Abandoned Hotels of the Catskills Borscht Belt

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By Jonathan H

Indoor Pool at Grossinger's

I had first read about the Catskills in an Art Spiegelman graphic novel. It was – perhaps satirically – depicted as a place of rest for the father in the story of Maus. The significance of the Catskills is not to be overlooked. Its history, its culture, and what it represents to our changing attitudes about the world, and our relationship with place — all of it could be made into a novel.

In fact, more than one novel has made its central subject the Castkill Mountains. It was the Borscht Belt. It was where Jewish Northeasterners sojourned. It was even where the Hudson School of Art began, and where Thomas Cole found his inspiration. What was its draw? What made it appealing to the rising class of Jewish immigrants who had finally achieved success in the shores of the Eastern Seaboard?

The Grossinger Pink Elephant Lounge in its Hey-day

The Grossinger Terrace Room in its Hey-day

Today, such escapes can’t exist. They are no longer relevant, nor are they economically sustainable. When a JetBlue flight to Las Vegas costs about the same as a drive to the Mecca of early 20th-century Jewish leisure, one can easily assume that one or the other will fall by the way-side. Chances are, it’s the one that is closer to home that becomes disposable.

By the mid-90s, the vast majority of the 1100 Borscht Belt hotels had become history. Jerry Seinfeld, who was once a regular in the comedy clubs of the area’s resorts, had moved on to network TV. The areas of Sullivan County that were once the centerpiece of Jewish-American leisure could not compete with Florida, Hawaii, The Caribbean, or California.

It was at Grossinger’s Hotel that the very representation of this tragic loss became all-the-more-apparent. Today, the only thing being maintained on resort that dates back to the 19th century are the greens of the golf course. The sprawling complex of 35 buildings, 1200 acres, and once host to 150,000 guests a year, has become an eyesore of the past after closing in 1986.

The Outdoor Olympic Pool at Grossingers

The Outdoor Olympic Pool at Grossinger's in the 60s

Grossingers Outdoor Pool

The Grossinger Outdoor Pool Today

There is no longer an active hotel; no outdoor olympic-size swimming facility; no lounge that hosts the high-dollar comedians of their day. There is only a 1/4-full green moss-ridden pool, surrounded by invasive indoor ferns. The burgundy and white tiles are merely a vestige. Fern and freezing-and-melting water become the centerpiece of a once-grand swimming facility. Only the lounge chairs remain as they were 20 years ago, when Grossinger’s had closed its doors once and for forever.

Maus, Catskills and Spiegelman

Maus, Catskills and Spiegelman

Reconstructing the Catskills

Grossinger’s: City of Refuge and Illusion

By Jonathan Haeber
Author & Photographer of this article

Paperback, 8″ x 7.5″, 60 pages, color photos
$20.00 — ISBN 978-0-9772742-8-4





A poignant look at the most famous resort in the Catskills. A full narrative of the history of Grossinger’s as told through 26 vivid, color images and 8 short chapters. Learn about the importance and significance of this once-bustling, but now abandoned, Catskills institution. Learn More >>

I have always held a high reverence for the Catskills. Few people I know had heard of the place. Perhaps it was the single frame that Spiegelman sketched of the place that attracted my imagination. There was something in the fact that it was a destination of escapism, and it was also a place – fantastical as it had become – that was the very antithesis of the horrors and the atrocities of Nazi Germany.

Drawing from old postcards, and trying to reconstruct in my mind the joy and the memories of these Catskills is a poor substitute to actually being in the place at its ap0gee. My journey to these mountains was limited to a few hours – for my jet flight back to the West was leaving the following morning. But the few hours I was there bended my mind and fractured my own notion of any sort of dimension.

Deep under the boiler house of Grossinger’s, for example, one of the largest of the Borscht Belt resorts, I discovered an intricate system of man-made tunnels that snaked and kitty-cornered under the grand dining room of the hotel. It seemed to be a massive, underground refrigerator or cold-storage area, but it literally occupied a football field’s worth of underground space. Walls collapsed into each other. Ceilings succumbed to the enormous weight of the hotel above me. In certain places, the floors above me had turned into empty holes where one could stare high into the empty spaces of the higher floors after emerging from the dark recesses of the cavernous cold storage room underground.

The Hidden Tunnel at Grossinger's

The Hidden Tunnel at Grossinger's

Walking up to the remains of the skating rank, I encountered a left-behind pair of ice skates, children’s mittens, and a cap – all of which looked to be at least 25 years old. And in the grand wood-paneled lobby, I saw the opulence reduced to a decaying mess of soggy drywall and mossy cement.

Grossinger’s was certainly a headliner among the Catskills hotels, but the Tamarack Lodge came in as an interesting mid-tier alternative.

Experiencing Grossinger’s Hotel After its Decline

There is nothing that will ever match my experience at Grossinger’s. I’m sure that I will never again see anything quite like it. Ironically, these resorts declined as a result – in part because of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Before the landmark declaration, many Jews were either implicitly or explicitly not allowed in upscale resorts outside of the Catskills. By the time this occurred, rail service began cutting service to the area, and the jet era was about to begin. A younger generation of Jews had chosen other destinations for vacationing, and the old generation found themselves largely retiring to Florida.

