The Pines Hotel
South Fallsburg, NY
You can listen to the podcast version of this story here.
Just over 48 hours ago, we lost an abandoned space that was monumental to my growth as an explorer and storyteller.
So, I guess you could call this a eulogy, of sorts.
Today is Monday, June 19, 2023. 48 hours ago, The Pines Resort, one of the many iconic, abandoned, but still-intact Borscht Belt hotels, burned to the ground. The night sky of South Fallsburg, NY was lit up by the flames of a two alarm fire that ravaged the property, which closed in 1998 after falling on hard times, economically and infrastructurally, which happened to most of the hotels in the area.
Actually, quick history lesson, in case you’re unfamiliar with the Borscht Belt, also known as the Jewish Alps. It was a chunk of land on the Allegheny Plateau — which most people know as the Catskill Mountains, even though they’re not technically mountains — that housed over 100 Jewish-owned-and-operated-and-attended resorts and hotels, as well as many other types of summer bungalows and colonies, all of which were built as a safe haven where Jewish people could vacation throughout the year.
It’s a queer feeling to mourn the loss of a history that has nothing to do with me, but I guess that’s a huge part of what All-American Ruins is: deep feelings about a time or place that isn’t yours, isn’t mine, isn’t ours.
The first time I visited the abandoned Pines Resort, it was June, muggy, hot.
I was wearing a thick-dark blue cotton tank top that would’ve been comfortable on the beach in the sea breeze right at dusk when the air doesn’t know what temperature it should be because it, like the rest of us, is mesmerized by the golden hour — but — the first time I visited the Pines, it wasn’t a sea breeze day, not that June day in 2021, easing into pandemic summer number two, vaccinated and hopeful, opting for a quick drive up into the Catskill Mountains, where, each time I go, which is a lot, I always hope to catch a glimpse of Rip van Winkle, or at least his poor wife, who nobody ever talks about despite the fact that her storyline is, if you ask me, far more tragic than his. I mean, imagine losing your already deadbeat (but delightful) husband to the ghosts of the mountains which aren’t even really mountains, not geologically-speaking, anyway, for those rolling crops of rock that barrel westward in New York are really just stand-ins, costumes, imposters, facades pretending to be mountains when they’re really nothing more than a part of the Allegheny Plateau, which is basically just a chunk of earth that is split into both glaciated and un-glaciated portions of the Appalachian Mountains, an actual mountain range.
But, I’m getting distracted.
I stood at the entrance on that June Day in 2021 and dreamed about what lay before me, the amazing places my imagination was going to go, the sacred ground that was going to hold all of my emotional and spiritual weight from a year and change into a global pandemic. It took me a moment, gazing up at the regal building, right in front the former main entrance, until I finally made my way inside after standing outside for what felt like hours, as several small groups of Hasidic Jewish people passed to and from, next my car, which was parked in an empty field in front of the hotel.
But once I finally got inside, I immediately noticed how regular it all seemed. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it was extraordinary in its own right as these places usually are. But I had expected some kind of extra feeling that day. I was still flying high on my recent vaccination for Covid — and what’s more, I always feel so much happier in the summer, but the only thing that happened when I walked into the space was that I dropped into my body, the way I always do inside any given abandoned space that I’ve been summoned to explore. I centered myself and walked amongst the ghosts the way I always do, scoping out the path that I would eventually lead my friend Julie down when we came back the next time, together.
And within seconds, I found myself completely lost inside a time warp, swept up by the vast story of the Borscht Belt and everything it stands for culturally and socially and personally. Because despite the fact that it wasn’t built for my safe haven-ing, it became my sanctuary, one of many cathedrals of safety and serenity during a particularly dark time in my life, and certainly in the wake of the modern world.
It was all there, the beds and the lamps and the dishes and the pamphlets in the storage closet where I found job applications and employee safety manuals and hangars and the remnants of what life used to be like, little, inanimate phantoms that stayed while humanity drifted on. I remember the concrete bridge over the pool outside next to the remains of the theater, connecting once side of the pool deck to the other, where, for a moment, I watched the apparitions of guests-long gone float around and laugh and feel seen and understood and in community.
And I think that, aside from all of that, to know that this space — a space that has meant so much, to so many people, for so many reasons, spanning so many decades — has now just simply evaporated, claimed by the already raging Northern Hemisphere fires of the 2023 summer — well.
There’s no other way to put it. It is a loss. A monumental loss. I would’ve liked to have said goodbye, and I know many people out there would too, but that’s impossible now. The insurance money will be collected. The scraps, such as they are, will be leveled. And the disputes over property ownership will likely continue as they have since the Pines shuttered its windows and locked its doors for good a quarter of a century ago.
But something that fire can never, ever steal are the memories that will remain, as long as the stories that were created and lived inside this magnificent gem continue to be shared. All of them — mine included. Testaments to the lives before us, to the successes and the failures behind us, to the love that was shared in this place of triumph and community.
Farewell, oh sweet Pines Resort in South Fallsburg, New York. You were truly the perfect All-American Ruin.