Abandoned Borscht Belt Series: The Pines Hotel
Ghost towns are fantastic, and I love to research and write about them, but there's something magical about the abandoned and time-worn Mid-Century Modern resort hotels that dot the landscape of the Catskill Mountain Region. They deserve some due attention to detail now that many of them are existing at the bleeding edge of demolition and land redevelopment.
To give some context to the area, the Catskill Mountains of Southeastern New York have a unique name which is translated definitively from Dutch and yet was inspired only by legend. The catamount, or mountain lion, is a large predatory animal (still argued to be extant in New York State by those with trail cameras and hunting skills) that would have been present during the time the area was settled by the Dutch in the 16 and 1700's. "Cat creek", as the direct Dutch translation goes, may have come from a reference to that animal. However, there is no historical record of which early settler to the land West the Hudson River it was, who named the area. This vintage greeting card is usually what people imagine when they first hear the word "Catskills" - outside of a Dutch historical understanding, it's rather hilarious and confusing. I'd have to assume half the fun of having this local region in our backyard in Upstate NY is explaining this word, and of course people's initial reactions to it.
Why the Catskill Region, and Why the Jewish Clientele:
With such picturesque landscape, and so near in proximity to bustling New York City, it is no surprise the region eventually became a desirable vacation destination. As the centuries progressed and travel to the area became more accessible by motorized vehicles and train lines, more city-dwellers escaped to the region for fresh air and incredible forested vistas over the Hudson Valley.
There are nearly one hundred hotels in the Catskill Mountains that have been shuttered and forgotten, gone up in flames, or been demolished in the last century. Some are entirely gone and the earth has reclaimed its former acreage again, and some are left semi-intact, surrounded by the heaps of rubble and building debris it sacrificed to time, decay, or flames. Many of these places were resorts catering to the Jewish clientele from New York City. The early 1900's saw the beginning of what became known as the "Borscht Belt". *Borscht is a popular sour soup of Ukrainian origin, common in Central and Eastern European countries and was brought by Ashkenazi Jewish and Slavic immigrants to the United States. This dish was on the menu of all of these Catskills hotels, without question.
The rise of these mega-resorts, which peaked in popularity from the 1940's to the 1960's, began during a time of heavy anti-Semitism in New York City. Jewish travelers continuously faced prejudice and discrimination, and were often turned away from various establishments, not just hotels. Restaurants, bars, shops, community locations, public spaces, etc. were active in denying Jewish people access to these spaces. As the rise of Hitler's administration came to power in Germany, and WWII broke out, these discriminations escalated dramatically and with far-reaching consequences in the United States as well. (If you are an active denier of the Holocaust, I can only wish upon you an education or a brain aneurysm.) As Jewish people sought out accommodations where they would be welcome, safe from discrimination and violence, and surrounded by their peers in a culturally welcoming setting, the Catskills became an accessible area by train or car, and provided the ideal environment for these families to vacation.
On the Origin of the Catskills Resorts:
The resorts began small, primarily as summer camps and what were called "kokh-aleyns", or "cook-alones", and operated as self-catered bungalows with rooms to rent, much like a bed and breakfast operates today. Some began on the properties of Jewish immigrant farmers, who had settled the area in the previous century, slowly building to accommodate travelers with families. While anyone was welcome to stay at these resorts, and specifically Grossinger's, as more of the hotels were constructed in the mountains, they began catering primarily to the Jewish clientele specifically, bringing in thousands of guests every year.
The multi-season vacation destination became nationally famous for the growing luxury, seasonal activities and stunning natural environment. Celebrities of the Mid Century Modern Era (newly slanged "Mid-Cench") frequented such resorts as The Pines of course, and also Grossinger's, Brown's Hotel, Brickman's, The Concord, the Grandview Palace, Kutsher's, and more than I can list here.
The Pines Hotel is one location in the forest of Fallsburg, New York which now stands abandoned and mostly deconstructed. Opened in the 1930's as Moneka Lodge and renamed as it is now in 1946 by new owners, the property stayed in business until 1998. Not even the adjoining golf course remained open, as owners were sometimes able to do with such properties to maintain income.
Now, there are concrete foundations where some of the main buildings like the theater once stood, and others, mostly the guest rooms, are sorely decayed through water damage and some lesser fires from throughout the years. The outer walls of these guest wings, reinforced with concrete and rebar, keep most of what's left still standing. The lobby is intact, but the state of the floors is questionably spongy, and many of the original features and items are long gone or molded over. The way drop ceiling panels can drop and decay into a plush, mushy carpet makes for a walking experience through dampened hallways much like a wet sandy beach. It's just that the the beach is fraught with metal ceiling framing, hanging at twisted angles.
The theater, known as the Persian Room, once had seating in tiered sections, all providing an angle to the wide, grand stage. What's left of it now is just a concrete clam shell shaped foundation. The only way to identify it beside its shape is by the lighting still embedded in the floor that once lit the wide stairways down to the front. The loss of the entire building, and many others that have since burned or been razed and removed, is nostalgically sad, but is intrinsically continuing the story of the Pines' slow decay since its closure in 1998.
On Urban Exploration, or "Urbex":
The ruins of the Pines today are the result of many of the buildings being made of wood, and meeting winter storm after winter storm has removed ceilings in some places, and the ends of many wings of the lodgings. Exploring such a place is of course at one's own risk in the endeavor to document, and should never be done alone. Venturing inside one of these massive and unstable buildings means testing every step and using caution over carelessness. Never do it for the 'gram, do it for the documentation.
When a location closes down, it dies. It's death, however, can be incredibly slow and beautiful in its decay as time goes by. When a property is left alone untouched, an organic decay occurs over several years which can portray how easily or how difficult it can be for nature to reclaim the materials. In the enclosed places where water can't find, we discover remnants of a building's former life, and many times, the former occupants and the tangible parts they left behind. Unfortunately, the farther gone the building is, the farther gone the items usually are as well, or they've long since been looted or destroyed.
The other side of exploration is an aspect of human nature that seems to just be inherent in some humans: destruction and vandalism. I know there is a beauty in destruction, the decay is what we look for. The difference between organic decay and human destruction is integrity. A respectful rot is in no way equal to a cruel wrecking. The photos I've included are just a glimpse of what's left of The Pines in its slow state of eventual decimation by people, time and the environment.
If anyone can provide the recipe of The Pines' "Creamsicle Delight", PLEASE put that in the comments!!
This may be my favorite photo of this resort I've ever taken. It's nostalgic, inspiring, and simultaneously heartbreaking, but in a way that's difficult to articulate.
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Thanks for reading,
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