The King’s Castle

The Kings Castle in 2012, before demolition.
The Kings Castle in 2012, before demolition.

“You don’t have to be dowdy to be a Christian.”  – Tammy Faye Bakker Messner The princess of televangelism, Tammy Faye LaValley Bakker Messner, had many palaces and kingdoms.  However, the King’s Castle was the only one built for her, in her image. Tammy Faye captured the Southern imagination like no other as the star of the PTL Club in the 1970s and 1980s, but like many figures before her, she eventually fell through scandal. Only was she redeemed by the power of television and her own charisma.  The King’s Castle, her castle, was never redeemed.

Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, 1987
Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, 1987

Born in Minnesota to two Pentecostal teachers, and the eldest of eight, Tammy Faye LaValley claimed to be born-again at the age of 10.   Tammy Faye took the name Bakker after marrying Jim Bakker, whom she met at North Central Bible College in Minnesota.  A year after their marriage in 1961, the two relocated to South Carolina. The Bakker’s were founding members of the 700 Club, and hosted a Christian children’s television show, Jim and Tammy.   After such success, they created a puppet-based spiritual ministry on the Christian Broadcasting Network and co-founded the Trinity television network.  However, the most well known of their accomplishments, the Praise the Lord Club (PTL) and television show, was all them, or really, it was all Tammy Faye.   She strolled out on stage in bright pastels and matching make up, where she sang and told stories with tears in her eyes. After receiving such fame, naturally the Bakker’s decided to build an evangelical theme park. So in 1978, the Bakker’s laid the cornerstone for evangelical theme park, Heritage U.S.A. in Fort Mill, South Carolina, in the same year that Ronald Reagan began his run for President.  The King’s Castle, though never completed, was meant  as centerpiece in the biblical theme park Heritage U.S.A. In the same year, the Bakkers’ peer, Jerry Falwell, founded the Moral Majority, a political organization that was part of the Christian Right.  So, the Bakkers were doing their part to defend against the “moral peril” brought on by the tide of feminism, Jimmy Carter, and less prayers in schools.  They hired Roe Messner, noted church architect, to design the kingdom. Dreamt by Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker but paid for by the faithful, Heritage U.S.A. was the third largest amusement park in the United States in the 1980s, attracting over six million visitors a year. “The King’s Castle” was a not-so-subtle allusion to the Kingdom of Heaven, but it did not mean that the castle necessarily had a “heavenly” purpose. Despite large green letters on the interior declaring “Our Mission Statement: To provide quality family entertainment in a Christian atmosphere which will give honor and glory to the Lord Jesus Christ”, the castle was originally intended to be the world’s largest Wendy’s, though it eventually became an indoor go-cart track in a failed redemption in the 1990s by Morningstar Church. The castle and the park were intended to steer people in the “right” direction, or keep people in the right direction.  Despite this sacred task, it closed eight years later.

Cinderella's Castle in Orlando Florida.
Cinderella’s Castle in Orlando Florida.

However, the castle was also built as part of the kingdom of Tammy Faye.  Another Southern castle, Cinderella’s, in Orlando, Florida, is a place where families celebrate childhood.  The King’s Castle was intended to be a place where families celebrate the favorite Son.  Tammy Faye Bakker’s palace at Heritage U.S.A. is not as large as Cinderella’s.  Cinderella’s castle matches the dress she danced in with prince charming, while Tammy Faye’s matches her famous (or infamous) eye shadow, lip liner, and blush. Up until the castle’s demolition on April 20, 2013, the stucco remained spackled onto concrete walls and sprayed gray, with the five turrets painted in bright pastel green, blue, and yellow.  The castle was embattled, adorned with false windows painted onto the towers in bright blue and green; windows intended to watch for an approaching enemy.  The final defense? A (once) neon-lit sign that spelled “The King’s Castle” in faux gothic lettering.  Crumbling, the castle stood for years, though no one had crossed through its gates in search of rapture since 1989. Its newer fortifications for the last 15 years featured a surrounding chain link fence with  “NO TREPASSING” signs frightening off possible conquerors.  Graffiti marred the bright yellow interior, while impossibly large piles of metal and concrete rubble surrounded the exterior.

Interior of The King's Castle, February 2013
Interior of The King’s Castle, February 2013

The King’s Castle was never finished by the Bakker’s, and despite a brief period in the 1990’s as a Golf Cart Course, it remained dormant.  The Bakker’s dream, Tammy Faye’s castle, was never completed. The King’s Castle did not rest in the wild in its retirement; it sat next to neighborhood developments such as “Regency Park”.   Teenage boys tossed a basketball in the parking lot where a moat could be, while women jogged past with dogs in tow, and cars zipped by as people ran Saturday morning errands.  Besides the few people who have bothered to graffiti things like “Tony loves Kara” and “Worship Satan” on the interior, the castle interacted little with passerby.  Pieces of metal hung from the ceiling, disturbed only by passing breezes. Jim Bakker was arrested in 1988 for embezzlement, rape and tax fraud.  Though many considered Tammy Faye complicit, she was never charged.  Heritage U.S.A. was a pivotal part of his downfall; Bakker sold lifetime memberships to thousands for Heritage U.S.A., which included hotel stays at the never-finished tower.  However, there were not enough rooms to come close to accommodating all those who purchased memberships.  He embezzled money to keep it open and expanding. Tammy Faye filed for divorce from Jim Bakker in 1992, and remarried the architect of her dream, Roe Messner.  The couple soon moved to a suburb of Charlotte to live in a quite development, away from the fame and wealth that had created her demise. But Tammy Faye did not need quiet.  After the end of her marriage to Jim Bakker, she tried another fairytale.

