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  • Full Dark Amy

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) 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. There is no historical record of which early settler to the land above the Hudson River it was who named the area, or precisely why.

With such picturesque landscape, and so near in proximity to bustling New York City, it is no surprise the land eventually became a desirable vacation destination. As the centuries progressed and travel to the area became more accessible, more city-dwellers escaped to the region for fresh air and incredible forested vistas over the Hudson.

There are nearly one hundred hotels in the Catskill Mountains that have gone up in flames 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 the flames. Many of these places were resorts aimed at the Jewish clientele from the city just to the south. The early 1900's saw the beginning of what became known as the "Borscht Belt" or alternatively the "Jewish Alps".

The rise of these mega-resorts, which peaked in popularity around the 1940's to the 1960's, began during a time of heavy anti-Semitism in New York City. Jewish travelers at the time continuously faced prejudice and discrimination, and were often turned away from establishments. As they sought out accommodations where they would be welcome and surrounded by their peers, the Catskills, being only 60 or so miles north of the city, became an easily accessible area by train or car, and provided a safe environment for Jewish families to vacation.

The resorts began small, primarily as summer camps and what are called "kokh-aleyns", or "cook-alones", and operated as self-catered bungalows. Some began on the properties of Jewish immigrant farmers, slowly building to accommodate travelers with families. As more of the hotels were constructed in the mountains, they began catering primarily to the Jewish clientele, bringing in thousands of guests every year. The multi-season vacation destination became nationally famous. Celebrities of the Mid Century Modern (newly slang termed "Mid-Cench") Era frequented such resorts as Grossinger's, Brown's Hotel, Brickman's, The Concord, the Grandview Palace and more than I can list here.

The Pines Hotel is one location in the forest of Fallsburg, New York which 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 are sometimes able to do with such properties. Now, there are concrete foundations where some of the main buildings once stood, and others, mostly the guest rooms, are sorely decayed through water damage and some lesser fires which occurred 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 decay into a plush carpet makes for a walking experience through dampened hallways much like a pebbly, sandy beach. It's just the the beach is fraught with the metal ceiling framing, hanging dangerously low at twisted angles.

The theater, known as the Persian Room, once had seating in tiered sections, all providing an angle to the grand stage. What's left of it now is just a concrete shell-shaped foundation. The only way to identify it beside it's 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 also continues the story of the Pines' slow decay since its closure in 1998.

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, 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 former building's life. 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: destruction. 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 it's slow state of eventual decimation by people, climate, time and the environment.

If anyone can provide the recipe of The Pines' "Creamsicle Delight", PLEASE put that in the comments!!

This may be the saddest photo of this area I've ever taken. It's nostalgic, inspiring, and heartbreaking.

Don't forget to subscribe to the blog to be notified when a new entry is up! I'll be looking closer at more of the Borscht Belt hotels this year as we investigate their past and present conditions. To see videos of our explorations, head to our Youtube channel and Subscribe!

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