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.

460 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

  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!

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