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A third serving of borscht – The changed face of America’s Jewish Vacationland

July 2022

The Borscht Belt, the colloquial name of the Catskills area of eastern New York State that was once populated with resorts and bungalow communities for Jewish clients from New York City, in an era when Jewish people still faced discrimination elsewhere.  Cheap airfare, a decline in passenger rail service, more integration and a desire of the younger crowd to travel elsewhere are some of the factors that led to a decline in the popularity for the 500 hotel resorts and bungalow communities that once populated the area.

While some of the former hotels and bungalow communities were re-purposed into Othodox Jewish schools and Yoga resorts, most were either demolished, destroyed by fire or abandoned and left to crumble.

For my fourth and fifth trips to the Borscht Belt (April & July 2022), I set out to visit some of the hotels that I hadn’t been able to visit on previous trips, or didn’t know about previously. It’s taken a bit of digging from various sources to find out which hotels still exist, along with other sites that are still worth visiting in 2022.

Given that there were once near 1000 hotels and bungalow colonies, it’s near impossible to visit all the sites, especially given that many were demolished with no trace of the former establishments left today. The following hotels, and the others in my previous three articles, are just some of them; including some of the more noteworthy like Kutsher’s and Grossingers.

This article has been in the works since the fall of 2019. It’s completion was delayed by the border restrictions imposed by the Chinese Communist Party Virus, which prevented me from visiting the former hotel sites and photographing them. Due to severe time restrictions, my trip in April was confined to around a 40 hour period, which included driving there, staying the night in a hotel, and returning home. This necessitated a follow-up trip in July, to get to some of the sites that I missed the last time.

There are still more sites left to visit, which will necessitate a sixth trip, and maybe more. Hopefully by then, the proposed Catskill Resorts Museum will be open.

Check here for updates: Coming soon! (catskillresortmuseum.com)

While surviving hotels like Honor’s Haven and Vila Roma have adapted to the current environment of the Borscht Belt and seem to be thriving, it’s very unlikely that the area will return to the classic era.

Stay tuned for Part 4……..

Note: Information on some of the former hotels in this edition of my Borscht Belt series was hard to find on-line or through available books. I don’t live in the area, so it’s hard for me to stop by the local archives office. If you can help fill in any details, it would be greatly appreciated.

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Flagler Hotel

The Flagler Hotel opened in 1872 as a boarding house, in Fallsburg. From this simple beginning, the Flagler began setting trends that would be copied by other hotels and resorts in Sullivan and Ulster Counties.

In 1920, the Flagler was remodeled into the distinctive stucco, covered building with a parapet and Palladian window dominated architectural style now known as Sullivan County Mission, a style that other hotels in the area would copy.

The Flagler started another trend in 1929, when they opened their 1500 seat theater and began booking entertainers for the enjoyment of their guests. Soon other hotels had their own stage shows in purpose-built theaters. By the 1930s, the Flagler was the first hotel in the Borscht Belt to begin operating year-round, something that was followed by other hotels.

One unfortunate distinction for the Flagler; it was among the early victims of the demise of the Borscht Belt.

The falling of ethnic barriers and the fading appeal of traditional resort vacations among the younger generation led to the decline of the Catskills region as a vacation destination. Younger guests no longer seemed interested in the old hotel, preferring newer resorts for their vacations, often in far away destinations like Europe, helped by affordable air fares, or the rise in popularity of the cruse-ship industry.

By 1966, debt incurred by the hotel’s new Empire Room nightclub, indoor pool and new lobby forced then-owner Jack Barsky to file for bankruptcy protection. Even with the upgrades, Barsky’s 1, 000 room hotel wasn’t able to weather the declining fortunes of the Borscht Belt.

By 1970, the hotel had been sold to an investment group that re-opened the hotel as the Fountains of Rome, hoping to take advantage of proposed legalized gambling for Sullivan County. After less than two years ownership, the hotel abruptly closed; so abruptly that dishes were reportedly left on the dining room tables.

The former Flagler Hotel was again sold and re-opened in 1973 as New Hope (a branch of the Crystal Run School), a facility for adults with developmental disabilities.

New Hope closed in 2000. It’s now Camp Mestivta Meor Hutorah.

