The memories of childhood and teenage summers spent in the 1920’s – 1960’s are fading with each passing generation. There was a special place known as the Catskills in New York State that provided summer memories and traditions to families year after year.
Kutsher’s Hotel and Country Club was the last of the grand old Borscht Belt resorts—one of over a thousand bungalow colonies and vacation getaways that sprang up in the Catskills in the 1920s.
The Borscht Belt was where Jews, many from New York City, could indulge in food, music, and humor in an Eastern European tradition. Country bungalows provided a reprieve from the horrendous living conditions of early 20th century tenements. As the Jewish community found economic prosperity, so did the Catskills. Many bungalows turned into sprawling resorts and a few rose to prominence: the Pines (400 rooms), the Concord (1,500 rooms), and Grossinger’s (600 rooms). But Kutsher’s (440 rooms) outlasted them all.
The movie Dirty Dancing was based on Kutsher’s. The resort attracted top musical acts like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. It was a hive of sports activity, with Muhammad Ali and Wilt Chamberlain training there in the summers.
But most of all, the Borscht Belt was a petri dish for a kind of Jewish comedy that has now permeated movies and television. Think Joan Rivers (bombed at Kutsher’s), Jerry Seinfeld (legend has it he performed there as he was awaiting the network’s decision on the Seinfeld pilot). Without the Catskills nightclub circuit, entertainment today would be very different. Questlove, drummer for the Roots, grew up touring the Catskill resorts with his parent’s band. Imagine Questlove, age 12, drumming behind his parents in the Starlight Ballroom before an audience of thousands…
Roxanne from Las Vegas, Nevada and her family of a couple generations has established a deep connection to the Catskills roots area.
“My family and I are vacationing in the Catskills of New York State. This area was the inspiration behind the movie Dirty Dancing and was the summer staple for people wanting to get away from the heat of New York City in the days when air conditioning was uncommon and world travel was reserved for the well heeled. This is where my parents grew up, dated and married.”
“All of the big resorts are gone now. Resorts such as The Concord, Grossingers and Swan Lake are only memories to people who spent their summers there. But my parents love taking time to show the grandchildren their photo albums and books filled with images of this remarkable past.”
Source: Wanderlust Projects
Photography: Tod Seelie