«

»

Print this Post

The crumbling remains of America’s Jewish vacationland – The rise and fall of the Borscht Belt

November 2018

The Borscht Belt was 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, Borscht Belt resorts were popular for family vacations before cheap airfare allowed families to travel to distant locations.  Offering kosher food, recreational and entertainment facilities, these resorts became an annual pilgrimage for many families and inspired several Hollywood movies including “Dirty Dancing” and “Sweet Loraine”, both released in 1987.

From a high of over 500 different hotels and bungalow communities to just a handful today, the Borscht Belt represents a by-gone time.  Some hotels were renovated and have held on with a smaller clientele, while others were given a second life as religious schools and retreats.  However, most were abandoned and left to deteriorate or were outright demolished.

Well known resorts in the area included The Concord, Grossinger’s Resort and Country Club, Brickman’s, Brown’s Hotel, Kutsher’s Hotel and Country Club, The Nevele, Friar Tuck Inn, Gibbers, Gilbert’s, The Granit (which later became the Hudson Valley Resort and Spa), The Woodbine Hotel, Heiden Hotel, Irvington, Lastman’s, the Laurel Hotel and Country Club, The Pines Resort, Raleigh, Silverman’s Riverview Hotel, Stevensville, Stiers, the Tamarack Lodge, the Olympic, Shawanga Lodge, the Overlook and the Windsor Regency.

Many efforts were been made over the past four plus decades to revitalize the area with casino gambling, to little result.  In February 2018, the $1.2 billion Resorts World Catskills opened in Kiamesha Lake, featuring 150 table games, an entertainment village, an indoor water-park lodge and an 18-hole golf course.

In October 2018, I decided I would personally go and check out as many of the other current and former Borscht Belt resorts as I could, having previously visited Grossinger’s in Liberty, New York, the previous May.  What started out as well planned trip nearly turned into a disaster.

I had decided to get the full “Borscht Belt experience” by staying at one of the few remaining original resorts still open.  After looking at a few, I chose the Hudson Valley Resort (formerly the Granit), booking it in mid-August.

Unfortunately, by the time I arrived at the Hudson Valley two months later, no one from Hudson bothered to tell me that the hotel closed permanently on October 1st.  I arrived at 9pm to find signs at the main entrance and on the lobby door saying “Closed for the season.”  I have since seen some articles about the hotel on-line quoting some of the employees as saying they don’t believe it will re-open.

Luckily I have a GPS and picked a hotel in nearby New Paltz but when I got there, I found that all hotels were booked up (actually, it seems most hotels in eastern New York State were booked up that night), including your hotel.

The night clerk at the last hotel I went to called all the local hotels that she could think of, but they were all booked.  Fortunately, she was able to find a cancellation at her hotel and immediately booked me a room, otherwise I was facing a drive to Albany at best and the long overnight drive back home at worst.  I was pretty much ready to give up my Borscht Belt tour.  Even if I’d been able to find a hotel in Albany, I’m not sure I wouldn’t have just driven home.

With my trip salvaged, I officially started my Borscht Belt tour the following morning.  I returned to the Hudson Valley Resort so I could take some pictures of the hotel.  I was approached by one of the few remaining employees who was basically acting as a security guard and proceeded to tell him my story.  He too was of the opinion that it was unlikely that the hotel would reopen and advised me that there had been others who had shown up at the hotel only to find it closed.

Another one bites the dust.

Here are the resorts I was able to visit on this trip; one which I hope is only part one of my Borscht Belt touring.

Note:  Trespassing is illegal and permission should be sought from the owner, if possible, before entering on to private property.

Hudson Valley Resort & Spa

Opened in Kerhonkson in the 1950s as the Granit Hotel and Country Club, it was once one of the grand resorts of the Catskills, along with the Nevele in Wawarsing, and Grossinger’s, Kutsher’s and the Concord, all in Sullivan County.

In 1998, The Granit underwent a major renovation in an attempt to revitalize the hotel, including changing the name to the Hudson Valley Resort and Spa.

