MARKER LOCATION: 479 Broadway, Monticello, NY
HISTORIC MARKER TEXT:
During the heyday of the Borscht Belt, Monticello had about 65 hotels and 133 bungalow colonies. Kutsher’s Country Club was known for its sports and entertainment scene. It hosted Muhammad Ali, while additional boxers trained at other hotels. Wilt Chamberlain worked as a bellhop while playing on the hotel’s basketball team before rising to NBA fame. Kutsher's also presented famous entertainers on its stage such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Jerry Seinfeld, Billy Crystal and Joan Rivers. Kutsher’s was the longest running resort in the Borscht Belt, closing in 2013. The Laurel’s Hotel and Country Club was for a time, the largest hotel in Sullivan County. It was a popular spot for singles and held the world’s record for the largest steel swimming pool. The hotel was operated by the Novack family who also built the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach. Other notable Monticello destinations were Esther Manor, Lewinters Bungalow Colony, Ideal Bungalow Colony, and the Delano Hotel.
JEWISH AMERICAN SOCIETY FOR HISTORIC PRESERVATION
BORSCHT BELT HISTORICAL MARKER PROJECT
SULLIVAN COUNTY HISTORIAN
May 25, 2023, Ethelbert B. Crawford Library, Monticello, NY
Aerial view of Kutsher's in the 1940s
During the heyday of the Borscht Belt, Monticello had about 65 hotels and 133 bungalow colonies. Kutsher’s Country Club was known for its sports and entertainment scene. It hosted Muhammad Ali, while additional boxers trained at other hotels. Wilt Chamberlain worked as a bellhop while playing on the hotel’s basketball team before rising to NBA fame. Kutsher's also presented famous entertainers on its stage such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Jerry Seinfeld, Billy Crystal, and Joan Rivers. Kutsher’s was the longest running resort in the Borscht Belt, closing in 2013. The Laurel’s Hotel and Country Club was for a time, the largest hotel in Sullivan County. It was a popular spot for singles and held the world’s record for the largest steel swimming pool. The hotel was operated by the Novack family who also built the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach. Other notable Monticello destinations were Esther Manor, Lewinters Bungalow Colony, Ideal Bungalow Colony, and the Delano Hotel.
Founded in 1907 as farm that took in summer boarders, Kutsher’s Country Club grew to become one of the pre-eminent resorts in the Borscht Belt. By the 1950s the hotel had significantly expanded - with the creation of more hotel rooms, a golf course, indoor and outdoor tennis courts, indoor and outdoor pools, an indoor ice skating, a health club, and various kids and teen programs. The hotel also offered winter sports such as snow tubing and skiing. Kutsher’s prided itself on setting itself apart from its competition via its emphasis on sports and entertainment.
During its heyday, Kutsher’s hosted a wide array of cultural icons, sport legends and famous performers such as Joan Rivers, Jerry Seinfeld and Billy Crystal. Musicians such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington often played the hotel’s Stardust Room. The hotel hosted boxers such as Muhammad Ali and basketball players such as Wilt Chamberlain, who began his career in basketball while working as a bellhop and playing on the hotel’s basketball team. Other boxing champions, such as Floyd Patterson and Leon Spinks trained at the hotel. Even athletes such as Joe DiMaggio once trained at the sports academy.
Kutsher’s also hosted the 2008, 2009, and 2010 U.S. editions of the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival where contemporary acts such as The Flaming Lips, Iggy Pop and Mazzy Star performed.
Kutsher’s is arguably the longest running resort in the Borscht Belt, having closed its doors in 2013. A documentary about Kutsher's Country Club titled Welcome to Kutsher’s was released in 2012. (https://www.kutshersdoc.com/)
Directed and Produced by Caroline Laskow & Ian Rosenberg, the documentary provides a a close up look at Kutsher's rise and fall, from its 100th anniversary season through the next seven years until the hotel is sold and demolished in 2014.
RETROSPECT by John Conway, July 27, 2018
In late July of 1973, the Sullivan County resort scene, reeling from the closures of dozens of large and small hotels for about eight years, found itself without one of its largest and most prestigious destinations. The Laurels Country Club on Sackett Lake– long one of the most innovative of the region’s resorts– had been padlocked by the Sheriff’s Department at the height of the tourist season.
The Laurels, the brainchild of Hyman and Sadie Novick, had started out modestly enough, but by the early 1930s, when Grossinger’s was just beginning to eclipse the Flagler as the Catskills’ premier resort and the Concord was not yet a twinkle in Arthur Winarick’s eye, the hotel with the unrivaled location on one of the county’s most beautiful sheets of water had already begun booking conventions. Organizations as diverse as the New York State Credit Union League, the New York Public Welfare Association, the Retail Workers Union of America and the Young Republicans would regularly gather at the Sackett Lake venue over the next four decades.
