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Abandoned, Overgrown

Checking in to Grossinger’s Resort

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The ransacked Paul G. hotel, showing the hallmarks of a recent paintball game.

Past a deserted security desk, waist-high grasses choke back the yawning entrance to the Jennie G. Hotel, whose toppled fence serves more as an invitation than a barrier.  Here in the sleepy town of Liberty, NY, this derelict hilltop lodge is not only a destination for the curious, it’s a daily reminder of the town’s old eminence, an emblem of a dead industry, visible from miles around.

In its time, Grossinger’s Catskills Resort was a fantasy realized, where wealthy businessmen, celebrity entertainers, and star athletes gathered to mingle with those that they liked and were like, to see and be seen, and to enjoy, rightly so, the things they enjoyed.  As the slogan goes—Grossinger’s has Everything for the Kind of Person who Likes to Come to Grossinger’s.

Flowers left by a former guest, or a prop from an old photo shoot.

If you’re the kind of person that’s inclined to spend their vacation somewhere dark, dusty, and dangerous, the motto still rings true today, and you’re not coming for the five-star kosher kitchen.  For just as quickly as the resort prospered into a world-class institution, it’s descended into a swift decay.  Explorers frequent the grounds, armed with cameras in an attempt to capture the beauty in its devastation, sifting through the artifacts—a broken lounge chair, old reservation records—piecing together a lost age of tourism.

A generation ago, this region of the Catskills was known as the Borscht Belt, a tongue-in-cheek designation for a string of hotels and resorts that catered to a predominantly Jewish customer base in a time when discrimination against Jews at mainstream resorts was widespread. In popular culture, the most notable representation of this time and place is Dirty Dancing, which was supposedly inspired by a summer at Grossinger’s.  The unexpected success of its film adaptation had little effect on the long-struggling resort—in 1986, a year before the film was released, Grossinger’s ended its 70 year legacy.

The story of Grossinger’s is, at its root, an American story. The Grossingers were Austrian immigrants, who after some early years of struggle in New York City, and a failed farming venture, opened a small farmhouse to boarders in 1914, without plumbing or electricity.  They quickly gained a reputation for their exceptional hospitality and incredible kosher cooking and outgrew the ramshackle farmhouse, purchasing the property that the resort still occupies today.

Grossinger’s rise to prominence is largely attributed to the couple’s daughter Jennie, who worked there as a hostess in its early years.  Later, Jennie’s legendary leadership would transform the resort from its humble beginnings to a massive 35-building complex (with its own zip code and airstrip), attracting over 150,000 guests a year, and establishing a new type of travel destination that renounced the quiet charms of country living for a fast-paced, action-packed social experience that met the expectations of its sophisticated New York clientele.

Remnants of an attempt to burn down the Jennie G.

Every sport of leisure had its own arena, with state of the art facilities for handball, tennis, skiing, ice skating, barrel jumping, and tobogganing, along with a championship golf course.  In 1952, the resort earned a place in history by being the first to use artificial snow.  Its famous training establishment for boxers hosted seven world champions.  Its stages launched the careers of countless well-known singers and comedians.  In its day spas and beauty salons, ballrooms and auditoriums, guests were offered a level of luxury that even the wealthiest individuals couldn’t enjoy at home, earning Grossinger’s the nickname, “Waldorf in the Catskills.”

A daily missive called The Tattler identified notable guests and the business that made their respective fortunes.  Weekly tabloids published on the grounds boasted the presence of celebrity athletes and entertainers.  But for all the emphasis on earthly pleasures and material wealth, Jennie G. ensured that the Grossinger’s experience was warm and personal, always treating guests like one of the family, even when visitors reached well over 1,000 per week.

By the late sixties, the Grossinger’s model had started to fall out of favor as cheap air travel to tourist destinations around the world became readily available to a new generation.  After the property was abandoned, several renovation attempts were aborted by a string of investors.  Widespread demolition has greatly diminished the sprawl of the original resort, but several of the largest buildings remain.  Most have been stripped of any vestige of opulence, and some structures are barely standing; no more so than the former Joy Cottage, whose floors might not withstand the footfalls of a field mouse.

Artifacts from the hotel’s glory days are few and far between, but Grossinger’s most recent batch of visitors has been quick to leave its mark.  In a haunting hotel filled with empty rooms, some scenes are startlingly arranged, with collected mementos photogenically poised in the pursuit of a compelling shot.  Despite these attempts to prettify Grossinger’s decline, the grounds retain an air of savage dilapidation, and an utter submission to nature.

The Grossinger’s Hotel pool c. 1967.

