Haunting Hotel Photos of Upstate New York's Borscht Belt: An Abandoned Adult Playground

By Michael Kaminer

It’s hard to picture now, but the ruined resorts in Marisa Scheinfeld’s haunting photos once epitomized glamour for East Coast middle-class families.

Known as the Borscht Belt, these upstate New York hotels drew mostly Jewish guests who were often unwelcome at other hotels. At its height in the 1960s, the Borscht Belt sparkled: There was the Jerry Lewis Theater Club at Brown’s, over-the-top meals at Grossinger’s, a swanky ski chalet at the Nevele. Anyone who’s seen “Dirty Dancing” has had a glimpse of Borscht Belt buzz.

Today, the sites are eerie shells. But for Scheinfeld, who grew up near the Catskills in New York’s Sullivan County, they offer their own kind of beauty – and new forms of life.

“While the ruins can seem like tragic examples of the passing of an era, they’re also very much alive,” she says. “Devoid of their original intentions – as hotels for Jewish Americans from the East Coast – the hotels have in many ways been repurposed, and are being used as respites for animals or for nature. Abandoned by people, they’re still vital active forces being used in unexpected ways.”

A new exhibition of Scheinfeld’s huge photos – along with a trove of original souvenirs and objects from Borscht Belt hotels – continues at New York’s Yeshiva University Museum (15 W. 16th St.) through April 12, 2015.