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.

483 comments on “Abandoned Hotels of the Catskills Borscht Belt

  1. Jeff S. on said:

    I was on summer vacation from grade school at the Windsor Hotel in July, 1969. I remember standing at the bar (even thought I was just a kid) watching the grainy black and white images of Neil Armstrong taking his first steps on the moon.

  2. I was hoping for some help, my family and I would vacation at the old Edgemere Resort up off of West Main street, can anyone provide some information or pictures. What year did it finally close
    Thanks KC

  3. Kev Catalan on said:

    Hi I was hoping someone could provide information regarding the old Edgemere Resort off of main street, As a kid I would vacation there with my family, and photos or information would be greatly appreciated. What year did it close up?
    Thanks Kevin

  4. pat edelman on said:

    I remember going to the Concord with my parents and sister every New Years holiday. They but on great shows each night and we would all be in the grand dinning room to bring in the new year.

  5. annette johnson on said:

    I came in on the tail end of the Catskills heyday. In the 1990s my husband’s fire department (Suffolk County NY) would have annual conferences ( on the taxpayers’ dime) at the Concord..As he was the only Jew in the dept. no one else understood why we couldn’t get milk for our coffee at dinner and we had the whole table’s plate of lox to ourselves (yum). Morris Katz was still doing his paintings then.

  6. stephen j. blum on said:

    I grew up in the hotels. My father was an executive chef at the homowack, granit, brickmans,browns, edgewood inn, gibbers and gilberts. He started out at the big g, and mover to the pines when the hotel was seasonal. Trained under some of the best in those day’s. I worked as a cook and worked my way up to sous chef by 18. I worked at kutchers, homowack, granit, edgewood inn, tamerack. I left in the early 80′s to take a chef jobs and grow my knowledge.I came back in 1990 to be the executive chef at paramount hotel for 10 years. All of these were the best years, best paying jobs, and the old time owners were great to work for. I was sad to see it all go.

  7. we have a cabin in Manorkill, and traveling up 145, I remember the Windsor, and many others. I was saddened to see the “Stone Tower” restaurant closed when I visited the area in May of 2014. I remember when Becker Sound Systems was still in business along that route.
    Sad- seeing those resorts and motels was part of my childhood, and now they’re only ghostly images in my mind….

  8. Mark Hall Amitin on said:

    My maternal great-grandparents (Sarah and Harris Goldberg – aka Hantmann) were the owners of The Kiamesha Overlook Hotel (sometimes called The Overlook) from about 1910 until 1941 when the Winericks bought them out along with several other small hotels and created the Concord. There were four daughters (Ida, my grandmother, Rose, Celia and Theodoshia aka “Toots”).

    It was where my mother and her entire family spent most every year, and where she went to a one room school house in winter by horse and sleigh (with Ginny Grossinger).

    Anyone having any photos, postcards, emphemera, handed-down tales please please contact me. We’re putting together a family history and working on a book from family diaries and photos etc. My great-grandfather was one of the founders of the (Socialist) Dairymen’s League there as well as a regular contributor to the Daily Forwards (in Yiddish).

    Thank you VERY much!

    Mark Amitin
    m.h.amitin@gmail.com

  9. Kevan M Harris on said:

    Mark, did you mean Jenny Grossinger?

  10. Leo Rettig on said:

    What about Young’s Gap? Also,what about Mt Freedman in NJ? Oy,such good memories!

  11. Bruce on said:

    My father was partners with Jerry back in the day and supplied movies to all the hotels, camps and bungalow colonies. From birth to age 13 I stayed in the bungalow colony just past the Paramount Hotel, that was owned by the Saul Gaeshalters (not sure on the spelling). I remember the walks into Parksville to go to Jerry & Lil’s. Best egg cremes. Horseback rides at Grossingers and later on at the Dude Ranch (can’t remember its name). I remember the buses dropping off the people in front of Sids Pharmacy that were going to the Paramount. Remember Joey Fiddles place. Katz Bakery in Liberty (best bagels). It was a great youth. Where did it all go? This new highway must drive the remaining stake in a place that I so enjoyed, and so miss.

  12. mort segal on said:

    Great reading more from old time Catskill people. I started working in Catskills at age of 14 as a busboy and did that for 3 years, and at the age of 17 had my drivers license and went to work for and with my dad in furnishing entertainment to the hotels. Sadly its all gone, and only memories are left. I have been doing klectures on the subject for the last 3 years and it brings back memories to those that have had the experience.

  13. Stan Marks on said:

    I spent a week, around the late 90′s, at the last of the great Catskill resorts, the Nevele Hotel, before it closed.

  14. Sandra on said:

    Did you know James from the kitchen,I so need to find him or know his last name please

  15. Sandra on said:

    I so need a list of cooks and or kitchen staff member from the kiamesha lake Concord hotel from 86-90, please, so super important I find a James from then, I need his last name-417 621 5257 thank .you

  16. Bob Hankin on said:

    It was a special time. My Grand parents owned a grocery store in Spring Glen. On old route 209. They supplied the dairy products to the Nevele, the Homowack Lodge and many of the hotels in the South Fallsburg. I used to make the delivery run with my uncle to many of these hotels while visiting from Brooklyn. My family had deep roots in the Catskills as they owned many Bungalow colonies. I spent my summers in Sackett Lake outside of Monticello. I, along with my brother, used to sneak into the Laurels and go swimming in the pool. It was great and to this day the memories are fond.
    I spent my honeymoon in the Nevele in the new round tower that had just opened in 1965. It is so sad to see that this is all gone. The hotels are gone, the bungalows are gone but the memories linger.