Video Documenting the End of the Catskills Era

And, as a final farewell, just this last spring one of the greatest hotels of the regions was demolished. The Concord was the largest hotel in the Borscht Belt region, and had closed after serving “sumptuous kosher dining” in its 3,000-seat dining room for five decades.Today, many hotels are slated to become Indian gaming casinos – ironically serving another culture just as they once had for half a century.

The Catskills Tamarack Lodge Pool

The Catskills Tamarack Lodge Pool

The Catskills may no longer attract sweeping artistic movements; these mountains my no longer be the sojourn of a post-WWII community battered by the horrrors of bigotry. Downtown, in Liberty, or East Falbrook, Kiamesha, or Bethel – you won’t see the glowing marquee of a matinee or the bright lights of kosher restaurants. But underneath the branches of pine and ash trees, you might just be walking on the old remains of a skating rink or olympic swimming pool. If you do, just imagine what it was like years ago, when this place was a seasonal escape from the crowded hustle of New York City.

378 comments on “Abandoned Hotels of the Catskills Borscht Belt

  1. Steve… brought back so many memories… stayed at the Evans Hotel many years with my family.. there was a trail in the woods around Lake Evans that would terminate in the center of town. And Sakovsky’s… remember playing pinball there to take a break on the really hot days… the A/C in the pharmacy was always blasting and the place had that slightly medicinal scent that the old time drug stores always had.. yes, the Beachcomber.. even Herbie’s as I got older for roast pork on garlic bread. Remember the old time gas station where I’d buy from the Coke machine a glass bottle for 10 cents. Moonglow Bungalows on Leroy Road. At night climbing the triangular roof of the Evans indoor pool and running back down the other side…when I learned to drive, riding over to Sullivans department store… the Chinese restaurant at the Holiday Inn for the puu-puu platter … in 1969 the hippies sitting naked on the bench in front of the laundromat while they washed the only clothes they brought for Woodstock…. you brought back a lot of memories. Thanks.

  2. steve s on said:

    I also remember a little deli in town called Peppys …it was next to the beachcomer…and the pu pu platter at thst chinese place too!

  3. Matthew Policano on said:

    Having summered in the Catskills the better part of my life I remember with great fondness passing the signs to these wonderful places as a child. Route 17 was littered with them and we often would see the buildings from the highway.
    Sadly, Grossingers has been leveled and the land has been used for an office building complex, but oh how the memories of the glory days still linger.
    Though too young to remember the heydays of these wonderful resorts, I am old enough to have been able to see their final days before their demise. I still say anyone born between 58 and 65 are the luckiest of all generations.

  4. mort segal on said:

    This is an era in Jewish life that will never be duplicated. I worked as a busboy the summers of 1943-44-45. In 1946 now with a driving license drove many of the acts that worked for my father to their various performances. Continued in the entertainment business for many years, until the demise of the resorts.
    Our daughter was born in 1957, and she still talks about her early days in the Catskills.
    I do speak about that era to seniors at the Y as well as our Temple. Next date is April 1st.

  5. Bo Salsblerg on said:

    It was a time that will never be again. Every New Yorker and lansman from the tri-state area trudged up Old Route #17 and stopped at the Red Apple Rest for a bite to eat before continuing on to the Catskills. I knew all the smaller hotels and bungalow colonies and met the most unforgettable people along the way. Growing up during those years left its mark. Visit my memories at “Minnie’s House” by Bo Salsberg, available on Amazon/Kindle.

  6. Bo Salsblerg on said:

    The best times of my life were spent in the Catskills. Stopping at the Red Apple for a bite to eat on the way to Kutchers or Grossingers or the Pines. I remember the smaller hotels and bungalow colonies, very much like the one mimicked in Dirty Dancing. Helping the young waiters setting up their tables so they could spend more time with the young girls. Visit me on Kindle/Amazon for a murder-mystery in the Catskills. “Minnie’s House” by Bo Salsberg.

  7. Joanna Poppink on said:

    Thank you for this tribute to the Catskills. I vacationed at the Nemerson Hotel in South Fallsburg in 1954. It was a glorious two weeks that I’ve remembered all my life. I learned to cha cha there to the music of Maurice Scott and his band. Years later he and his band played at my wedding.

    I remember the pool, the beauty contests, the poker games poolside and the serious card games in the back rooms, the handsome waiters and bus boys who all played basketball in teams against the teams of the other hotels, the lavish meals, the comedians, the dance lessons in the afternoons and the wonderful dancing at night.

    To my eyes everyone seemed glamorous, friendly, full of joy and with an undercurrent of sexuality that added a bit of excitement and drama to all the activities.

    It was a vibrant, unforgettable world of its own. I’m sorry it’s gone. I’m so very glad I was there.

