An empty yellow-and-white lounge chair graces the ungroomed grass and ferns surrounding the mildewed indoor pool at Grossinger’s. Not so long ago the grass was terracotta tiles and there were rows of chairs, a guest on each.
The haunting image is from “Ruins of the Borscht Belt,” a series of color photographs by Marisa Scheinfeld on exhibit at the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy’s Kling and Niman Family Visitor Center on Grand Street.
The 20 prints on view are part of an extensive project to provide a “fine-arts documentation” of the Catskill Mountains’ heyday as a Jewish vacation haven as well as prolonged “period of stagnation,” says Scheinfeld, 33, who grew up in Sullivan County and once worked as a lifeguard at the Concord. “The pools are how you really know there was a hotel there. Often they’re the only things left.”
In another picture taken at Grossinger’s, the ghostly, graffiti-smeared rudiments of a new wall stand shrine-like in the center of the lobby, evidence of a failed effort to resuscitate the late resort.
“I see beauty in decay,” Scheinfeld says. “Nature reclaims the space. It’s the cycle of life.”
Beauty and decay coexist in a shot of a decrepit Grossinger’s guest room, which, through an open window, looks out on thriving wildflowers. In another image, a blue soap dish, bordered with moss and debris, could have come from the adjoining bathroom, where guests might once have primped for dinner and the show. Another photograph shows bird feathers strewn across a floor at the White Lake Mansion House.
Intact plastic poker chips in one image could be recycled should gambling ever come to the Catskills. In a photo of the Pines Hotel’s Persian Room, red stage curtains can be glimpsed through fraying doors. But for now the party’s over, chairs in disarray and a toppled table in the hotel’s dining room seem to imply, though splattered paint from paintball games attests to more contemporary forms of recreation.
In a picture of Grossinger’s coffee shop, slime-green stools eerily face a missing counter. It’s as if lava from a volcano had forced teatime noshers to flee. On a recent visit, Scheinfeld found the stools lying on the ground. She’s still picking her way through the region’s rubble, pointing her Pentax at artifacts of archaeological interest for an eventual book. “Two pillars standing on the road” could be a sign of yet another resort, she says.
“Ruins of the Borscht Belt” is on view through September 10 at the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy, 400 Grand Street, Manhattan. Sheinfeld will be at the gallery on Sunday, September 8, 4 to 8 p.m., as part of “Lower East Side Opening Night.”
Martha Mendelsohn is a writer whose work has appeared in The Jewish Week, Moment and Tikkun.