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El Monaco Motel and Resort

While not as elegant or popular as most of the other Borscht Belt hotels, the El Monaco Motel and Resort, in the tiny hamlet of White Lake, earned a special place in history when it was used as the headquarters for the organizers of the Woodstock Arts and Music Festival in 1969.

Jack and Sonia Teichberg owned and operated the dilapidated motel, along with their son Eliyahu Teichberg, better known to the Woodstock generation as Elliot Tiber, after moving to the area from New York City in 1955.

The 80-room motel, located at the intersection of NY-17B and NY-55, was not very profitable, and the Teichbergs barely managed to keep their motel afloat.

When Elliot Tiber heard that the organizers of the proposed Woodstock Arts and Music Festival had been denied a permit to host the festival in nearby Wallkill, he contacted the organizers to offer the motel property for their use. As President of the local Chamber of Commerce, Tiber guaranteed them the required permit.

Upon inspection of the motel property, the organizers found the land beside the motel to be too soft and wet for the concert. They later approached nearby dairy farmer Max Yasgur, who offered up his farm for the festival.

The Woodstock organizers did end up using the El Monaco Motel as their headquarters, renting out the entire motel for the summer.

The 2009 Ang Lee directed film, “Taking Woodstock,” staring Demetri Martin, Liev Schreiber and Eugene Levy, tells the story of Woodstock as it related to the El Monaco, although the movie was not filmed at the original motel, which was torn down in 2004.

Although the money from the Woodstock organizers was a much needed financial injection for the motel, it eventually went out of business.

In its place, the El Monaco Italian restaurant operated on the property until closing in 2004.

Developers Steve Dubrovsky and his former partner, Howard Schoor, who developed the nearby Chapin Estate luxury residences, bought the 11-acre property. Dubrovsky planned to convert the property to retail use, but nothing came of this plan.

Dubrovsky sold the land in March 2017 to a holding company owned by New York City-based Indian-American hotelier Sant Singh Chatwal, the mogul behind the Dream Hotel Group. Plans for a high-end 100-room hotel have been put forth, but the property remains empty.

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Esther Manor

Esther Manor opened in 1905, in Monticello, by Irene Goldstein Asman and her sister, Esther Goldstein Strassberg, who was the first Jewish employee of Sullivan County.

Originally named Albert House, after Harvard University graduate Albert Montgomery Fulton, Jr, the luxurious hotel offered kosher accommodations to their guests, along with recreational amenities that included swimming, billiards, boating, dancing , fishing golf and tennis.

By the 1960s, Esther Manor was thoroughly upgraded to include a new lobby, new indoor pool, card and TV room, lounge and nightclub, air-conditioned dining room, air-conditioned guest rooms with wall-to-wall carpeting.

Singer-songwriter Neil Sedaka played in a band at Esther Manor in the 1950s and 60s, where he became romantically involved with Leba Strassberg, Esther’s daughter. Leba and Sedaka married in 1962 and are still

the and where he met his wife, the daughter of the resort’s owners.

A fire in 4 July 1962 destroyed an employee rooming house and almost two weeks later, the main hotel building was heavily damaged.

Strassberg sold Esther Manor in March 1970 to Weight Watchers Resorts & Spas, but it was sold again in May 1974 to the Maimonides Institute, a Jewish-owned organization that assisted mentally handicapped children and young adults regardless of ethnic background.

The Maimonides School closed in 1978 after being caught over-billing state agencies.

The former resort then went through several owners, becoming a rabbinical seminary and summer camp for Hassidic Jewish children in 1979; then a series of different Hasidic children’s camps throughout the remainder of the 20th century and into the 21st century.

In October 2010, township building inspectors cited the camp for 99 building and health code violations. Half of the necessary repairs were made, but the camp closed permanently two years later.

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Ambassador Hotel

The Ambassador Hotel in Fallsburg was originally opened by Charles and Lillian Brown, the same couple who would later open Brown’s Hotel, also in Fallsburg.

The Browns had also owned the Hotel Arthur, where a young Jerry Lewis, worked as an emcee and tea boy.