The Hudson Valley Resort and Spa found itself struggling in the face of the economic downturn in 2008, and in 2010, filed for bankruptcy protection while owner Eliot Spitzer sought out ways to save the hotel.  When a plan to put in video lottery terminals fell through, Spitzer was forced to sell the resort at an almost $5 million loss to the HNA Group, a Chinese aviation company, who bought the resort in 2015 for $13.8 million.

HNA immediately announced plans to spend millions to upgrade the resort although reviews of the resort on the Trip Advisor web site seem to indicate that no upgrades were commenced.

The Hudson Valley Resort abruptly ceased operations on 1 October 2018, taking even the employees by surprise as they were given no advance notice.  Those employees living at the resort were given until 20 October to vacate their accommodations.

****************************************************************************************************

The Homowack Lodge

Opened in Wurtsboro, The Homowack Lodge was another resort that thrived in the heyday of the Borscht Belt from the 1920s to the 1960s. The lodge boasted its own bowling alley and an indoor swimming pool.

The Homowack Lodge tried to find another life after the decline of the Borscht Belt as a Hasidic girls day camp, but it was forced to close in 2009 for health and safety violations.

****************************************************************************************************

The Nevele Hotel and Country Club

The Nevele Hotel, simply known as “Nevele” (eleven spelled backwards), was opened in 1901 in Ellenville by Charles Slutsky on land he was farming, a farm that he also ran up to 1938.

In 1906, Charles had the land divided, giving the land the Nevele stood on to his son Joseph and taking for himself the other half, on which he built the Fallsview Hotel.

The Nevele Grand, known for its impressive 18-hole gold course, had the usual ammenities including an indoor and two outdoor pools, a children’s activity centre and playground, gym, tennis, raquetball, a ski hill, skating rink, live entertainment and ballrooms.

One very distinct feature of the Nevele was the circular guest tower, built in 1966, along with the standard rectangular shaped towers.

The Nevele Grande also had the distinction of hosting then-President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966, when he came to dedicate a hospital in Ellensville.

the decline of the Borscht Belt hit the Nevele and Fallsview and by 1997, the Slutsky family sold both the Nevele and Fallsview to Mitchell Wolff and Joel Hoffman.

Wolfe and Hoffman attempted to revive the business by combining the two resorts into The Nevele Grande Hotel.  Despite their efforts, the Nevele Grande continued to suffer financially and by 2006, Wolfe and Hoffman sold off the Fallsview portion of the property and put all their efforts into the original Nevele, but they could not stop the inevitable.

In 2009, The Nevele ceased operations, 108 years after it first opened.

The Nevele property  was purchased in May 2012 by Nevele Investors LLC, who announced a $500 million redevelopment plan that included a casino.  At the time, the original lobby, the circular tower, skating rink and golf course were to be incorporated into the new resort.

When Nevele Investors LLC failed to secure permission for a casino, plans were announced in September 2017 to turn the hotel into a mega sports complex, with an opening date expected to be March 2020.

As of October 2018, the hotel and the property and buildings remain abandoned, with the buildings rapidly deteriorating.

The Fallsview is still in operation today, but as Honor’s Haven Resort & Spa.

****************************************************************************************************

Gibber’s Hotel

Gibber’s Hotel opened near Monticello.  It closed in 1992 and became the Viznitz Yeshiva for Boys, a Hasidic school.

****************************************************************************************************

The Pines Hotel

Opened in South Fallsburg in 1933, The Pines Hotel was a popular four-season hotel with ice skating rink, fully equipped theater, golf course, baseball field, conference center, and both indoor and outdoor pools.

The Pines ballroom, bars, and a nightclub featured performances by the up and coming Jewish comedians of the day making the rounds of the Borscht Belt hotels.

Like all Borscht Belt hotels, crowds at The Pines Hotel decreased over the decades leading up to the 1980s and 90s.

The Pines Hotel closed its doors in 1998 the Ehrlich family sold the property to The Fallsburg Estates LLC,who planned to redevelop the property into a 300 to 400 home residential development.  However, those plans were abruptly halted when The Fallsburg Estates filed bankruptcy protection in 2002.

