find out soon. The chairs have been set up since last week for the auction, which will take place in the Crockett room — so named for two uncles of Davy Crockett who owned the property more than a century ago.
Like the Heinzes, the Crocketts’ names have been printed on the outside of Fairfield Hall, where the name of every previous owner has been printed above a window.
On Tuesday, a new name will join that list. But the imprint of the Heinzes will remain.
“I brought the Allenberry through some tough times,” John says. “It’s time to bring new energy and financing to the property, and hopefully it continues to provide access to the public to enjoy it.”
Like the salesman he’s been forced to become, John rattles off the many things to do on the property. You can tell he’s done it before, but also that he’s proud of the long list: “There’s dining, weekends away from the city, fishing in the Yellow Breeches, playing tennis on the four courts, which are in as excellent condition as they’ve ever been in, we still do weddings, banquets —”
“And reunions,” Jackie adds.
John nods at his daughter. “Reunions. This is a unique property, no question about it.”