The Ambassador was later bough by the Merl family. In 1948, the Ambassador Hotel was one of the first hotels in the Catskills to offer day care for children of the guests, thus giving parents a relaxing break from child care while staying at the hotel.

In the 1950s, the Ambassador opened the Moulin Rouge, considered first nightclub at a Catskills hotel.

The Ambassador closed in the late 1960s. The property was owned by the Catskills Playland Amusement Center in the late 1980s, but it closed after only two years.

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Stiers Hotel

Stiers Hotel, opened in Liberty in 1920, and it would grow to feature 85 rooms spread out over several buildings, that could accommodate between 125 and 150 guests.

Well known Borscht Belt comedians such as Lenny Bruce and Henny Youngman would occasionally play the hotel. Marc Stiers, grandson of the original owners, reported that Lenny Bruce was paid $50 for a performance in 1958.

The Steirs family sold the hotel in 1973. It’s now Camp Kavunas Halev, a Yeshiva for Hasidic Jews.

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Paul’s Hotel

Paul’s Hotel, in Swan Lake, closed in 1964 and the property was sold.

Samaritan Daytop Village, a substance use and mental health treatment organization founded in 1964, opened a residential treatment campus at the former hotel, one of several facilities in Sullivan County, This facility is one of two established in a converted Borscht belt hotel, with the other being the former Grand Hotel in Parksville.

Daytop closed all of its Sullivan County campuses, including the Swan Lake campus, in March 2014, after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The former hotel has sat empty ever since.

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Aladdin Hotel

Opened in 1929 as Hotel Levbourne, in Woodbourne, by the Komito family.

Carrie Komito took over ownership from her mother in 1932. In the 1950s, the name was changed to the Aladdin Hotel.

Although the Aladdin was one of the smaller size resorts in the Borscht Belt, it featured two main buildings. With its nightclub, the Ali Baba Room, it was one of the county’s most popular family resorts.

The Aladdin Hotel survived the downturn of the Borscht Belt in the 1960s, unlike many of their competitors. By the 1990s, their luck had run out. The hotel was seized under foreclosure in 1993, for failure to pay past-due taxes, ending over sixty years of operation.

Sullivan County officially took control of the property and hotel in March 1999, who sold it the following month, for use as a Hasidic camp, Ichud Beirach Moshe Shul.

One of the main buildings was torn down in June 2012, after it sustained serious damage in a fire. The other main building was burned in a controlled fire by the Woodbourne Fire Department in August 2013, for training purposes. Both buildings were in poor condition and had been condemned by the Town of Fallsburg, with holes in the roof, crumbling foundations and mold issues.

All the other former hotel buildings remain, with some new buildings added.

On 9 May 2007, Carrie Komito died at the age of 102.

It’s interesting to note that many of the bungalow units standing on the property came from the former Richman Bungalow Colony on State Route 42, north of Woodbourne. When Bertha Richman sold the bungalow colony in 1980, the bungalows were transported off the property and floated across the Neversink River to the Aladdin property.

The original Richman family house still stands of the former bungalow colony property, which is still owned by the Richmans.

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Grand Mountain Hotel

Grand Mountain Hotel in Greenfield Park was once one of the most popular middle class hotels during its hey-day in the 1950s and 1960s, when it was owned by Abe and Esther Steinhorn.

Situated on a large property, the hotel featured a swimming pool, playground, voleyball courts and basketball courts. The casino featured a variety of entertainment like dancing, concerts, competitions for adult and kids. The casino was especially well known for having strip shows late on Saturday night.

Grand Mountain Hotel had an associated bungalow colony called Hillcrest, on a neighbouring property a little to the west. The bungalow residents were permitted to use the hotel facilities.

By the new century, the hotel had been owned by various Russian owners, after having sat empty for a period.

In 2018, the Russian-owned Grand Mountain Hotel closed and remains empty today. While it’s unknown if the hotel will re-open sometime in the future, the buildings are slowly deteriorating.

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Hotel Brickman

Opened on 10 May 1912, by Russian immigrants Abraham and Molly Brickman, four years after immigrating to New York City. Brickman purchased a farm in South Fallsburg in 1910 to escape life in the city, and soon relatives and friends were spending summers at Brickman’s farm.

