In it’s heyday, the Borscht Belt was a prosperous Jewish resort hideaway filled with hundreds of lively bungalow colonies and hotels. 32-year-old photographer Marisa Scheinfeld grew up among its windy tree-lined roads and empty storefronts; an area replete with magnificent history and looming potential that crumbled along with its tourist economy in the 1970s.
Scheinfeld set out to capture the rich decay and growth of the Catskills in her poignant photo series, ‘Ruins of the Borscht Belt.’ The photographic series, an outgrowth of the artist’s tie to her hometown and fascination with its layered Jewish background, paints the story of an inimitable, iconic area, whose many hotels and landmarks have been reclaimed by the organic forces of nature.
Some of the photos you’ll see below have been published widely throughout the Internet and on her website, although she was nice enough (sister perks) to share a few new ones from the second phase of her project. She’s shifted from focusing on the residual foundations of Catskills resorts, to the comedians, the chefs, the dancers; the people whose personalities helped define the Jewish summer refuge. Marisa plans to publish a book of this series in 2014.
(Guest Room, Grossinger’s Catskill Resort and Hotel, Liberty, NY)
Mal Z. Lawrence (Comedian), Monticello, NY
Indoor Pool, Grossinger’s Catskill Resort and Hotel, Liberty, NY
Leon Gottesman (former cook at at the Concord Hotel in Kiamesha Lake, NY), Sackett Lake, NY
Although these pictures primarily focus on the past life of the Catskills, the area as it currently stands is in the midst of a revitalization, due to an outpour of interest from hotel developers, casinos, and city folk craving country air and close proximity to New York City.
In August The New York Times featured a piece on the rise of city residents renting summer bungalow colony homes throughout the ‘Jewish Alps.’ This November, news also broke of a proposal authorizing the state as many as four full-scale casinos throughout the region. The State Gaming Commission and its to-be-appointed New York State Gaming Facility Location Board will be announced by Governor Cuomo in the new year.
Kutsher’s Country Club, the last of the standing Borscht Belt hotels, was sold this November to Veria Lifestyle, a company devoted to healthy living, whose developers plan to turn the resort and its properties into a “$90 million Nature Cure Lifestyle Management Center.” Basically, everything from yoga, to golf, to biodynamic restaurants.
Amy Goodstein, 37-year-old Catskill native and owner of Catskill Valley Homes elaborates on the area’s surge in real estate:
“We are having our best year in a long time, and it’s mostly from people buying second homes. I think its the sign of a few things; its an easy place to get to, the Catskills is beautiful, and we were always set up for this. It’s not like we’re (Catskills residents) reinventing the wheel, it’s just that everything is now coming full circle and people are re-discovering its glory.”
Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, a performing arts center and museum located at the site of the 1969 Woodstock festival, has brought renewed prosperity and a growing business community in Bethel N.Y. The sloping lawn and massive pavilion have housed big names such as Sting, Bob Dylan, and Santana, and this Memorial Day weekend, will hold a huge European-based electronic music festival, Mysteryland.
The Resnick Group of Rock Hill, NY have opened various restaurants throughout the area along with a luxury boutique hotel, The Sullivan. Their latest venture is, Brew, an artisanal coffee and beer shop set to open this summer with local craft beers and a tasting bar.
As nature continues to reclaim the remainder of what was, the Catskills persists as the underdog, radiating more splendor and potential than ever.