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Cooper's Hawk

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Sundown on Borscht St.

A writer named Pablo Iglesias Maurer has published an excellent and interesting article in the DCist, Abandoned States: Places In Idyllic 1960s Postcards Have Transformed Into Scenes Of Abandonment.

Pablo travels to the Borscht Belt and takes pictures of the current ruins of places of historic grandeur in what were once known as the Jewish Alps, the Catskills and the Poconos.

Really cool pictures, which he interposes with same views from the glory days.

© Pablo Maurer

In the 1930's many jewish families, like blacks, were still denied hotel lodging in America. In addition many of them kept kosher and had special food requirements. So working and middle class jews created their own hotels and getaways, in areas of upstate New York and Pennsylvania where they could eat and shtup and feel special, free of anti semitism, and they did so, with reckless abandon, primarily in places like Sullivan, Orange and Ulster Counties. There were over 538 Borscht Belt hotels in the area during the heyday.


They created huge places like Grossingers and the Concord. Brickman's, Kutsher's and Shawanga. Jewish immigrants had first moved north to the general area in the early 1900's and eventually established the area as a getaway destination from the stress and tsuris of the city.

© Pablo Maurer

The list of comics who performed in the area are legendary, Fanny Brice, Jerry Lewis, Buddy Hackett, Henny Youngman, Joan Rivers, Dangerfield, Jackie Mason, Woody Allen, Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl, Jan Murray, Mel Brooks, the list goes on forever. Sid Caeser met his wife while working there as a kid. Television comedy writing as we know it had its inception in these yiddishe palaces.


The rock impresario Bill Graham worked at the Concord as a young man. The stories about the place in his biography by Robert Greenwald are epic, dames, crap games and knockdown fights over the last end cut of the prime rib.

At one point in the sixties, the thing was over. Why? Your guess is as good as mine - assimilation, jet travel, better options, the glitzy Borscht Belt just wasn't cool anymore. And people now demanded air conditioning, something the old lodges lacked. Another good article on the entire subject here.

sunbathing at grossingers

I sent my good friend Stan the article and he sent me this note back:

My youth!
Brought up in Scranton, in the Pocono’s.
Grossingers was THE place for Scranton Jews.
My dad never could afford it, but finally, on their 50th anniversary….hmmm.maybe my Mom’s 60th birthday…cannot recall, they went for a weekend and invited their two kids, with husbands and our kids, for Sunday lunch, while they stayed the weekend.
My father spent the entire day talking about the incredible food, and how everything was unlimited, so if you asked for chicken soup and you didn’t like it, they would bring you the mushroom barley, and baskets of fresh bread…..on and on….
one of the worse meals I ever had….huge portions of tasteless crap,
Anyway, happy they got to go before the end.

My bar mitzvah party was held at Mt. Airy Lounge in the Poconos,  three families with sons who shared a May bar mitzvah chipped in and rented a bunch of city busses and took all of us up there for the day.

we had use of the pool, gym, barbecue and a dance but i was embarrassed because I was madly in love with the only irish catholic girl in the joint and not even sure how I got to invite her…tall thin, with knobbly knees, light brown hair, Cheryl K----….that was all I cared about that day and afraid my parents would find out.
Hah! I showed them later on:
Wife One was green eyed Finnish Methodist and 
Wife Two an English Roman Catholic.

I can relate, Stan. My first was a southern baptist. My own mother spent the latter part of her life in the Poconos, in Hawley, not far from Stan. But by that time the bloom was off the herring, it had lost whatever schmaltz it may have once had.

2 comments:

Isak said...

Some of my favorite images of my Mom and Dad are when they were dining
and partying at The Concord. My father did stand-up for a time, and in
the off hours took on contenders at handball. He was a champion. He was
fat in those days so other guys thought he was a pushover. He would take
on two at a time and kill it. The muscle on the side of his hand was like
steel. He could pop a handball and make it burst against a wall. That's
how strong he was. Boxed a bit for a time too. Said he had ten professional
fights; won the first nine, lost the tenth and that was that. And he
gambled. Oh, did he gamble. That never stopped.

Blue Heron said...

My uncle Eli Rubenstein was another ripped, tough guy handball player. Worked at General Dynamics, benched over 300 lbs in his seventies. These guys were not pussies.