Like many Jewish farms in the Catskills, taking in summer borders was more profitable than farming, so Brickman turned his farm into a hotel instead.

The Brickman’s daughter Anna and her husband Joseph Posner and their sons eventually took over the ownership, then in 1930, his grandsons, Ben Brickman and his brother Murray.Hotel Brickman would eventually grow to have 300 rooms, with adult activities, the hotel had a nursery, a day camp for children, and a teen program.

By the 1980s, Hotel Brickman was suffering the same economic pressures as other Borscht Belt hotels. After after a 74-year run, Ben and Murray Brickman sold their beloved hotel in December 1986, to the SYDA Foundation, a not-for-profit tied to promoting Sidda Yoga ideas, who converted it into an ashram, like the neighbouring Gilbert’s Hotel.

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Gilbert’s Hotel

Once owned by Morris Gimple.

In March 1979, Swami Baba Muktananda bought the former Gilbert’s Hotel to create an ashram. It became a part of the SYDA Foundation, a not-for-profit tied to promoting Sidda Yoga ideas. By the summer of 1979, Siddha Yoga devotees gathered for the first retreat in the former hotel. The ballroom was converted into a meditation room and a temple honouring Nityananda was built.

It also served as the main office to administer Siddha Yoga activities globally.

Neighbouring Hotel Brickman is also owned by SYDA.

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Windsor Hotel

The Windsor Hotel in South Fallsburg, was opened by the Sussman family. The hotel boasted five dorms, eight cottages and two houses and the 221-room hotel, along with all the usual amenities of a Borscht Belt resort, including a pool, handball, basketball, golf, tennis, boating, horseback riding, and live shows in the evening.

Borscht Belt comedians such as comedians Red Buttons and Totie Fields once took the stage.

The Sussmans sold the hotel in 1975 to a transcendental meditating group, who later sold it to SYDA Foundation, who converted it into a Siddha Yoga ashram, named Sadhana Kutir.

By 2003, the former hotel returned to its Jewish roots when it was sold to The United Talmudical Academy of Kiryas Joel, who established a yeshiva religious school for boys and girls.

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Lesser Lodge

Lesser Lodge was originally opened on 17 July 1923 by Joseph and Sarah Lesser, in White Sulfur Spring, as an eight-room bungalow. A dining room was added in 1927, with eight additional rooms added above it. All the rooms shared one bathroom, but with a shower and bath tub included, they were advertised as deluxe accommodations.

In 1933, a casino was added as a venue for bands and other entertainment, along with drinking and dancing. Some of the performers at Lesser Lodge over the years included Jerry Lewis, Buddy Hackett and Danny Kaye, all regulars on the Borscht Belt circuit.

Also in 1933, a new two-story guest building was erected, named the Marilyn House, in honour of Joseph and Sarah’s daughter Marilyn. Two years later, another 20-room guest building, named The Alsyn, after their son Alsyn. This two-story building had larger rooms, each with an adjoining bathroom.

A third guest house, The Ranch House, opened in 1939, featuring luxurious, large rooms with private bathrooms, followed by a large outdoor swimming pool in 1942.

It would be another twenty years before the need to build another guest building arose. The Sheldon House was the added in 1959, named after Marilyn and Irwin Sheldon, featuring sixteen lavish bedrooms.

The kitchen dining room and lobby were all remodeled and expanded in 1948.

Over the years, the hotel and the amenities grew to include a tennis court, four handball courts, a baseball field and a day camp for children. A lake, complete with a beach, was created by damning up a river that ran through the property.

By 1963, the hotel could accommodate 250 guests, but the guests wouldn’t get to enjoy the hotel much longer.

In the early morning hours of 28 March 1963, a fire destroyed the main building. In the wake of the fire, Joseph Lesser decided not to re-build, and instead sold the hotel to a summer camp operator.

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Salhara Hotel

The Salhara Hotel was opened in Woodbourne, owned by Sally and Harry Friedman.

The original main house, which contained the office and dining room, is still there, serving the same purpose.

The Salhara Hotel closed in 1966.

It was turned into a Yeshivish camp named Camp Tichon Bais Yaakov, but it’s commonly known as Camp Tuby, using the first letter for each word of the name, with a “U” thrown in: T u B Y, and remains so today.

