Also known as the “Jewish Alps,” the area commonly called the “Borscht Belt” was home to more than 1,000 hotels, resorts, summer camps and bungalow colonies in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Resorts such as the Concord, Nevele, Laurels and Kutscher’s attracted some of the biggest names in show business and hotels were so vast, many boasted their own golf courses, salt water pools and air strips. With the advent of affordable air travel in the post WW II era, destinations like Miami Beach, the Caribbean and Hawaii began to divert travellers from the Catskills. Tastes were changing and by 1965, the glory days of the Catskills were coming to a close. Over time, the pleasure palaces of the 1950’s have been gently reclaimed by the forests of the Catskills.
Still, the area is dotted with hundreds of abandoned dwellings where once guests in the high spirits of summer vacations dined and danced the night away. Today there is only the silence. The resort that inspired the movie Dirty Dancing, Grossinger's Catskill Resort Hotel, has sat empty and dilapidated for over 30 years (pictured). It began its operations in the 1910s and was once considered one of the most glamorous resorts in the Catskill Mountains. The resort was so prestigious that Elizabeth Taylor married Eddie Fisher there. Alas it too fell victim to the three A’s that contributed to the demise of the Catskills’ golden era: air conditioning, assimilation and airfare. It closed its doors in 1986.*
Incidentally, the fictional resort of the film, Kellerman’s, is indeed inspired by Grossinger’s, but the movie was actually shot at two locations hundreds of miles south, at Mountain Lake Lodge in southwest Virginia and Lake Lure in western North Carolina. Dirty Dancing was made on a shoestring and New York State’s work rules would have made it expensive to film there. The much-loved movie came out 30 years ago this August.
*Update October 2018: Sadly, this abandoned borscht belt resort has been demolished.