By the mid-1930s, the Laurels remained open all year around. They had Olympic speed skating trials on Sackett Lake and engaged in a highly publicized legal battle with arch-rival Grossinger’s – which they lost– over the services of world renown speed skater Irving Jaffee, who eventually became the director of winter sports at "the G" and set a speed skating record on Grossinger Lake.
By 1940, the hotel was advertising itself as "the smartest all-year-round playground in the Catskills for young folks." The Novick family– which by that time included sons Joseph and Ben and daughter Lillian Brezner– purchased the nearby Drake estate and built a picturesque golf course and ski area. The Laurels was so busy that in 1943, when the Defense Department imposed travel restrictions because of the war and the hotel was forced to cancel five conventions in the month of June alone, it didn’t miss a beat.
In 1949, when the Laurels opened its new outdoor pool, it announced that the pool was so large it was required by law to have three lifeguards on duty at all times. Grossinger’s had opened its own "Olympic sized pool" that summer, but there were few other pools in the region of that magnitude.
In the 1950s, the hotel made headlines when it became the first of the famed "Borscht Belt" resorts to offer lobster on its menu. By that time, the family had changed its name to Novack and Ben had long since left the hotel, eventually ending up in Miami Beach where he first renovated the Sans Souci and then built the magnificent Fontainebleau Hotel. When Joseph died in September of 1956, the Laurels accommodated more than 1500 guests, more than any other Sullivan County resort.
Under the direction of young Charles Novack, who had taken over as general manager, the Laurels became the place to go for late, late night entertainment, and its stage was often still occupied– and its 1000 seat nightclub still crowded– when the sun came up. It became such a popular hotspot that famous performers like Billy Eckstine would often walk on stage unannounced and put on an impromptu show.
Singer Robert Kole, who performed on Broadway in many shows, including "West Side Story," recalled in the 1991 book, "It Happened in the Catskills," that the Laurels "was one of the great places in the mountains. (It) catered to a young, swinging crowd, and probably more liquor was consumed and more babies conceived in that hotel than anywhere else in the mountains.
"I still remember one of the late, late shows I did there," Kole said. "Alfred and Lenore opened. Then I sang my medley of show tunes, mostly from "West Side Story" and "My Fair Lady" which were very popular then. Norton and Patricia followed me as the third act, and then Dick Shawn went on and did not walk off that stage until 5:45 in the morning. And nobody left."
But Sullivan County’s Golden Age hotels, with their nightclubs and indoor swimming pools, soon became site independent, and before long the edge that the Laurels had always enjoyed because of its spectacular location on the lake, where speed boats and water skiers once spent warm summer days, meant less and less. A succession of unseasonably warm winters wreaked havoc with the hotel’s winter sports schedule, often forcing cancellation of events such as the innovative MG sports car races held on the ice of the lake.
By the 1970s, Sullivan County’s heyday had passed; many hotels– including some large resorts such as the Youngs Gap in Parksville– had closed, and most others were struggling to survive. The Laurels had just 125 guests registered on July 20, 1973, when the operation came to a screeching halt. A State Supreme Court judge vacated a month long stay of foreclosure, allowing the hotel to be turned over to a receiver, attorney Morton Baum of Monticello.
"The Laurels Hotel, once a leading Catskills resort here, was seized by the Sullivan County sheriff, Joseph Wasser, in a foreclosure action that forced dozens of angry guests to find other accommodations," the New York Times announced the next day in a story with a Sackett Lake dateline. "The foreclosure had been initiated by members of the Kagan family of Woodridge, who hold mortgages totaling about $450,000 on the sprawling hotel, worth an estimated several million dollars.
"Although the hotel, which has its own golf course, lake and nightclub, can accommodate about 1200 guests at a time, there were only about 125 registered on its final day of operation."
Even those who doubted that the county’s Golden Age had come to an end, were finding it increasingly difficult to ignore the evidence.
Much of the Laurels was destroyed in a July, 1980 fire. Today, just the swimming pools and some crumbling foundations remain.
John Conway is the Sullivan County Historian and co-signor of the Marker Project. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Esther Manor was opened around 1905 and originally named the Albert House. Later opened by Irene Goldstein Asman and her sister Esther Goldstein Strassberg, Esther Goldstein Strassberg was the first Jewish employee of Sullivan County.
Esther Manor offered kosher accommodations and recreational activities such as panoramic views of the Catskills, a lake, billiards, boating, dancing, fishing, golf, softball, volleyball, pingpong, archery, badminton, and tennis. During the 1960s hotel underwent extensive renovations that included a new lobby, indoor swimming pool, a health club with steam rooms, a card and television room, cocktail lounge and nightclub, air conditioned dining room and fully air conditioned rooms with wall-to-wall carpeting, bedside telephones and showers adorned in colorful ceramic tile. In addition, the hotel operated a day camp, which also accommodated guests at night.