As of 2018, the most of the buildings still stand, rotting and crumbling to the ground.

****************************************************************************************************

The Concord

Originally opened in 1937 by Arthur Winarick in 1937 as the 500-bed Concord Plaza, it was expanded after World War II to include amenities such as a golf course and a ski slope.

An indoor pool was added in 1951 and new 10 story guest wings replaced the original hotel in the 1950s, along with a new lobby, dining spaces and the 1500 seat Cordillion Room, Night Owl Lounge and the 3000 seat Imperial Room night club, which was possibly the largest nightclub in the Catskills.

Frequent performers at The Concord included Buddy Hackett, Jackie Mason, Tony Bennett, Milton Berle, Tony Martin, Barbara Streisand and Judy Garland.

Arthur Winarick’s died in 1964 and his son-in-law Ray Parker took over running the resort.

The Concord Resort Hotel outlived some of the other Borscht Belt hotels, including its rival Grossinger’s, but it was finally forced to close in 1998 after 61 years of operation, all of it with the Winarick family at the helm.  At the time, The Concord was the largest Borscht Belt hotel with over 1500 guest rooms and a dining room that accommodated 3000 guests.

All buildings were demolished in April 2008, leaving only scattered concrete foundations. Plans to transform the property into a casino-resort, Resorts World Catskills, were announced in May 2017

Resorts World Casino opened on the former Concord property in 2018, but not on the site of  the original hotel.  Instead, the new hotel was built to the south of the golf course.

****************************************************************************************************

Raleigh Hotel Resort

The Raleigh featured many recreational activities including shuffleboard, basketball, volleyball, horseshoes, outdoor and indoor pools, a playground for kids, a day camp, exercise room and an auditorium, The Starlight Room, which hosted the usual roster of performers.

Guests could also stay in one of the many cottage rentals available on the property.

The Raleigh’s longtime owner Mannie Halbert died in 2004. The Raleigh closed in December 2005 and then reopened the following year under new ownership, as a retreat for mainly Orthodox Jews.

The Raleigh and Heiden property is currently being re-developed into the Venetian Villas, a condominium community with a variety of detached and semi-detached homes.

Facilities at Venetian Villas includes a community building with the Shul, the day camp and the Cheder, two outdoor pools, basketball, handball and volleyball courts and playground equipment for children.

****************************************************************************************************

Heiden Hotel

Opened in 1908 by David Heiden in South Fallsurg. Like many of the Borscht Belt hotels, it was originally as a boarding house.

As a hotel, The Heiden Hotel operated only in the summer. The guests had access to some of the amenities and leisure activities found at the Borscht Belt hotels, including live entertainment in the indoor casino room and an outdoor bandstand, a large porch where guests could play board games and an outdoor pool. Absent was a golf course and ski hill.

The Heiden Hotel closed in 1986, its final demise captured in the Hollywood film, “Sweet Lorraine,” Starring Maureen Stapleton as the owner of The Lorraine, an aging family run-hotel struggling to stay open amidst the decline of the Borscht Belt.

While “Sweet Lorraine” didn’t do as well commercially as another Borscht Belt themed movie released around the same time, “Dirty Dancing,” starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, it was considered by many critics as a more authentic film about the Borscht Belt as it was actually filmed at an authentic Borscht Belt hotel, unlike “Dirty Dancing,” which was filmed in North Carolina.

The hotel stood abandoned and crumbling until it was destroyed by a fire in May 2008. All that remains today are the tennis courts and the outdoor pool.

****************************************************************************************************

Stevensville Lake Hotel & Commodore Resort

The Sevensville Lake Hotel originally opened in the 1920s.

The Stevensville closed in the early 1980s, reopened 1999 as the Swan Lake Golf and Tennis Resort Center, but this too closed.

In 2015, after sitting vacant for several years, the old Stevenson hotel property was sold to Congregation Iched Anash from Monticello, who operated it as a summer camp, Machne Rav Tov Satmar for Boys.

As of 2018, the Swan Lake, both the former Stevesville and Commadore properties are vacant.