An indoor swimming pool is Grossinger’s most enduring spectacle, and has become a favorite location of urban explorers near and far.  Radiance remains in its terra-cotta tiles and its well-preserved space age light fixtures.  Its dimensions continue to impress, as do the postcard views through its towering glass walls, all miraculously intact.  It’s growth, not decay, that makes this pool so picturesque—the years have transformed this neglected natatorium into a flourishing greenhouse.  Ferns prosper from a moss-caked poolside, unhindered by the tread of carefree vacationers, urged by a ceiling that constantly drips.  Year-round scents of summer have bowed to a kind of perpetual spring, with the reek of chlorine and suntan lotion replaced by the heady odor of moss and mildew—it’s dank, green, and vibrantly alive.

Meanwhile, areas across the region that once relied on a thriving tourism industry have fallen into depression or emptied out.  The Catskills is attempting to rebrand, updating its image and holding online contests to determine a new slogan.  The winner?  The Catskills, Always in Season.

Though it remains to be seen whether the coming seasons will bring new visitors, there’s no doubt they’re serving to erase the region’s outmoded reputation.  With each passing year, in ruined hotels across the Catskills, the physical remnants of lost vacations dwindle.  Indoors, snowdrifts weigh on aching floors; leaf litter collects to harbor the damp or fuel the fire.  Vines claim what the rain leaves behind, compelling the constant progress of decay.  Scattered in photo albums, hidden in bottom drawers, excerpted from yellowing newsprint, the memories will follow, clearing the way for new journeys.  Before it’s forgotten, here’s one more look inside the celebrated resort.

-Will Ellis

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I’m having the time of my life. And I owe it all to you.

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This catwalk ensured a comfortable commute from your suite at the Paul G. to the indoor pool year-round.

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A pitch-black beauty salon lit with the aid of a flashlight.

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The ruined entrance to the hotel spa.

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Office on the bottom floor of the Jennie G. Hotel.

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The best preserved room, with two murphy beds, and a carpet of moss.

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In most rooms, peeling wallpaper was all that remained.

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This one was among the most interesting.

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The ground floor of the management office, now on the verge of collapse.

Grossinger's Resort

Hotel records neatly arranged on a mattress, by a photographer, no doubt.

The Hotel Jennie G.

Related Links:

Consider the Catskills for your next getaway: Official Catskills Tourism Site

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Discussion

43 thoughts on “Checking in to Grossinger’s Resort

  1. Fascinating!

    Posted by ellis3000 | 11-12-12., 7:00 am
  2. These are fantastic!

    Posted by SoJejune | 11-12-12., 6:46 pm
  3. One of those local places I have yet to get to (while it still stands). I was recently so sad to see the old Tamarack go up in flames. How tricky is it to not be spotted at old Grossinger’s?

    Posted by bk | 11-18-12., 12:49 am
    • I recently was there, the grounds are patrolled by employees. I wasn’t trying to be inconspicuous and parked my car right in front of the buildings(which is how they knew I was there). Once you’re in, its not hard to stay hidden inside the buildings, be careful moving outside near roads and keep an open ear for golfcarts and vehicles. If you are spotted, the police will likely be called, I came out to find a patrol car by my car. I was just courteous and he let my friend and I off with a stern warning. There is a No Trespassing sign when you come in but I told the officer that I didn’t see it(honestly didn’t).

      Posted by D | 12-26-13., 12:02 pm
      • Thanks for the tips! Hopefully I get up that way before they demolish or repurpose the property.

        Posted by bk | 1-22-14., 10:29 am
  4. I played with a lounge band one summer. An incredible Hotel. A great loss.

    Posted by Bob Haft | 11-27-12., 5:25 pm
    • This makes me sad. I grew up right across the highway from grossingers and used to play there quite a bit. It had a ski lift, toboggan run, indoor basketball courts and of course the pools. Everything a kid could ever want

      Posted by Michael Buery | 4-22-14., 10:49 am
  5. …”footfalls of a field mouse”! Your words are as spot on and haunting as your images.

    Posted by lovelymrse | 12-1-12., 6:10 pm
  6. is it still up and can you get caught going to see it

    Posted by jacob warner | 1-25-13., 7:56 am
  7. This isn’t in NYC. What gives? It’s cool and all, but not a place I could go check out if I wanted.

    Posted by Ian Dunham | 3-15-13., 10:33 am
  8. Thanks for the post.
    I remember seeing all those hotel billboards on route 17.I think there were 2-3 main hotels, the Tamarack rang a bell. My uncle worked at one of them but cannot remember the name. ALOT of red carpet on the floors. Does Grossinger’s still make the rye bread?

    Posted by Old School in FLA | 5-9-13., 11:27 am
  9. Hi!
    Awesome post and site. I just came back form the Yonkers “Gates to hell” site and loved it. I’m into urban photography and live in NYC. Can you recommend where I can go for some abandoned/urbex photography. I like remote places and roaming undisturbed.
    cheers

    Posted by Nook | 5-16-13., 2:00 pm
  10. Its so sad to see these pictures.I was born and raised in the catsklls.I remember when the hotels were alive.They were lit up like chrstmas trees at nght year round.Beautful gardens and mancured lawns ect. I live 3 mles from Grossngers and thnking about gettng some of my own pics. I can only imagine how it used to be back in the day.The old Browns Hotel Burned down,The chalet,pines hotel is gone,tamerack burned down .The nevelle will be openng agan soon.There s really nothing left in this county to bring tourists up other than bethel woods performing arts.I wish ths county could be brought back to life along with the many hotels that were lost!!