  8. Robert on said:

    I grew up in this area and as a teen I worked at Grossinger’s,Valley View House, Kenoza Lake and the Villa Roma in Callicoon(its still open) I have fond memories of those days….thanks

  9. Carol on said:

    I worked at the Hotels Evans the summer of 1971. I was only 17. I have such great memories of being there. Met many wonderful people. Does anyone remember a band that played there called Wabash Cannonball?

  10. sandra on said:

    I am search of anyone who worked at the concord in 1988 in the kitchen,searching for gentleman named james who was head cook,it is in regards to his son,please. Thank you, contact me via email barnettlloydlilbit.com 4176215257

  11. Carol, Yes! I was 13 then but remember the lead guy’s last name was Higgenbotham(sp?).. the band all stayed in a staff house near the night club called “the Gus”… I stayed at the Evans all summer from ’67-’73…

  12. Maureen on said:

    Nice tribute to a wonderful place & time. My family vacationed at the Edgemere from the 50′s until it closed late 70′s early 80′s. It was a wonderful place and I had the best memories of summers spent there. The original owner Gussie was a wonderful woman, then the Whalen family. Everyone that worked there, vacationers, it was great! We used to ride horses 3 – 4 times a week at J Bar M Ranch and walk over Black Bridge into town to shop at Newberry’s and have lunch at the ice cream parlor.

  13. shemp on said:

    Ya, I was little goy wit sharp eye for da fat laddies from Brooklyn.

  14. Bobby on said:

    Shemp… lol…. da fat laddies or ladies?

  15. STUBBY on said:

    EVERYTHING I NEEDED TO KNOW TO SUCEED AND BE HAPPY IN LIFE I LEARNED WORKING AND LIVING IN THE CATSKILLS AT BROWNS AND IN BROOKLYN ON AVENUE “J”.
    TO THOSE TIMES I OWE MY SUCCESS.

  16. Marty on said:

    Bobby, I couldn’t stop laughing.

  17. Marty on said:

    I started going to the Catskills at the age of four in 1952. For many years I went to Bungalow colonies. Some of the ones I remember: Kraus bungalow colony, Vacationland, Moonlight bungalow colony. In later years I hung out at hotels. Spent a lot of time at the Pineview hotel around 1966-70. Was the lifeguard at Pineview for the week ending on labor day weekend, the big singles weekend. Loved all of it. Despite giving our kids so much, I feel bad for them that they never had the experience.

  18. Joanne Goldstein on said:

    Marty,
    My husband, Murray, also worked at the Pineview hotel (1969 – 1970). We met in 1969. My parents had a shoe store in South Fallsburgh and I worked at Poppins Restaurant. I also feel bad for our children that they did not grow up in that environment. It was a wonderful time.

    Joanne

  19. Marty on said:

    Any chance he knew Sammy Lieberman or George Lefkovitz?

  20. Joanne on said:

    Hi Marty,

    He doesn’t know them.

  21. Amy Watner Freeman on said:

    I grew up in Monticello. My grandmother, Celia Smalley, worked at Grossingers. My parents met working at the Raleigh, Joan Smalley Goldberg and Martin Watner. We moved to Las Vegas in 1978. My mom was born and raised in Monticello. My folks owned Down Under Restaurant on Broadway and Knobby’s bar in Kiameshia. Just had to share. Thanks!

  22. steve s on said:

    I used to go to the Down Under on fridsy or sat. nights in the late 80`s and early 90`s…i loved the live music.

  23. sandra on said:

    Carol I read your message about the james I am looking for, that worked in the kitchen around 1988~89 ,I so need to find him or anyone that might have worked there at that time,at the concord resort hotel, I looked up the name you said james higginbotham and couldnt find him,please if you or anyone can be of any help I would appreciate it. 417 621 5257, thank you, sandra

  24. Vanessa Harnik on said:

    Hi. I’ve been searching for info on a Bungalow colony located in Napanoch, NY – that would have been around in the 1930′s … any info anyone might have would be great. My grandmother went there every summer!

  25. George M on said:

    Spent weekends with my rich Jewish friends at the Raleigh. It was wonderful. Remember seeing
    Della Reese one weekend. Was so amazed. She spoke with an with streetwise diction and then opened her mouth to sing with impeccable diction and grammar. A great performer.

  26. Martha N. on said:

    Does anyone remember the Schenk’s Paramount? Visited this hotel around 1957 and really loved it. Also, are there any trips to see the resorts still standing?

  27. sandi grosewald on said:

    would love to get intouch with anyone who went to shrieberville bungalow colony and sgs bungalow colony both in swan lake during the sixties

  28. Bobby Farber on said:

    Martha,
    Remember the Schenk’s well.. Stayed there for the summer when I was 9 and 10 (1966-1967). Remember all the buildings named after states (Floridian, Californian, New Yorker, etc.)… very nice… one of the card rooms was in the big beautiful round dome over the front entrance… the lobby bar on the second floor that opened a couple of hours before dinner… one of the owners at that time was written about in a book called “The Great Salad Oil Swindle”… great times there for a young kid…

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