Fes­ti­val to re­vive Catskills mem­o­ries

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Lois K. Solomon | Staff writer

For New York­ers seek­ing to es­cape the heat of the city in the mid-20th cen­tury, there was only one des­ti­na­tion: the Catskills.

The up­state moun­tains, just a two-hour drive from Man­hat­tan, be­came a mecca for mid­dle-class fam­i­lies with a lit­tle ex­tra money to spend on a mod­est sum­mer va­ca­tion. Many stayed in re­sorts where all their meals and so­cial life were on-site; oth­ers lived in “bun­ga­low colonies,” groups of small apart­ments with com­mu­nal din­ing rooms, card games and Satur­day night dances.

There was no air con­di­tion­ing. Sticky tape hung

from the ceil­ing to catch flies that rushed in through the open win­dows. Co­me­di­ans who would one day be­come fa­mous, in­clud­ing Jerry Lewis, Mel Brooks and Buddy Hack­ett, per­formed for the en­thu­si­as­tic, pre­dom­i­nantly Jewish au­di­ences, giv­ing the moun­tains an en­dear­ing and en­dur­ing nick­name, the Borscht Belt.

Women spent the sum­mer in th­ese up­state havens with their kids; hus­bands, who had to work Mon­day through Fri­day, joined the fam­i­lies on the week­ends.

Yes, it was a long time ago. The Le­vis JCC San­dler Cen­ter in West Boca, aware of the many former New York­ers in its midst, is pre­par­ing for a month­long Catskills fes­ti­val in Fe­bru­ary. The staff has is­sued a call for mem­o­ra­bilia from this mo­men­tous era. Sue Har­ring­ton, gallery direc­tor, said she is look­ing for any ob­ject that re­calls the moun­tains’ hey­day from the 1940s to the 1970s, in­clud­ing photos, posters, ash­trays, match­books, viewfind­ers, nap­kins and key­chains.

“I want all the things that made it so much fun,” Har­ring­ton said. “I won’t turn any­thing away un­less it’s too frag­ile.”

The fes­ti­val will in­clude films, lec­tures, en­ter­tain­ment and an ex­hibit of lo­cal res­i­dents’ sou­venirs. A video booth will al­low Catskills veter­ans to record their rec­ol­lec­tions.

While some fam­i­lies en­joyed the low-key com­mu­nal liv­ing of the bun­ga­low colonies, oth­ers fa­vored the ho­tel-re­sorts, which had mas­sive swim­ming pools, rau­cous nightlife and enor­mous din­ing rooms that served over-the-top kosher meals.

Sev­eral re­sorts be­came fa­mous for their as­so­ci­a­tion with celebri­ties.

Rita Ham­mer, 87, of Boca Ra­ton, re­mem­bers watch­ing the en­ter­tainer Ed­die Can­tor play cards at Grossinger’s; her hus­band played hand­ball at Kutscher’s, an­other fa­mous re­sort, with NBA bas­ket­ball coach Red Auer­bach.

Ham­mer fre­quented many of the re­sorts that have since closed, in­clud­ing Grossinger’s, where she hon­ey­mooned; the Nevele, where she took golf

How to con­trib­ute

The Le­vis JCC San­dler Cen­ter is seek­ing mem­o­ra­bilia from the hey­day of the Catskills, from the 1940s to the 1970s.

The staff is ac­cept­ing pho­to­graphs, posters, books, viewfind­ers, show tick­ets, cloth­ing, match­books and any knick­knacks South Florida res­i­dents have amassed from that re­mark­able era.

All will be cared for and re­turned.

The ex­hibit will be part of a show, “Greet­ings From The Catskills,” Feb. 3 to March 4.

The scholar-in-res­i­dence will be Phil Brown, founder of the Catskills In­sti­tute and au­thor of “Catskills Cul­ture: A Moun­tain Rat’s Mem­o­ries of the Great Jewish Re­sort Area.”

There will be films, lec­tures, com­edy shows and mu­si­cal con­certs.

Call Sue Har­ring­ton, the San­dler Cen­ter’s gallery direc­tor, at 561-558-2504, or email her at [email protected]­isjcc.org. lessons; and the Pine­grove, site of her son’s bar mitz­vah.

“I went through so many stages of my life in the Catskills,” Ham­mer said. ‘I was a lit­tle girl, a teenager, a hon­ey­mooner, a mar­ried wo­man. I feel so sad when I think about how it’s all gone now.”

The bun­ga­low colonies and ho­tels be­gan to de­cline in the

1970s and 1980s, when a new gen­er­a­tion of fam­i­lies chose sleep­away camp for their kids or more ex­otic des­ti­na­tions for fam­ily va­ca­tions.

The fi­nal blow for many was the clos­ing in 1998 of the

1,200-room Con­cord, a grand re­sort where the din­ing room sat 3,000.

Up-and-com­ing tal­ents Bar­bra Streisand, Tony Ben­nett and Judy Gar­land per­formed Co­me­dian Stewie Stone, 79, of Welling­ton in Palm Beach County, talks about per­form­ing in the Catskills in the ’60s and ’70s. Lis­ten to the Brook­lyn-born comic’s take on the Catskills com­edy cir­cuit at there. Martin Luther King Jr. re­ceived a rab­bini­cal award at the Con­cord in 1968.

Ann Schwartz, 76, of Boyn­ton Beach, and her sis­ter, Eileen Worst, 73, of Lauder­hill, re­mem­ber the Catskills’ hey­day as a time of hard work that de­vel­oped their life­long de­vo­tion to fam­ily and fi­nan­cial in­de­pen­dence. Their mother, Miriam Dam­ico, owned a 50-fam­ily bun­ga­low colony, the Moon­glow Inn, on Route 52 near Loch Shel­drake, for 59 years.

Schwartz was in charge of the sum­mer camp, while Worst ran the store, where va­ca­tion­ers bought pro­vi­sions on credit. Worst lugged gro­ceries to va­ca­tion­ers’ units by pulling a wagon be­hind her.

The sis­ters worked on the prop­erty for 49 years. But va­ca­tion­ers stopped fill­ing their one- and two-bed­room units in the 1980s and 1990s.

Dam­ico sold the prop­erty in 2002.

“You could feel the strain of that third gen­er­a­tion not want­ing to come any­more,” Ann Schwartz said. “It was a grad­ual de­cline, and we ac­cepted that. But it was a won­der­ful time for us grow­ing up.”

Don and Ann Schwartz were mar­ried June 14, 1964, at the Roxy Ho­tel in the Catskills. The San­dler Cen­ter in West Boca is col­lect­ing mem­o­ra­bilia, like this photo and the cock­tail nap­kin below from Ann Schwartz, for an ex­hibit about the Catskills’ hey­day. Co­me­dian Stewie Stone, cen­ter photo, leads a game of Si­mon Says in the early 1970s at the Con­cord Ho­tel in the Catskills. At 79, he’s still per­form­ing.

MIKE STOCKER/STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Ann Schwartz, of Boyn­ton Beach, who is do­nat­ing Catskills mem­o­ra­bilia to the San­dler Cen­ter in West Boca, looks over some old photos.

AMY BETH BEN­NETT/STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Sun­Sen­tinel.com/Catskills

ANN SCHWARTZ/COURTESY

Catskills nos­tal­gia in­cludes the pop­u­lar 150-acre zoo that housed more than 2,000 an­i­mals. The Catskill Game Farm ended its 73-year run in 2006.

STEWIE STONE/COURTESY

Stewie Stone, left, is shown with Tiny Tim, right, in the 1970s at the Con­cord Ho­tel in the Catskills.

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