Live from Grossingers and other forgotten places.
About 10 years ago I bought a record ( yes an actual vinyl record) at a small flea market in TN for 50 cents. Its a live recording of Tito Puente, the famous Cuban jazz bongo drum player. Even now, its one of my favorite records.
The first track starts off with the accouncer with typical 1950's cigarette-altered voice introducing the band. " Ladies and gentlemen, good evening. Grossinger's Hotel is pleased to bring you Tito Puente and hiw world-famous orchestra." Then the music starts. In the background you can hear glasses tinkling, people talking, and so on. Recording music before a live audience was seldom done in the 50's, so the record is rather interesting in that aspect. Its like a slice of the 50's frozen in time.
I never really thought about the mentioning of Grossinger's Hotel nor the pictures on the back of the album showing images of people swimming, skiing, and golfing at the resort. But just a few days ago I pulled out the album for the first time in a few years and listened as I did some work at home. Out of curiosity, I decided to look up the Grossinger Hotel to see what had become of it and whether it was still in business.
What I found was fascinating. The Grossinger Hotel was only one of hundreds of hotels located in the Catskill mountains of Upstate New York. From the turn of the 20th century up until the late 70's, the area was known as the "Borscht Belt". Primarily Jewish immigrants and their children would leave NYC and New Jersey for the catskills and stay at these primarily Jewish owned resorts. Some of these resorts were enormous. The Grossinger Hotel had over 35 buildings alone, but others were even larger, with as many as 1,500 rooms, large indoor and outdoor heated pools, huge banquet and dance halls, and huge dining rooms that served large quantities of Kosher meals.
But reading further, almost all of the resorts closed their doors by the mid eighties. Grossingers but the dust in 1986. Others like the Pines Hotel as recent as 1998. Only a few remain, namely the Kutsher Hotel, which is still family owned. A large majority of the former resorts lay abandoned and in decay. Its sort of a feeling of sadness to see pictures of these resorts now in ruin.
Its strange to me that in the US in particular, once-popular destinations, towns, or even entire cities can have such dramatic swings in fortune. In the case of the Catskill mountains, their demise was met with the advent of cheap airline travel, where those same families who used to drive from NYC to Upstate NY could for the same price travel to Florida, California, or Hawaii. Its only human nature to seek delight in places most different from our own familiar home turf. Indeed thats why I tend to like desserts versus the lush green areas similar to the humid South that I grew up in. But Nevertheless, what gets left behind in the transition are crumbling monuments of a place and idea that was once deemed sufficient and desireable by another generation.
We as a society are on a neverending road to seek something better than where we have come. My Grandfather is a perfect example. He grew up in a large family of 10 children. His parents were not terribly wealthy. He was expected to work dilligently and purposevely. He bought a house outside of Dayton, TN when he and his Wife retired. It was a small house with basic amenities. Out back were several small sheds full of tools and lawn mowers. He drove a plain blue Ford pickup with vinyl seats and a straight 6 engine. Perhaps by today's standards my Grandfather was a working class individual with limited means. But he was an accomplished man by his own definition, owning his own house, a little bit of land behind it, and a good-running truck. He was proud of the small little town he lived in and I can recall riding with him around it, where he would proudly point to all of the new developments ( Wal-Mart and Mcdonalds). I can also recall that pretty much everybody knew who he was. " Hello Mr Card, how are you?" seemed to be what I heard no matter where we went. Nevermind that Grandad was hard of hearing and couldn't understand half of what people were saying to him. People just like him just the same. I can also recall the more practical approach he took to doing things like planting rose bushes and flowers. That meant large poles with copious amounts of brightly colored green wire would be used to prop them up. To him their survival and health were more important than the outward appearance. For him, with a yard full of strangely doctored plants and trees, it was a scene of success. It was a sense of pride of accumulated work.
Perhaps we could all learn a thing or two from people like my Grandfather. We're all so busy looking for something better, as if we're trying to prove to somebody that we are a success. We- just like all those families who abandoned their former vacation resorts in the Catskills- are continually looking for a never-ending horizon, or somewhere "better". We would be wise to seek the good where we are and appreciate what we now have.