Until cheaper airfares made trips from New York to Miami more commonplace, the height of a luxury summer vacation for affluent New Yorkers in the 1950’s was to head up into the Catskills to one of the many holiday resorts.
Nicknamed the Borscht Belt, the jewel among the many competing vacation venues was the Grossinger’s Resort. Set in the hills around the small town of Liberty, New York, a review for the Commentary magazine in 1954, described Grossinger’s as “to resort hotels as Bergdorf Goodman is to department stores, Cadillac to cars, mink to furs, and Tiffany to jewelers … it has been called Waldorf in the Catskills.”
For decades, Grossinger’s was a by word in luxury. Over 150,000 people visited every year, entertained by the likes of Eddie Fisher, Jerry Lewis, and Milton Berle in the opulent nightclubs. The facilities were so state of the art (it was the first resort in the U.S. to offer artificial snow for year round ski runs) that Rocky Marciano used it as his training camp. The resort became the inspiration for Dirty Dancing.
Grossinger’s started as a small family run hotel in 1917 owned by Austrian immigrants Asher and Malke Grossinger. But it was under their daughter Jennie Grossinger that the resort boomed. It soon spread to over 35 buildings covering 1,200 acres including its own private airfield. The main building contained an enormous dining room capable of seating 1,300 guests; under the dining room there was a vast, cavernous night club called the “Terrace Room.” The resort was so prestigious that Elizabeth Taylor married Eddie Fisher there. After Jennie died in 1972, the resort started to fall into decline. With guests choosing to fly elsewhere for the summer, the hotel closed it’s doors for the last time in 1986.
Since then it has been left to gradually fall into ruin. The Commentary magazine review noted that “the feeling one gets everywhere … is of pleasantly solid permanence.” But like Charles Foster Kane’s Xanadu, the pleasure palace of the 1950’s has gently been reclaimed by the forests of the Catskills. The outdoor tennis courts and swimming pools lie abandoned. The ice rink, hotel rooms, and golf pro’s clubhouses are covered in moss and ivy. The indoor swimming pool has turned into a living greenhouse. Where once guests in the high spirits of summer vacations dove off the high board, dined and danced the night away, there is now only the silence.