Esther Manor is where singer and pianist Neil Sedaka got his start, and also met his wife, who was the daughter of the resort’s owners. Neil Sedaka credits Sullivan County with starting him on the path to a six-decade career in show business.“
Going to the mountains was a big thing,” he has said. “We stopped at the Red Apple Rest, of course, and I had my hot dog.”
Sedaka learned to ski at local skihill Holiday Mountain, went for Chinese food at Bernie’s in Rock Hill, and worked with Jackie Mason, who was then social director at Esther Manor. He distinctly remembers the “knockers” on the tables of the Concord that the guests used to show their appreciation for the music.
“If the audience didn’t like you, they’d walk out,” Sedaka explained. “But they’d eaten so much for dinner they couldn’t clap, so they’d use the knockers.” Sedaka went on to play the Nevele, Grossinger’s, the Pines, the Raleigh, the Concord. He later wrote his number hit "Laughter in the Rain" at his home in the Town of Forestburgh, just down the road from Esther Manor.
On March 23, 1970, Esther Manor was sold to Weight Watchers Resorts & Spas and then to the Maimonides Institute on May 22, 1974. The Institute had been established to assist mentally handicapped children and young adults. The resort was then sold to Hadar Hatorah on November 30, 1979, when it became a rabbinical seminary and summer camp for Hasidic Jewish children. and then to the Wheatley Wood Development Corporation on November 16, 1984.
Esther Manor later reopened as Camp David, another summer camp for Hasidic Jewish children. The camp temporarily reopened as Camp Shalva of Bobov before being abandoned circa 2012.
Borscht Belt Historical Marker Project aims to present these extended stories to as the most accurate and inclusive as possible. If you have more information or a memory about the town or a particular hotel, bungalow colony, or camp that we may have missed, please drop us a line!
Broadway Mansion (aka Liebermann's)
Chernick's Sunset Villa
Clover Hill Hotel
Colin's Maple Grove
Colonial Park Hotel
Delano Hotel (formerly Rose Glow)
Esther Manor (formerly Beauty Maple House)
Frank Leslie Hotel
Goldenberg's Pleasant View House
Grand View Mountain House
Harmony Country Club (now Kutsher's Sports Academy)
Kutsher's Country Club
Lakeside Mountain House
Little Hungarian Hotel
Maple Shade Hotel
Monticello Inn (once Mansion House)
Park View Hotel
Pine Lodge Hotel
Pine Tree Villa
Spring Lake Hotel
Star Mountain Hotel
Victoria Hotel (formerly Curley)
Wolf's Corner Hotel
Courtesy of Phil Brown and the Catskills Institute
Alpine (previously Appelbaum's)
Anawana Beach Colony (later part of Kutsher's)
Babette's Country Club
Beverly Hills Country Club
BunAlan (later part of Clearview)
Candlewood Cottages (formerly Klein's)
Castle Hill Country Club
Cedar Hill Bungalows
Cedar Lane (later merged w/ Ideal)
Chicko (later part of Kutsher's)
Circle 10 (formerly Castle Hill)
Clearview Mountain Country Club
Cohen's Clover House
Crescent Lake (formerly Gurney)
Doralee (formerly Stein's); Kreitzer's; and Starlite
Feit's (previously Pardes)
Fenster's (formerly Lilac Farms, later LaSalla's)
Five Star Cottages
Goldblatt's Bungalow Colony
Hide A Way
High View Gardens
Hirsch's (later Vance's)
Holiday Mountain (became part of Clearview Mountain Country Club in 1967)
Jerry & Elaine's Woodland Cottages
Kantor's Kottages (later Miami Cottages)
Kaufman's Hillway View
Kreitzer's (later Kofsky's)
Kudman's Bungalow Colony
Liberty Resort Bungalows
Linksman's (later Utopia Villa)
Mason's (now Sepharady's)
Monticello Country Club
Parmet Country Club
Sadownick (previously Spring Lake House Hotel)
Sam's Bungalow Colony
Schneider's (previously Strolowitz's)
Sims (now Liberty Road Cottages)
Ten Little Indians (formerly Sator's)
Town and Country
Turkin's Bungalow Colony
Winding Brook Farm
Courtesy of Phil Brown and the Catskills Institute
Trailer for Caroline Laskow & Ian Rosenberg's 2012 Documentary Film: Welcome to Kutsher's: the Last Catskills Resort
A last look at Kutsher's Country Club during its 100 anniversary in 2007.
Newsreel of Maurice Stokes Basketball Game at Kutsher's Country Club
Mark Kutsher discusses his family's hotel Kutsher's Country Club. Produced by the Ethelbert B. Crawford Library
Sullivan County Historian, John Conway and Journalist, Barry Lewis discuss the History and remains of the Laurels Country Club
8mm Film of the outdoor pool at the Laurels.