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Green Acres Hotel/The Roxy Hotel

Originally opened as The Roxy in Loch Sheldrake, it was later re-branded as The New Roxy, closing after the Labour Day weekend in 1966.

Re-opened as The Green Acres, it closed for good as a hotel in 1975.

In December 1975, the former hotel became the New Hope Community, a facility caring for people with developmental disabilities, following the example of another former hotel, Pauls Resort in Swan Lake, which was re-purposed as Daytop Village treatment centre in 1966.

All that remains of the original Roxy Hotel is the abandoned outdoor pool.

The pool from the Green Acres Resort on Lake Huntington. About the only thing left of it.

Read about this resort and the family who ran it in “Remember the Catskills, Tales by a Recovering Hotel Keeper” by Esterita “Cissie” Blumberg

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Vegetarian Hotel

Opened in the early 1920 by Fannie Shaffer, a Russian immigrant. The original house, which sat on five and a half acres, had no heat, no electricity and no running water, but they had a milking cow and a large garden.

Amenities included meatless meals, health lectures, sports, swimming pool, boating, entertainment, dancing, handball and shuffleboard.

By the 1940s, the hotel had grown to 100 rooms on 100 acres of land.

In the early 1950s, son Verb Konviser went off to war in Korea to serve his country, and after he returned, he took over the hotel’s operation. He owned and ran it for 29 years, until finally closing the hotel in 1986.

Camp Mesivta D’Masmidim-Camp Silver Lake was established at the former hotel. Most of the hotel buildings remain standing today.

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White Lake Mansion House

Not far from the site of the 1969 Woodstock Festival is a dilapidated former hotel, looking like a once grand estate home.

Opened in 1848 by the David Kinnie, decades before the Catskills became a vacation haven for New York City Jews, the White Lake Mansion House was one of the earliest hotels in Sullivan County. It’s the only hotel remaining from an era referred to as the “Silver Age of the Catskills,” thus giving it the distinction of having prospered during two cherished eras of the Catskills region.

It was built in the Greek Revival Style, painted completely white, with its two wrap around porches and imposing grandeur making it look like a Louisiana plantation house. The front porch overlooked the hotel’s namesake: White Lake. 

At the time, the Catskills was the vacation destination of upper middle class clubmen and well-heeled gentlemen from Manhattan, and White Lake House Mansion was a popular place for them to stay; an attractive choice compared to the more rustic accommodations found in the area.

The Mansion House, with its vast lawns that stretch down to the lakeside, would prove to be a favorite hotel for fishermen, golfers and sport shooters, who spent their summers in the region.

The expansion of the railways would bring even more well-off gentlemen and even families, carried by the long-forgotten Port Jervis, Monticello and New York Railroad, who wished to enjoy a vacation while taking in the scenery and clean air.

By the 1870s, it was advertised as one of the most luxurious and comfortable hotels in the area, with a washroom with running water on every floor.

While the “Silver Age of the Catskills” would eventually die out around the turn of the century, as wealthy New Yorkers chose to travel to further west across America, and further east across the Atlantic, Jewish New Yorkers would transform the Catskills into their own summer paradise.

The White Lake Mansion House remained a part of the new era, still under the ownership of the Kinnie family until 1930.

An interesting anecdote is that allegedly during the early year of Prohibition, gangster Waxie Gordon was a part-owner of the hotel, and he distilled bootleg whiskey in the basement.

The old hotel remained a popular vacation place, but it ultimately suffered the same fate as other Borscht Belt hotels. Closing around the turn of the 21st century, it wouldn’t survive to see a third century of vacationers.

Around 2012, a plan to tear down the White Lake Mansion House and build a replica of the old hotel was put forth by Pawel Efraimov of Globe Developers. The proposed new hotel would feature 72 suites, a 15,000 square-foot spa, and restaurants, along with two other three-story buildings, each containing 36 timeshare suites and a pool.

As of 2022, nothing has become of that plan.

The empty rooms have been stripped down to the bare floorboards.  The decaying hotel remains in mostly original condition, a relic of the grand days of the Catskills.

