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.

425 comments on “Abandoned Hotels of the Catskills Borscht Belt

  1. sandra on said:

    Still looking for anyone who worked at concord in the 80″s, thanx

  2. sandra on said:

    Anyone work at the concord in the late 80s plzz let me know

  3. sandra on said:

    Concord resort,anone work there in the 80s

  4. Jason on said:

    My dad was the Musical Director of Broadway’s ‘Annie’ and we would go to the Raleigh Hotel for a yearly performance by the cast of Annie. But, he also accompanied the famous opera singer, jan Peerce, who died in 1984, but whom, I believe performed at the Concord in the early 80s. I remember the skating rink and the pool, and all that great food. The Concord was a grand hotel, and a great escape from the sweltering city.

  5. sandra on said:

    Yeah I worked there at the concord in the reservation office 8689,looking for people that worked there around that time,especially a dear friend james that wirked in the kitchen as head cook

  6. I worked in the concord in the 80′s. Along with other friends like Mario. I also worked in the motel across the street. Miss the “ol days.

  7. sandra on said:

    Did you know james in the kitchen,he had a room acrass the street too,I cant think of his last name and cant find him till I find someone who knows,so important I find him,I think he was head cook,had a limp,I worked in reservations.

  8. sandra on said:

    Please get in touch with me linda,via my email barnettlloydlilbit@gmail.com, so I can get you my number,I know you know who I been searching for,thanks linda

  9. sandra on said:

    Did you get my message 80″s girl,linda

  10. sandra on said:

    Linda,tell me more bout when you were there and some people that you knew,especially the ones that also had a room across the street,thanx girl

  11. Lou Ferreri on said:

    Read So Long, Betty and Veronica, Meredith Winter Press. Find it on Amazon.com. Bungalow and hotel stories. Comes with advice for traveling into the past. Reviews on Amazon. And yes, I wrote it.

  12. Stan Marks on said:

    Wait a second, Lou…..
    I don’t think Betty & Veronica were Jewish. LOL!!!
    You sure they didn’t vacation in the Pocono Mtns.?

    Pushing your own book, huh???
    You can also find your book in Barnes & Noble.

  13. sandra on said:

    Have you found out anything yet bout jason from the kitchen at the time you were there,I was there too,I worked in reservations

  14. vinny badagliacca on said:

    hi, does anyone remember a hotel or motel name acre manor? i think it was near either catskill game farm or saugerties. my grandparents would take me there in the early 1960s. i have a pretty good memory, but this draws a blank. i can only remember being in the night club with them one night, (probably summer 1965) and there was a show with a amazing robot 6 or 7 feet tall, kind of like the one from lost in space. was quite amazing. i do recall the manager or front desk lady my grandparents were friendly with. her name was pat. anyone remember any of this? google comes up empty…thanx

  15. Carole on said:

    Hi Anyone out there that remembers the old Windsor Hotel ? In the Catskills not far from Kutcher’s and the Concord. I still have a T’shirt from that hotel.

  16. Carole on said:

    To the Person who inquired about a Hotel called Astor Manor I thought it was called Esther Manor. I am not sure but we may be referring to the same Hotel. If so after the hotel closed it was a Camp for a year or two for children with disabilities. the camp was ran by a Jewish School in Brooklyn and was called Camp David. If this is (may very well be) the same hotel I worked there in the summer of 1969 or 1970? This hotel was in Monticello not to far from the Racetrack.

  17. Michael B on said:

    Does anyone know how or where I can get a list of names of the lodges that were in Kerhonkson during the late 50′s or 60′s I’m sure they all have been demolished but the memories I had every summer with my family were the best !!!

  18. I have a list for most towns in the Catskills . Currently out of the country. Post again after the 20th and I will work out how to send to you. Mort

  19. Stan Marks on said:

    Unfortunately, there isn’t a list, of hotels, from the 50′s/60′s just in Kerhonkson. Just an over-view, of hotels, in the Catskills. I googled your question to no avail.

  20. Hi Stan, the two biggest hotels in Kerhonkson were The Granite and The Brookside.

  21. Stan Marks on said:

    Thanx Kevan. But Michael B was the one inquiring about the hotels in Kerhonkson.

  22. John Z. on said:

    http://catskills.brown.edu/hotelsbungalows.shtml. List of old and abandoned hotels fron the Catskills

  23. margaret on said:

    hi I’m looking for the name of a hotel or motel in Liberty New York. My family and I vacationed there in the summer for a few years in the 60′s. It had a hotel and a few cabins. we stayed in the cabins. If anyone knows the name I would love to hear your reply. thanks

  24. margaret on said:

    can’t remember the name of a hotel with cabins in Liberty new York. wonderful memories of the place. hope someone knows the name.

  25. mort segal on said:

    There are 45 hotels listed for Liberty!! Any clue?, and i will try to help

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