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Remembering Grossinger’s by Barry Lewis: The building will go but the memories last forever + YouTube Bonus

Remembering Grossinger's by Barry Lewis: The building will go but the memories last forever + YouTube Bonus


Barry Lewis: The building will go but the memories last forever

I understand the need to tear down what’s left of Grossinger’s Hotel, the Grand Dame of the Catskills.
I say that knowing that what’s left isn’t really Grossinger’s.
At least not the place I knew.
Nor is it the place where millions of hotel guests over 72 years created memories that would last a lifetime. “Singles Only” weekends that would turn into family trips. Family trips that would turn into annual reunions. Couples who just wanted to say they vacationed at Grossinger’s. One guest, Eleanor Bergstein, took those memories of dance lessons with Jackie Horner and was inspired to create the film “Dirty Dancing” giving folks who may not have ever visited the famed Sullivan County resort a small sampling of what the Catskills was really all about.
Of course those of us who visited or worked those hotels know that was Hollywood’s version of the Catskills. If they wanted to be true to form they would have called the film “Dirty Eating” about guests who can’t get enough food no matter how much is served.
That was Grossinger’s.
What’s up on that hill overlooking Liberty now is just acres of some old brick and mortar buildings, worn plywood and chipped concrete, overgrown grounds and a graffiti-laced indoor pool which nature turned into a greenhouse – all a reminder that at one time there was something so vast it was like a city on the hill.
The seven-room farmhouse that began with Selig and Malka taking in boarders grew under the watchful eye of their daughter Jennie, the first lady of hospitality. With the help of publicist extraordinaire Milton Blackstone, they turned Grossinger’s into the “Waldorf in the Catskills.” Jennie’s children, Paul and Elaine Etess, turned the showcase into a sprawling 585-room resort spread out over 812 acres, while still maintaining the tradition that Grossinger’s was more than just another place to go on vacation and which the writer Damon Runyon once described as “Lindy’s with trees.”
Where Eddie Cantor discovers Eddie Fisher, where Fisher marries Debbie Reynolds and later takes Liz Taylor who dedicates the indoor pool. Where Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali train, Jackie Robinson and Mickey Mantle come for family vacations, Errol Flynn goes horseback riding and Lou Goldstein calls Milton Berle out in a game of Simon Says. And yes, where Eleanor Roosevelt can be spotted walking through the dining room.
That was Grossinger’s.
They had three ski slopes, an Olympic-size outdoor pool, an 18-hole championship golf course, 1,500-seat nightclub, they printed a monthly newspaper, had their own airport and, thanks to Blackstone, their own ZIP code. You could send mail to Grossinger, New York.
I made my first trip to Grossinger’s 50 years ago this summer.
We stayed at the Shady Nook, where my dad worked. The drive from Loch Sheldrake to Liberty was 10 minutes but the two Catskill resorts were light years apart.
Dad was in a group called The Entertainers, made up of, yes, entertainers who performed regularly at what were then hundreds of hotels and nearly a thousand bungalow colonies. At the end of each summer they’d have a show for a charity. They’d rotate locations and in 1968 the show was at Grossinger’s. I remember us driving up the hill, past the guard booth to an entrance, walking to the nightclub and wondering if we really had to go back to the Shady Nook.
Over the years I’d make my way back up the hill to interview a performer, some boxer in training or cover a golf tournament at the Big G. The majesty of the Tudor-style main entrance, manicured grounds and stunning indoor pool with the observation window hadn’t lost its luster.
When Bonnie was pregnant with our oldest we were invited to stay over at the hotel. Elaine Etess insisted and put us up in the Eddie Cantor building. We ate in the dining room, not far from where Eleanor roamed and where Eddie and Liz shared pickles and a bottle of seltzer.
That was Grossinger’s.

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Jim Eigo Jazz Promo Services T: 845-986-1677 E-Mail: jim@jazzpromoservices.com



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