Dayton History buys former Neil’s Heritage House property

Dayton History, the private, non-profit organization that operates Carillon Park, on Friday purchased the nearby Neil’s Heritage House property at South Dixie Drive and Schantz Avenue in Kettering for just under $700,000.

Brady Kress, president and CEO of Dayton History, said the organization has “no plans to demolish” the three-story, 24,000-square-foot restaurant and banquet center at 2323 W. Schantz Ave. The purchased property also includes a large parking lot and an adjacent residential duplex.

“Our plans at this point are to tidy up the exterior for us and for our neighbors, and to take advantage of the 200-plus parking spots for special events at Carillon Park,” Kress said.

Kress noted that Carillon Park is virtually landlocked, a triangular tract bounded by a cemetery and the riverbank of the Great Miami River. The property was attractive because it is located directly across from Carillon’s southeast boundary.

“Dayton History is a growing private, not-for-profit organization, and we want to reserve space at Carillon Park for sharing the region’s heritage through exhibits and programming,” Kress said. A long-term master plan, to be unveiled in the coming weeks, will take into account the purchase of the Neil’s Heritage House property, he said.

A series of private donors “helped make this happen” for Dayton History, which is not tax-supported, Kress said.

Founded by Neil Swafford and operated in later years by Walter Schaller, Neil’s Heritage House had a five-decade run before shutting down in January 2006. In its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s, Neil’s was a popular supper club and special-events venue, drawing wedding receptions, family reunions, class reunions, school dances and a variety of other events.

In 2010, Serena Walther, granddaughter of the restaurant’s founder, moved from California back to her hometown of Dayton, and with her then-husband Eric Leventhal, renovated the space and reopened the restaurant in 2011. The restaurant opened strong, fueled in part by nostalgia, but later struggled and suspended operations in late 2014. The restaurant’s equipment and furnishings were auctioned off in June.

“Part of me is sad, because this has been such a big part of my life, and of Dayton’s life,” Walther said Friday. “I hope it will continue to be a part of the community’s life.”

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