The author did a wonderful job of morphing the old images with his own modern ones, thus truly bringing the transformation to life.
If you grew up in NY or the surrounding states, you may have spent a summer or two in the Poconos or The Catskills, particularly if your family was Jewish. The resorts there were places where entire families took long summer vacations together. They featured modern facilities, good food, top-drawer entertainment (this was the famed “Borsch Belt”), and all sorts of healthy recreation. It was that era’s version of a Caribbean cruise, with just a hint of today’s Las Vegas.
I never spent a summer at any of these places, but my family always stopped to eat some of the famed deli cuisine when we traveled from Lake Ontario to the urban caverns of The City. Route 17 was our Yellow Brick Road even if The City boasted no emerald glow.
Nobody from upstate called that city “New York” then, because we were all from New York, even the upstate rubes. One simply said “The City,” and the meaning was clear to everyone. Boston and Detroit were cities, and I lived in a city, but those in the center of the world lived in THE City. Some of my teachers were from The City, and they felt it cast them in a superior mold to that which formed us locals because their city was tougher, smarter, and more energetic than any experience we or any outsider had known. The City was coarser, yet somehow also more refined, than our humble origins. Some of those men bragged of hard childhoods in Hell’s Kitchen or comfy ones on the Upper East Side, but most of those tough, quick-tempered grandsons of Erin were forged in the fires of the Outer Boroughs.
That yellow brick road of my childhood is brown and crumbling today. The most imposing resorts were shuttered long ago, but they were glorious in their day. Grossinger’s, the most famous resort in the area, and supposedly the inspiration for “Dirty Dancing,” had its own golf course, many tennis courts, a ski area with a snow-making machine, indoor and outdoor pools, and a massive theater. Elizabeth Taylor married Eddie Fisher there; Jerry Lewis performed there; Jackie Robinson went there to relax.
Today? The reflective moments of “Dirty Dancing” accurately predicted the demise of the Catskill family resorts:
“It’s not the changes so much this time. It’s that it all seems to be ending. You think kids want to come with their parents and take fox-trot lessons? It feels like it’s all slipping away.”
And slip away it did. Like the resorts, that “way of life is fall’n into the sere.”
The Grossinger golf course is still functioning, but …
“Today, Grossinger’s still has everything you’re looking for—if what you’re looking for is exquisite decay.
The drive there is is a beautiful, albeit sad, experience. State route 17 winds through the Catskills, past boarded up summer camps, through predominantly Orthodox Jewish communities and down near-abandoned main streets. Up a hill and past a guard shack plastered with “no trespassing” signs, Grossinger’s appears on the horizon.
Much of the resort has been demolished; what’s left has been thoroughly picked through over the years. The cabins and cottages that dot the grounds are unsafe to enter, their floors badly rotted, their roofs a deluge of splintered wood. Nobody is home at the Jennie J hotel, which has been thoroughly torn apart. Every bit of copper and steel plucked from its walls, every bathroom smashed apart.”
(That article in Gothamist has many pictures of the former resort’s current state of decrepitude.)