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Crumbling resort hotel a relic of a by-gone era

May 2018

In the Catskill region of New York State lie the crumbling ruins of Grossinger’s Catskill Resort Hotel. Opened in 1919 by Asher Selig Grossinger and his wife Malka, the resort was once the premier and one of  largest of the Borscht Belt kosher resorts for Jewish clients from New York City.

In an era when Jewish people still faced discrimination elsewhere, resorts like Grossinger’s were popular for family vacations before cheap airfare allowed families to travel to distant locations.

The luxurious resort was known for hosting many notable guests like Elizabeth Taylor and Jackie Robinson and boxer Rocky Marciano, who would train for fights at the resort.

By the 1950s the resort featured a ski hill, tennis courts, a golf course, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a skating rink and theatres.

In 1952, Grossinger’s earned the distinction of being the first resort in the world to use artificial snow on their ski hill.

The Resort evolved from a Victorian hotel, later remodeled with Mission-style improvements, through a Tudor-styled expansion in the 1940s and ending with the construction of Modernist-style accommodations, a large glass-enclosed pool area and entertainment facilities in the 1950s and 1960s.

Jackie Mason, Buddy Hacket, Joan Rivers, Jerry Lewis and Mel Brooks were frequent performers at the resort.

Singer Eddie Fisher, ex-husband of Debbie Reynolds and father of Carrie Fisher, was discovered at Grossinger’s in 1949 by singer-actor Eddie Cantor.

By 1972, the 1200 acre resort had grown to 35 buildings, some of which housed ballrooms and auditoriums, hosting nightly entertainment and events on the sports fields.

It even had its own airstrip and post office.

In August 1984, Grossinger’s played host to a 15th anniversary celebration of the Woodstock Festival, featuring tie-dying workshops, a midnight showing of the four-hour version of the Woodstock documentary, a performance by David Clayton-Thomas and appearances by John Sebastian and Abbie Hoffman.

For fans of the 1987 film “Dirty Dancing,” Grossinger’s was the inspiration for the fictional Kellerman’s Resort featured in the film.

Although it was once one of the largest of the Borscht Belt resorts, by the late 1970s Grossinger’s was on the decline. Younger guests no longer seemed interested in the old hotel, preferring newer resorts for their vacations.

Gossinger’s began seeing a large number of non-Jewish guests by the 1960s as intermixing became more acceptable and common, but the clientele was still shrinking.

The rise of the cruise-ship industry also contributed to Grossinger’s decline, as did the the fact that by the 1960s, Jews began traveling to Europe again, helped by the aforementioned affordable air fares.

Hotels International bought the resort in 1985 with plans for a $4 million renovation to the 585-room, Tudor-style hotel but Grossinger’s continued to decline.

The resort was sold to Servico in 1986, but the resort closed later that year. Although the golf course remains open to this day, Servico declined to re-open the hotel due to the high costs of renovating and maintaining it.

Several other companies similarly failed to come up with a workable plan to re-open the hotel and it was left to deteriorate.

The golf course however, remained in operation and is still open as of 2018.

Grossinger’s was purchased by Louis Cappelli through his Cappelli Enterprises company in September 2013 with the intention of demolishing the buildings and constructing a casino and new hotel.

By 2017, plans were amended eliminating the casino in favour of a housing development.  Cappelli Enterprises made an application to the State Department of Environmental Conservation to designate the former Grossinger’s resort as a brownfield site, which would make the property eligible for state aid in removing contamination from underground fuel tanks, dry-cleaning chemicals and other resort-related operations.

As off 2018, the crumbling buildings remain on the deserted property.

 

 

Books:

“Remembering the Sullivan County Catskills (American Chronicles)” by John Conway

“Catskill Culture:  A mountain rat’s memories of the great Jewish resort area” by Phil Brown.

“A Summer World: The Attempt to Build a Jewish Eden in the Catskills, from the Days of the Ghetto to the Rise and Decline of the Borscht Belt” by Stefan Kanfer.

“The Borscht Belt:  Revisiting the remains of America’s Jewish vacationland” by Marisa Scheinfeld.

Documentary “Welcome to Kutsher’s: The Last Catskills Resort”.

 

Sources:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grossinger%27s_Catskill_Resort_Hotel, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2347166/Left-rot-27-years-Inside-Grossingers-Catskills-resort-abandoned-Borscht-Belt-destination-inspired-Dirty-Dancing.html, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/09/nyregion/dirty-dancing-resort-remake-patrick-swaze-jennifer-grey-catskills.html, http://gothamist.com/2014/01/10/abandoned_ny_grossingers_catskill.php#photo-1, https://www.nytimes.com/1985/10/19/us/grossinger-family-is-selling-catskill-resort-for-9-million.html, http://www.dailyfreeman.com/article/DF/20170802/NEWS/170809956, Grossinger’s Catskill Resort Hotel, https://www.popsugar.com/home/Grossinger-Catskill-Resort-Hotel-Reopening-43863843, https://www.nytimes.com/1985/10/19/us/grossinger-family-is-selling-catskill-resort-for-9-million.html, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/woman-who-built-waldorf-catskills-180957130.

 

 

 

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

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