  17. Stan Marks on said:

    In the late 90′s, I spent a week at the Nevele. My room was in the tower. There was a plaque, at the entrance, that stated Pres. Johnson stayed there. They still ran the hotel, meals & activity director playing “Simon Says”, like the “old” days. I was the only Jew, among all Gentiles, that knew what many of the foods were. They would ask me, “What is THAT?” I told them, “creamed herring”. LOL!! Being there was like being in a time warp. The furniture was still vintage 1950′s. Not long after my visit, the hotel closed. The last of the Kosher resorts. I still have my Nevele coffee mug.

    Here’s a little trivia……..
    Where did the name “Nevele” come from?

  18. alan on said:

    we used to spend a week each summer at the prospect inn in parksville ny I am trying to find any photos this was in early 60s I spent my honeymoon in 1970 at the Nevele and went to a county western dance convention in early 2000 shame to see it all gone

  19. Lori on said:

    Speaking of Jerry and lil’s I heard so many stories from my mom, their daughter. She remembers the long summer nights making ice cream sodas with her brother marty

  20. Bruce on said:

    Is your mother Andrea or Sandra?

  21. Lori on said:

    Sandra. Do you know her?

  22. Bruce on said:

    My father, Bert, was partners with Jerry in the film business. I remember you mother, I see her in my mind, but think I only meet her a few times.
    I knew Andrea more. She was about my age, maybe a year or two older. I would help out from time to time, busing tables, or working the cash register. Remember going up the back and putting pennys on the railroad track. We stayed at the bungalow colony that was just past the Paramount Hotel from 1952 – 1963 or 64. Then I would come up after that to spend a week here or there with my father. He then was staying at the Continental Motel in Liberty.

  23. Sandra on said:

    Iam Sandra, I worked in reservations, .looking for a someone who worked in the kitchen 89+90, his name is James it’s so important I locate him plzzz

  24. Yocheved on said:

    We spent many summers at the New Prospect (South Fallsburg, I think), when I was a child. Does anyone know where that was, what is there now? or have any pictures? Wondering what happened to Arty, our waiter. Thank you.

  25. Lori on said:

    Bruce, do u have any photos to share?

  26. Rod Ragazzo on said:

    Does anyone have info on “Dunwoodie Acres Lodge (orinally Hotel Majestic, I think) in Monticello (South Fallsburg) owned by the Solazzo Family of Yonkers, NY?

  27. Jahn Chesnov on said:

    Nevele spells eleven backwards. Eleven children.

  28. Donna Plotnick on said:

    So sad to see these pictures. I grew up in Parksville/Liberty.

  29. I, too, yearn for the days of the grand old hotels upstate. If only. . . Maybe one day someone will dare to revive a taste of these grand hotels: the old world charm, a taste of courtesy and kindness we remember, simple and clean fun, and lots of wholesome activities, not to mention the endless choices of delicious food.

  30. Stan Marks on said:

    Pam,

    You’ll never see those days, again. They’ve passed on like our parents. It was a different time.
    Our generation & our kids, found more vacation destinations. I still live those memories through my 8mm home movies, from ’58.

    Back in the late 90′s, they tried to pass a gambling initiative, which went down in flames.

  31. Hi Stan,
    I don’t think I would like what gambling attracts or produces, but yes, I do have my memories and the little photo cones. Remember those? There does seem to be cycles to many things; look at fashion trends, so why not hang on to the hope that someone one day will think it a grand idea to recreate a taste of that nostalgic era, even on a smaller scale. Many things start form just a seed of an idea, so let’s keep dreaming.

  32. Stan Marks on said:

    Pam,
    I know where you’re coming from. Only the Catskills could never be 100% Jewish, again. That’s why it was a haven for Jewish families. We were one big happy family. We made lasting friendships, with people we never knew before. We did things together, by the pool. We ate together. All of the hotels were Kosher. Today, there are more mixed marriages, than ever before. But as you said, we can always dream.
    Interestingly, I live four hours west of the Poconos, in western Pa. at the Ohio line, off I-80.

  33. Stan,
    I’m smiling as I’m reading your post. Yes, It was wonderful, all the people we’d meet. the big tables we’d sit around to eat, and the attire–so nice. Heartwarming memories! I remember seeing Joan Rivers and David Brenner, and lots of others. The comedians were my favorite.
    Even in mixed marriages, you can share nice things from each other’s heritage.
    Solomon is quoted in Proverbs as saying ““Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” So, I’m going to hope. And maybe one day someone will have the heart to re-create some of it. Maybe it’ll be a gift to someone or in memory of someone. So, I’ll look forward at the hope instead of back at the sadness. After all, nothing is impossible if only you believe.

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