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Sha-wan-ga Lodge

The Sha-wan-ga Lodge was the largest of the resorts in Bloomingburg when it opened in 1895 as a “refined Christian house,” with its own lake and rooms to house 70 guests.

Jewish hotel owner Abraham Dan bought the lodge in 1921, but it was destroyed by a chimney fire in November 1926. The lodge was heated by the fireplace.

The main lodge was rebuilt, but in the interim, the cottages on property housed the guests, which enabled the hotel to keep operating, along with a casino where shows were held and meals served. 

The new main building had shared bathrooms on each floor for most of the guest rooms.

After Abraham Dan died in the early 1930s, his children, Julius Dan, Sam Dan and Mae Dan, who married Ed Atlass, took over operation of the hotel. After they bought out their father’s partner, Mr. Coopersmith, they built the largest and most modern building in the Catskills.

As most of the guest buildings were unheated, the hotel closed in winter, which was a common practice throughout the Borscht Belt.

A much needed renovation in 1957 renovation saw air conditioning and in-room heat added, along with some private baths.

The Dan children and Ed Atlass operated Sha-wan-ga Lodge for over 35 years, but after their deaths in the mid-1960s, Alvin Atlass & Abby Dan, grandchildren of founder Abraham Dan, took over the lodge.

In 1972, the Sha-wan-ga Lodge was in financial difficulty, as were many other Borscht Belt hotels, and Alvin Atlass decided to leave the hotel business. With Abby Dan unwilling to run the financially troubled hotel alone, it closed in September 1972.

Sha-wan-ga Lodge was sold at auction, and the new owners made plans to re-open the hotel for the 1973 season. Their plans never came to fruition, and in September 1973, the main building was destroyed in a suspicious fire, likely exacerbated by the fact that the water tower which operated the sprinkler system had been drained.

Despite having risen from the ashes once before, this was truly the end of the Sha-wan-ga Lodge.

The remaining buildings stood for another couple of decades, but all were eventually demolished and land remains empty to this day. The town board voted unanimously to approve the building of a casino on the 345-acre property, but the owners are still awaiting approval by the State of New York.

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Tanzville Hotel

The Tanzville Hotel in Parksville was a kosher Catskill resort, opened prior to World War II.

After returning from service during WWII, Nathan Tanzman took over running the hotel from his father. The younger Tanzman used his skills as a heavy equipment operator in the army to build a lake beside the hotel. Nathan stocked the lake with fish, including non-kosher catfish, despite being kosher-observant. The hotel itself enforced strict religious requirements for observant Jews, so any catfish caught in the lake couldn’t be cooked or consumed at the hotel.

Nathan and Pauline Tanzman operated the resort until 1984, when they retired.

Very little of the old hotel remains today. The stairs leading from Tanzman Road to the where the main building once stood, now lead to an overgrown field. A small section of the semi-circle driveway across from the main building also remains, as does the fishing pier on the lake.

The land surrounding and to the south of the lake is being re-developed into The Legend on Tanzman Lake, a 38-lot gated community. The lot where the hotel buildings once stood is not included in this development.

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The Grand Hotel

The Grand Hotel was one of the grand old hotels from the very early days of the Borscht Belt. Opening on 22 June 1881 in Parksville, it outlasted some of its better known contemporaries like the Catskill Mountain House and the Kaaterskill Hotel.

The hotel buildings had elements of the Italianate and Queen Anne styles.

Owner J.A. Wood was determined to have a hotel with all the high-end features and services of a hotel in the city. Guests were picked up at the train station and driven to the main entrance, wile their luggage was delivered to their rooms via a separate entrance.

Each guest suite featured a closet, gas lighting and an electric bell to summon a porter. There were numerous bathrooms and water closets on each floor. Two of the more exclusive suites had three rooms each, with a private bath.

The Main Dining Room was on the first floor, with a separate dining room on the second floor for children and their nannies. The main entrance featured a large rotunda, with a parlor and smaller social rooms for the guests also on the first floor.

In the basement was a bar, billiard room and a barber shop.

By 1939, the Grand was being called the Ritz Carleton of the Catskill Mountains. By the 1950s, a swimming pool had been added, along with tennis courts and a golf course.

