Location: Liberty, NY
Category: Hotel, Resort
The directory above is oriented north up and shows the resorts facilities and layout as it was when it closed. Each proceeding photo will have a captioned number keying it to its location on the directory. The before and after bird’s eye views are looking from west to east. Click on any of the smaller images if you want to enlarge them.
Grossinger’s or “The G” opened in 1914 as a simple hotel with a 26 room capacity. At the time, room and Board was eight dollars a week. Grossiner’s may have come from humble beginnings but according to Catskill Resorts Lost Architecture of Paradise, it grew to become the “Kosher Acropolis” in the Catskills. Rivaled only by Laurel’s and the Concord, the resort was the embodiment of old fashioned luxury and set the standard for the rest of the borscht belt resorts. The resort was situated on 1,200 acres and consisted of 35 buildings. It had its own airport, post office, 27 hole golf course, printing press, ski slopes, ice rink, theaters, playhouse, beauty salon, shopping arcades, an enormous dining hall, and many athletic courts. Grossinger’s took many steps to outdo the competition. It hosted or employed many celebrities, including famous athletes, comedians, singers and actors. The complex had a long list of amenities and many of the buildings featured world-class architecture. Last but not least, the Grossinger kitchen was well known for its delicious kosher meals with generous portions.
In the Beginning:
The Grossinger’s were Austrian immigrants who moved to the Catskills from Manhattan’s Lower East Side with their children in the hopes that the fresh air would help improve the ailing Selig “Pop” Grossinger’s health. They opened their Catskill home to boarders in an effort to supplement their income. The food and atmosphere made the accommodations popular and by 1919 the Grossingers made the first of many expansions. They purchased a former Victorian style hotel and the formal Grossinger’s Hotel was born.
Grossinger’s Marketing Genius:
Much of the G’s marketing success can be attributed to the charismatic hotel matriarch, Jennie Grossinger. Overseeing guest relations, she had a knack for wooing celebrity guests like Debbie Reynolds, Eddie Fisher, Elizabeth Taylor and Jackie Robinson, as well as matchmaking for the single ones. Another person who contributed to Grossinger’s success was a publicity agent named Milton Blackstone. He established a relationship with the hotel and worked with the Grossingers in establishing the hotel’s marketing approach. His first move was to arrange for lightweight boxing champion Barney Ross to stay at the hotel. This calculated move created a media bonanza that generated a lot of free publicity for the resort. Blackstone’s next idea was to have an airport built on the property, so that celebrities, as well as other V.I.P.s, could be flown in by helicopter. His final stroke of genius was to have a post office built on site, allowing all correspondence to be addressed to Grossinger’s, NY. The social status of Grossinger’s was such that Robert Kennedy made a campaign stop at the resort in 1960. Blackstone’s ideas and Jennie’s social skills laid the groundwork for and fueled the hotel’s expansion.
Grossinger’s major expansions began in the 1940s as other Borscht Belt hotels began competing with the resort. The goal of the Grossinger’s was to outbuild and outshine the other hotels. The first major expansion during this time period was the Tudor style 5000 Wing, which replaced the older clubhouse. The wing was expanded several times. It contained the dining room, a kitchen, the terrace room and Pink Elephant Room. At one time the Tudor Style was the most prominent architectural motif within the resort and accounted for the design style of two other major buildings, the Roosevelt Wing and Ritz Wing. The Roosevelt Wing had a dance studio, barbershop and beauty salon. The Ritz Wing (expanded in 1953), had new modern comforts like elevators, air conditioning and televisions. In the late 1940s an Olympic sized outdoor pool complete with private cabanas was built. For entertainment there was the Grossinger Playhouse and the Terrace Room, which were located under the 5000 Wing. The Playhouse hosted many stars in the early part of their carrier, including Eddie Fisher and Milton Berle among others. In 1949, the Terrace Room was enlarged and renovated by architect Morris Lapidus. Lapidus also designed the ice-skating rink and other buildings on the property, as well as facilities for other Borscht Belt resorts.
The photos below are keyed into the drawings above.
Indoor Pool Wing:
Of all the interior spaces within the abandoned Catskill Resorts, the Pool Room at Grossinger’s is the most photogenic and probably the most photographed of all of them. Therefore, I’m giving it its own section. After the 1.5 million dollar construction project was complete, the Pool Wing opened in 1958 to great fanfare. Jennie Grossinger invited Fourteen hundred guests, including Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher to the pool dedication party. Florence Chadwick, known for being the first woman to swim the English Channel, took the first dip in the pool. Designed by Kelly & Gruzen Architects, the Pool Wing’s architecture does an amazing job of conveying a sense modernity and luxury. The space is cavernous. It features high ceilings, wood structural elements and a fancy, multi-color lighting design. Now, after years of abandonment and decay the beautiful structural components and light fixtures remain surprisingly intact, although at the ground level there has been vandalism and graffiti proliferates. Adding a nice aesthetic touch to the decay is a carpet of ferns sprouting from muck on the pool deck. Did someone say reclaimed by nature?
End of an Era:
After operating for 72 years, the hotel closed its doors in February of 1986 after the Grossinger family sold the property to Servico. Since then, many of the buildings have been demolished including the Ritz Wing and Annex, Playhouse, Conference Center, Roosevelt Wing, Eddie Cantor Wing, outdoor pool buildings, Milton Berle Building, Barney Ross Building, Pop’s Cottage and the Laundry Building. Although Servico attempted to renovate, expand and reinvent the hotel, its venture ultimately ended in bankruptcy. Many of the buildings that have been demolished, including most of the Tudor style buildings, were razed during their tenure. After Servico’s demolitions were carried out, the company began to build a modern concrete structure to house a new lobby, dining room and convention hall. However, Servico came up short in funding and the new facilities were left incomplete. Since Servico’s attempted revitalization ended in bankruptcy, the hotel has been sold a few times; however, none of the various owners have been able to successfully reopen the resort. Today, the golf course is the only portion of the facility that is still active. Many of the buildings are still standing; although, as you can see from the photos, the interior has been worked over by vandals, scrappers and graffiti artists. It’s a tragic end to a resort with such a rich history.
I’ll leave you with this video of Grossinger’s from 1959. If you would like to see more photos you can visit my Grossinger’s Album on Flickr, although I went a little overboard and included half of them in this post already.
- Padluck, Ross Catskill Resorts Lost Architecture of Paradise Atglen, PA Schiffer Publishing, 2013
- Grossinger, Tanya Growing Up at Grossiner’s New York, NY Skyhorse Publishing, 2008
- “Grossinger’s 1919-1986” Joe4speed.com
- Grossinger’s 2008 photos courtesy of Johniwan