The iconic hotels of the Catskills today are not what they used to be. Places like Grossinger’s and the Pines Hotel, which haven’t operated in years, have literally decayed since their 1960s and 1970s heyday—and one photographer has the haunting photos that show the extent of the physical erosion of these institutions of 20th-century American Jewish culture.
Marisa Scheinfeld, a photographer raised in Sullivan County, N.Y., returned to the Catskills to explore what remained of the iconic hotels and resorts, finding veritable ruins where once-great establishments once stood. She published a slideshow of the haunting images on Tablet in 2012. An exhibit of her work, “Echoes of the Borscht Belt,” will be on display at the Yeshiva University Museum starting next week.
Here’s how Scheinfeld described how she got the behind-the-scenes photos of the derelict properties in an essay that accompanied her Tablet slideshow, which you can view here.
Getting access to each site was different, but it was always trespassing. I was helped by friends, local lawyers, police, and town commissioners who gave me a sort of silent permission to go to the hotels once they realized that I wasn’t vandalizing or stealing—like those arrested weekly here—but doing a serious project. Often there was little information available about the status of the properties, some of which had been idle and untouched for more than 20 years, others of which had been converted into rehab centers, jails, or meditation retreats. Many current landowners have let the properties fall into disarray, an issue with local police who end up chasing out squatters, scrappers, and vandals. Many of the hotels have burned, leaving just charred remains around empty pools, often the last structural feature to disappear.
“Echoes of the Borscht Belt” will be on display at the Yeshiva University Museum from September 10, 2014 through April 12, 2015.
Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.