The final owners of the Grand Hotel were Charles and Ira Seiden, who bought the hotel in 1956 from Tisch Hotels, Inc.

In September 1963, Charles and Ira Seiden were making plans to replace the aging buildings with a new, modern building. Sadly, Ira Seiden died and coupled with a fire at another hotel they owned in New Jersey, the plans were abandoned and Charles Seiden decided to close the Grand Hotel.

The furnishings were sold at auction over the Independence Day weekend in 1964.

Samaritan Daytop Village, a substance use and mental health treatment organization founded in 1964, opened a residential treatment campus at the former hotel, just as they had done at Paul’s Hotel, another former Sullivan County Borscht Belt hotel.

Daytop closed all of its Sullivan County campuses, including the Parksville campus, in March 2014, after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

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Prospect Inn

Opened in Parksville, the Prospect Inn was by no means the largest of these, but it would doubtlessly become the most significant.

A fire at the Prospect Inn on 11 August 1965 resulted in the death of five people, and caused a clamor to tighten up fire codes for all resorts. This put a significant financial strain on many of the smaller resorts, forcing many to close.

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Palms Country Club/El Dorado Hotel/Hotel Zeiger

This resort near Fallsburg, N.Y., was bought in 1958 by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. in the aftermath of a bank collapse that saw the hotel’s owners indicted for embezzlement. It reopened as the Eldorado.

It later became the Palms Country Club. The property the private residential communities West Park and Fallsview Estates, along with West Park Day Camp and Fallsview Day Camp.

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Nemerson Hotel

The Nemerson Hotel was one of the larger ones in Fallsburg. The hotel complex featured a mix of older buildings and newer ones; a large, older, wooden main building; a new, bigger building made out of cinder blocks; a collection of older and newer, modern bungalow cottages.

Its nightclub was known as The Penguin Club.

After Mr. Nemerson sold the hotel in the 1970s, it was re-named the DeVille Country Club. The new owners added enclosed walkways from the lobby to the dining room and from the dining room to the nightclub, which had previously been open.

It is now Mechna Bnos Yisroel Viznitz, a Yeshiva for Hasidic girls.

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Hotel Irvington

Opened by Herman Charlow (born Herman Charlupsky) and his wife Rachel. Later passed onto their son Jules Charlow.

Two famous Irvington alumnus are Robert Alda, father of M*A*S*H star Alan Alda, and his comedy partner, Red Buttons. In 1935, Buttons took over as Master of Ceremonies for the casino when the regular M.C. fell ill.

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Lebowitz Pine View Hotel

Opened by Max and Minnie Lebowitz, Hungarian immigrants who moved from Manhatten’s Lower East Side to a 62-acre farm near the Village of Fallsburg, N.Y.

Like with other Borscht Belt hotels, the farm began taking in summertime boarders escaping New York City’s oppressive humidity. Eventually, the Lebowitz farm turned into the Lebowitz Pine View.

Along with accommodations for the rising number of guests, tennis courts and a swimming pool were also constructed.

But by the 1970s, many of the Borscht Belt resorts were seeing a dramatic drop in business, and Lebowitz Pine View was no exception.

By 1983, the Lebowitz family sold their beloved hotel to the State of New York, who proceeded to build a state prison, the Sullivan Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison, a little south of the existing Woodbourne Correctional facility, which opened in 1933. During construction of Sullivan Correctional , the inmates were housed in the old hotel buildings, which were operated as a Woodburne annex until the completion of Sullivan in 1985. It then operated as a minimum security Sullivan annex until 2010, when the annex portion was closed.

None of the hotel buildings remain today.

Notable inmates who have been housed at Sullivan Correctional:

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Rosemond Hotel

Owned by Beatrice and jack Schurek, it was an ideal place for young couples with children. Amenities included a filtered pool, all sports, Broadway-style entertainment, nightly dancing, a games room (Melody Room) and an excellent day camp for the kids.

The hotel was only open in the summer.

The property is now a privately-owned residential community, known as Rosemond Terrace. It’s owned by the Rosemond Terrace Homeowners Association.