    Posted by Gina O'Neil | 6-5-13., 11:29 pm
  11. such a total waste!!! why would someone “whoever” own it just not donate it to homeless vs letting it sit there for years and rot. shame on them and city for just letting it waste away.

    Posted by christy | 6-6-13., 9:11 pm
    • Um, who would take care of the place? The homeless people? Regardless of who lived there, someone would still have to pay the power, water, and gas bills, along with all the maintenance required to keep it up to code. Landscaping, painting, cleaning, etc, plus stocking it with food and supplies. Obviously the owners couldn’t afford to do all that or it’d still be running to this day. So, Christy, you’re an idiot.

      Posted by R | 5-29-14., 5:08 pm
  12. Thanks for the pics & back story. Very interesting.

    Why the heck should the just give property away to the homeless? So sick of someone whining about this on EVERY abandoned places post. Why don’t you donate your house to the homeless if you’re so damn worried.?

    Posted by Alisa | 6-20-13., 12:46 am
  13. Alisa….dimwits like Christy only want to give away other people’s things….never their own.

    Posted by Michael | 6-24-13., 10:08 am
  14. It was a great hotel had a lot of fun working there and just hanging out , shame ,, damnshame. Thanks for the pics and the write up , I think this would flick the memory cells for the ones who have had the chance to see it in the prime times ,,

    Posted by Charles Deck | 6-24-13., 3:47 pm
  15. Too bad you didn’t mention the “kuch a leines” translation, do your own cooking, which for a nominal fee a family could rent a room or a bungalow for the” season “& enjoy the wonderful climate. These were really the heart of the “borsht belt” , & allowed you to escape the stifeling heat of the “city” ,without the glamour of the bg fancy hotels.
    A wonderlul era has passed.

    Posted by nat goldberg | 6-30-13., 7:39 pm
  16. Great article and pictures! :)

    Posted by Joe Lehman | 8-4-13., 9:55 am
  17. I used to work there as a Day Camp Counselor & in the Terrace Room. Seeing this both breaks my heart & brings back memories.

    Posted by Gary | 8-5-13., 11:51 pm
  18. Grossinger’s is closed?? I’ve been going there every year for the past fifty years and I’ve noticed the service has been going downhill. Last year my bed linen looked as though it hadn’t been changed since the 80s. The entertainment is about the same, though.

    Posted by Irving Schwartz | 10-21-13., 7:37 pm
    • I love your comment; it gave me a good laugh! It reminded me of the kind of “Borscht Belt” humor we no longer hear and which I miss. Thank you Mr. Schwartz.

      Posted by John Maher | 11-12-13., 3:11 pm
  19. Been there. Walked around and took some very cool pics for about 3hrs. Then the cops came and kicked us out :)

    Posted by Sentoria | 10-28-13., 8:33 pm
  20. Amazing pictures yet very sad….I enjoyed many a wonderful vacation with my parents to Grossinger’s as a child. I wish it were still around for me to have been able to take my own children.

    Posted by Sharon Ellis | 12-19-13., 3:32 pm
  21. Very sad pictures, but thank you for bringing back some wonderful memories. My family was a true “Grossinger’s family” — we went there often and my late dad’s cousin (Hyman Hoffer) was the assistant maitre d’ there for some 30+ years. The synagogue I grew up in went to Grosinger’s every year like clockwork for a family weekend. I even have a room key from the old “main house” building that I have kept since 1969 (when we were teenagers, a trick we used for sneaking in to Catskill hotels to see the Saturday night show was to collect room keys from the major hotels — a room key was what the guard at the front gate usually demanded to allow a car onto the property!). The last time I was a guest at Grossinger’s was New year’s eve, 1980. No one had an inkling it would all end just 6 years afterwards.

    Some have called the Borscht Belt days tacky, but the Catskills in the late 50’s and 1960’s was a magical place if you were young, Jewish, and from NYC. Good food, lots of sports (and lots of girls), and many of your friends were up there at the same time (if not working at or staying in area hotels, then working on staff at various Jewish sleep-away camps that dotted the area). Days playing basketball or swimming in the Neversink River, nights trying to corner that special young lady from Brooklyn (or wherever), hitching rides into Monticello for kosher pizza, or to Kutshers to see the annual Stokes basketball game — we didn’t think life could get better.

    It’s all gone now, but for the memories. But ohh what memories. Thanks again.

    Posted by Mark Hoffer | 1-7-14., 4:26 pm
  22. My husband and his sisters used to go there with their parents in the summers of the 50’s and 60’s. They liked it because there was plenty of good food.

    Posted by Jannie Woods | 3-17-14., 10:13 am

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