Commodore Resort

****************************************************************************************************

Kutsher’s Hotel and Country Club

Kutsher’s Hotel in Monticello was opened by Max and Louis Kutsher in 1907 as the Kutsher Brother’s Farmhouse, and later expanded into a hotel in the 1920s.

The hotel’s real expansion began in the 1950s, when it became one of the premiere destinations of the Borscht Belt complete with 400 resort rooms, a golf course, and views of Kiamesha Lake.

The ballroom of Kutsher’s played host to early performances by many comedic talents such as Jerry Seinfeld and Joan Rivers.

In the 1950s and 60s, the hotel also hosted basketball tournaments, and NBA great Wilt Chamberlain once worked as a bellhop there.

With declining business in the early 2000s, Kutsher’s welcomed the All Tomorrow’s Parties music festivals.

Like many of the Borscht Belt hotels, owner David Kutcher had hoped that casino gambling could serve to revitalize the area.

The inevitable finally came in 2013, when the Kutcher family sold the hotel after operating it for 106 years, making it truly the last of the original Borscht Belt hotels.  While there were still other hotels still in operation, Kutshers was the last one to be operated by the original family and under its original name.

The property was bought by Veria Lifestyle, who planned to build a new resort offering yoga, golf, tennis and other healthy activities.

Most of the buildings were demolished soon afterwards, leaving only three standing.

The new resort, named YO1 Catskills, opened in June 2018, but it wasn’t built on the original hotel site.  Instead, YO1 Catskills was built south of the original site beside Baileys Lake at 420 Anawana Lake Road, just past the Rav Tov “Satmar Boy’s Camp”, the camp formerly run by the Kutsher family as part of the Kutsher’s Sports Academy.

****************************************************************************************************

The Laurels Hotel and Country Club

The Laurels Hotel and Country Club featured both indoor and outdoor pools, a 9-hole golf course, skating rinks, boat rentals, a nightclub and a ski hill.  The hotel also featured 35 summer-rental bungalows near the golf course.

The end of The Laurels Hotel came in July 1973 when it was Sullivan County Sheriff Joseph Waseer, in a foreclosure action.  The 125 registered guests at the time (out of a capacity of 1200) were forced to find other accommodations.

The abandoned buildings stood for several years and were finally torn down in the 1980s.

****************************************************************************************************

Brown’s Hotel

Brown’s Hotel had its beginnings in 1944 when hotel owner Charles Brown bought the Black Apple Inn in the Town of Fallsburg, a hotel that originally opened in 1922. Renovated it into a 473-room hotel, the Charles and Lillian Brown’s Hotel and Country Club, the hotel became known for attracting wealthy patrons with fine food and big name entertainment. A seasonal operation, the hotel was open from April until late November each year.

By the 1950s, Brown’s Hotel would eventually become one of the largest and most elaborate hotel resorts in the Borscht Belt and one of the most popular, along with The Concord and Grossinger’s.

The hotel’s Brown Derby night club attracted entertainers like Bob Hope, Buddy Hacket, Jackie Mason, Woddy Allen, George Burns, Sammy Davis, Jr., Tony Bennet, Harry Belafonte and Liberace. Noted guests included Jayne Mansfield and boxer Jack Dempsey.

Charles Brown died in 1978, leaving Lillian to carry on, but as with other Borscht Belt hotels, Brown’s was in decline.

By 1985, in an attempt to revitalize their operations and provide new revenue streams, Brown’s Hotel, the Pines Hotel and Kutsher’s began building private residences on their properties as seasonal homes for families, allowing access to the athletic and entertainment facilities for an additional fee.

The end of Brown’s Hotel came in November1988, when the hotel was sold in a foreclosure sale to Vista Environments of Brooklyn. The hotel sat vacant until 1997, when it was converted into the 396-unit Grandview Palace Condominiums. Most of the facilities remained including the swimming pools, tennis courts, miniature golf, synagogue, the bar and even the Jerry Lewis Theatre.