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Schenk’s Paramount Hotel

The property is now Camp Shalva, which is run by the Bobov Hasidic movement. A sculpture that stood for decades outside Schenk’s Paramount Hotel for years was re-located in April 2022 to Ellenville. It’s temporarily outside the former Ellenville train station, where it will be restored and then moved to the site of the future Catskills Resorts Museum in Ellenville, which is scheduled to open in 2023.

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Bungalow Colonies

Mixed amongst the large resort hotels were the more modest bungalow colonies. Bungalow colonies date back to the turn of the 19th century, when Jewish farmers throughout the Catskills began renting rooms and cottages to seasonal borders. At the height of the Borscht Belt, there were around 800 bungalow colonies. Today, there are less than 50, some of which have been bought by ultra-Orthodox and Hasidim groups, with about a dozen of the surviving developments becoming condominium co-ops.

The bungalow colonies consisted of a collection of small, one-storey wood houses, sitting on wood pilings or cinder blocks, and without a basement. They were furnished, but otherwise no-frills houses, usually with a small eat-in kitchen, one or two bedrooms, a bathroom with a shower (some with a bathtub as well), decks or screened-in porches. None had air conditioning, but that, along with their small size, still provided an enjoyable summer vacation for New Yorkers used to living in small apartments in a sweltering city.

Facilities frequently included an outdoor swimming pool, tennis courts, and a casino for nightly or weekly entertainment.

The popularity of the bungalow colonies declined like the rest of the Borscht Belt for the same reasons as the major hotel resorts, but they had the additional strike against them due to the fact that they no longer met state building codes. Their inexpensive construction meant that without expensive upgrades, most were subject to condemnation, and colony owners were unwilling or unable to make the required upgrades.

While some received the required upgrades and still operate in the same fashion as they have for over 100 years, many of the old bungalow colonies have been demolished or abandoned and left to rot.

In a bit of a revival, some have been replaced with developments filled with new year-round summer homes, townhouses and modular homes. Some are are co-ops or condominium developments, with the homes measuring around 1500 square feet each, built on proper foundations and featuring 3-4 bedrooms and 2-3 bathrooms. Some even include upgrades like granite-top counters in the kitchen and an unfinished basement.

While a shadow of its former glory, the era of the bungalow colony is far from over in the Borscht Belt.

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Crossroad Estates Bungalow Colony

Located on Anawana Lake Road at Fraser Road, north-east of Monticello.

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Glen Wilde Bungalow Colony

Opened in the 1940s as an 17-unit bungalow colony called Paradise Cove.

Situated on 11 acres with communal fire pits, a pool, open play fields, a swing set and a walking path through the woods. At the centre of the property is a stone house, also built around the same time.

The bungalows had fallen into disrepair by the time Brooklyn residents Jeremy Floto and Josh Farley, partners in the design firm WRK, bought the property in 2015, with the intent of reviving the bungalow colony spirit.

Floto and Farley renovated and modernized eight of the original bungalows. The bungalows were completely gutted, but most of the original vintage fixtures were salvaged, including the bathtubs, toilets, sinks and the original 1950s stoves. Many glasses, teapots and mugs that were left behind by the previous owner, who had owed the bungalow colony since the 1950s, were also saved.

In some of the bungalows, a loft bedroom was added in what used to be the attic in some of the units, accessed with handmade steel ladders fashioned out of fire escapes repurposed from another colony that was facing demolition. One wall in the loft area was replaced with windows to let in natural lighting.

Every unit got a new roof, plumbing and electric. What weren’t added to the bungalows were TVs and internet connections, a purposeful decision to allow guests to truly disconnect and relax while staying at the bungalow colony. The cottages aren’t winterized and are for summer use only.

The pool remains closed, slowly being surrounded by vegetation. Plans for a stage for events and screening outdoor movies, were also abandoned.

It was again put up for sale in 2021. It’s unknown if the new owners, when they are found, will renovate the remaining cottages.

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Sunshine Bungalow Colony

This bungalow colony was associated with the Tamarack Lodge.

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Sunrise Bungalow Colony

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Bungalow Colony – Service Road, Parksville

(If you know the actual name of this bungalow colony, or any other details, please contact me.)

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Also read:

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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.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/a-third-serving-of-borscht-the-changed-face-of-americas-jewish-vacationland/

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