Magazine Cover declaring  Tammy Faye's relationship with Messner.
Magazine cover declaring Tammy Faye’s relationship with Messner.

However, Roe Messner soon faced a similar fate to that of Jim Bakker’s. After being vilified by the media for her part in the fall of the PTL Club and Heritage U.S.A, and yet again by the Christian Right for her quick divorce and remarriage, Tammy Faye stopped looking to heavenly princes and Kings.  Tammy Faye could be a star all by herself. Tammy Faye left the PTL Club, which ended its run soon after her departure.  In 1996 she published her memoir, Tammy: Telling It My Way.  Others wanted to document her life as well.  The Eyes of Tammy Faye came out in 1999, followed by Tammy Faye: Death Defying in 2004. Tammy Faye guest-starred on The Drew Carey Show, and became a member of VH1’s The Surreal Life in 2004.  She lived and worked with the likes of Vanilla Ice and Ron Jeremy for 12 days, and loved it. A woman who looks like she was born to be a Gay-icon, Tammy Faye came out in support of Gay Rights in the 1990s, marching in many pride parades.  She renounced homophobia, and emphasized the humanity for all.

Tammy Faye with RuPaul.
Tammy Faye with RuPaul.

Remaining in the public eye since her diagnosis with colon cancer in March 1996, Tammy Faye believed that her struggle was meant to inspire others. Any viewer could see this in her multiple memoirs (the second, I Will Survive… and You Will Too was published in 2004) as well as her multiple appearances on Larry King Live. Tammy Faye has since passed, in 2007.  She lived out her final years in Matthews, North Carolina.  Though she left for Kansas in 2003 to live in her infamous dream home with Roe Messner, she returned to a hospice in North Carolina in 2007 to live out her final days. Her last appearance on television, with Larry King, took place on July 19, 2007.  She claimed to weigh 65 pounds, which is easy to believe when looking at footage.  Tammy Faye ended her appearance with a heartfelt farewell to fans and followers

“I’d like to say that I genuinely love you, and I genuinely care, and I genuinely want to see you in heaven someday. I want you to find peace. I want you to find joy.”

The King's Castle- Demolishment
The King’s Castle- DemolishmentOne of Tammy Faye's final appearances on television.One of Tammy Faye’s final appearances on television.

Six years after her death, Tammy Faye achieved immortality besides the heavenly; drag queens imitate her, reruns appear on television, and The King’s Castle stood.  Not one, but two musicals have been written on her life, The Gospel According to Tammy Faye and Big Tent. Unlike Tammy Faye, television was unable or uncaring enough to save The King’s Castle.  Neither could Golf Cart’s.  It’s likely only appearance in years; the King’s Castle was featured in the National Geographic’s television documentary, The ’80s: The Decade That Made Us, which premiered weeks before its demolishment.  About fifteen minutes is devoted to Heritage U.S.A., and the castle. But more notability would be unlikely to save the King’s Castle, hundreds went by every day, and millions knew where it sat. No rise to greatness was in its future.  Unlike Tammy Faye, it was unable to change, adapt, and try to remain in the spotlight. It was a solid, unmoving pastel building.  Tammy Faye was a fluid, pastel personality.  The castle had no chance at redemption. Tammy Faye’s obituaries across the country described her as an “Ex-Evangelist”.  The King’s Castle obituaries simply called it a relic.  It sat as a reminder of past failure, but without the chance at redemption.

Still from video taken of demolition.
Still from video taken of demolition.

Evan Noll 1. Messner, Tammy F. I will survive– and you can too. New York: Jeremy O. Tarcher/Penguin, 2003. 2. Messner, Tammy F. Tammy : telling it my way. New York: Villard, 1996 3. “Rick Joyner Speaks on The Demolition of King’s Castle,” Rick Joyner, Web, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvS7-gqmNtI. 4. Anna, Douglas. “Heritage USA’s ‘Kings Castle’ is Demolished.” Charlotte Observer , April 22, 2013. Heritage USA’s ‘King’s Castle’ is demolished Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2013/04/22/3995428/heritage-usas-kings-castle-is.html 5. “New Musical ‘Big Tent’ Covers Life of Tammy Faye Bakker Read more about New Musical ‘Big Tent’ Covers Life of Tammy Faye Bakker .” Broadway World, November 16, 2006. 6. Tammy Faye’s , “Mini- Biography.” Accessed April 28, 2013. http://www.tammyfaye. com/minibio.htm. 7. Gates, . The New York Times, “Advertise on NYTimes.com Tammy Faye Bakker, 65, Emotive Evangelist, Dies.” Last modified July 22, 2007.  Accessed April 26, 2013.