Grandview operated until March 2102, when the City of Fallsburg threatened to condemn the complex due to numerous fire code violations. One month later, a fire broke out in a boiler room, resulting in 43 fire companies with 300 fire fighters responding to the resulting inferno, the largest in Catskills history. Flames were observed 20 to30 feet high.

By the time the fire was extinguished, seven of the nine buildings were destroyed and 20 acres of the surrounding pine forests.

The main tower remains, but most of the site has been reduced to rubble. The property remains embroiled in legal issues as a result of the fire.

****************************************************************************************************

The Delmar Hotel

Opened in the summer of 1929 as The Jacob Inn.

After WWII, the hotel was run by Max and Claire Jacobs, son and daughter-in-law of the founder.

Claire Jacobs was responsible for the names of the buildings at the hotel — Biaritz, Capri, Deauville, Lido, and Riviera. The hotel could accommodate about 150 guests, but it was considered a small hotel.

In the late 1940s, Max and Claire re-named the hotel The Delmar.

Up to the 1960s, the Delmar was very much a family resort that included a day camp for children.

The day camp closed in 1965 and the building used by the camp was used for storage.

The hotel remained open for twenty more years, closing in 1985.

****************************************************************************************************

Normandy Bungalow Community

****************************************************************************************************

Grossinger’s Catskill Resort Hotel

After sitting abandoned and crumbling since closing in 1986, demolition of Grossinger’s began in August 2018.

See my article on my visit to Grossinger’s in May 2018 here:  http://militarybruce.com/crumbling-resort-hotel-a-relic-of-a-by-gone-era

****************************************************************************************************

Check out this web site for the proposed Catskill Resort Museum – www.catskillresortmuseum.com.

 

 

Sources: https://www.dailyfreeman.com/news/local-news/hudson-valley-resort-in-kerhonkson-has-shut-down/article_33df1f32-c753-11e8-8ed0-0f899fcb9dbe.html, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borscht_Belt, https://www.facebook.com/pg/hudsonvalleyresort/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1190905427616828, http://www.hvmag.com/Hudson-Valley-Magazine/May-2018/The-Borscht-Belt-History-Abandoned-Catskills/, https://www.messynessychic.com/2018/01/19/back-to-the-borscht-belt-exploring-the-ruins-of-another-doomed-pines-resort-hotel/, https://www.recordonline.com/article/20070830/news/708300318, https://www.scpartnership.com/project/veria-lifestyle-wellness-resort-project-underway/, https://www.dailyfreeman.com/news/kutsher-s-is-sold-will-become-healthy-living-resort/article_6e5b7397-2d86-5d95-a61e-4e7cb080c3b6.html, https://www.recordonline.com/article/20150621/news/150629924, https://www.news10.com/news/new-catskill-resort-rises-from-the-rubble_20180327035953640/1081377555, https://www.news10.com/news/new-catskill-resort-rises-from-the-rubble_20180327035953640/1081377555, https://failedmessiah.typepad.com/failed_messiahcom/2014/08/at-satmar-boys-camp-sports-are-almost-nonexistent-456.html, https://www.yo1.com, http://www.classiccatskills.com, http://raleighhotelny.com, http://thevenetianvillas.com, https://www.nytimes.com/1973/07/21/archives/laurels-hotel-in-catskills-is-seized-in-foreclosure.html, https://abandonedhudsonvalley.com/tamarack-lodge, https://whatisleftbehind.wordpress.com/tag/nevele/, https://www.nytimes.com/1998/11/22/nyregion/in-catskills-resort-s-death-darkens-the-view.html, https://www.brown.edu/Research/Catskills_Institute/news/rebuild.shtml, https://www.summercampculture.com/old-catskills-resort-being-leased-for-summer-camp, http://www.terrastories.com/bearings/abandoned-catskills-hotels, https://sociology.sas.upenn.edu/sites/…sas…/Jerry_A_Jacobs_Catskill_Memoir_0.pdf, http://www.classiccatskills.com, http://vanishingcatskills.us.

 

 

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: http://militarybruce.com/the-crumbling-remains-of-americas-jewish-vacationland-the-rise-and-fall-of-the-borscht-belt-part-1/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>