Posts Tagged ‘Concord Hotel’

Kutsher’s R.I.P,

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

By Jeffrey Page

Grossinger’s was gone. The Concord was gone. The Brickman, Brown’s and scores more as well. But Kutsher’s, with its more than 400 guest rooms, soldiered on before finally giving up the ghost. Earlier this month, the auction sale that seems to accompany all dying Catskill resorts, was held.

This was the last of the great ones, the place where Helen Kutsher, who died last year at 89, used to greet returning guests with “Welcome home.” Recently, Kutsher’s, facing the humiliation of a break in its roof and snow on its floor, slipped away after bidders bought all matter of Kutsher’s stuff. Plans call for the hotel to be razed and replaced by a health spa and resort, reportedly a $90 million venture. Why do I think that herring, lox and cheese danishes will be replaced by quinoa, kale and tofu?

These hotel auctions are attended by people wanting a piece of the old Catskills, which thrived during their now-ended Kosher Century. At the height of their popularity with primarily Jewish clienteles there were close to 500 such resorts in Sullivan County alone. Bidders want menus, furniture, kitchen equipment, memorabilia, anything actually, and all the better if it bears the name of the dead hotel. But such named pieces aren’t always available.

A number of years ago, when the Concord had gasped its last, we attended one of these sales and went home with an enormous metal mixing bowl. It was battered and dented, emblazoned with nothing identifying it as from the Concord. But we knew its origin. Once, it might have been used to mix potato pancake batter. Nowadays we use it to catch rain water from a leaky chimney.

At the Kutsher’s sale some people were interested in a walk-in refrigerator, which eventually went for $650, according to a compelling story in The Times Herald-Record. Others bought sports goods, perhaps remembering the late Milton Kutsher’s love of all games, but especially basketball. And so, the Record said, a basketball signed by Bob Cousy went for $250. Same price for a baseball signed by Sandy Koufax.

Milt Kutsher – Helen’s husband, and one of the nicer guys in the hospitality industry – died in 1998. But there are people who’d swear Kutsher’s the institution could never die. After all, it might have been the first kosher resort in Sullivan County and lasted a century. It opened in 1907, seven years before the storied Grossinger’s, which always seemed to get more publicity than Kutsher’s.

But there were quiet, unreported stories of Kutsher’s, the kind that families love to tell and re-tell. In New York around 1915, Mr. Elias Blau was to be married to Miss Rose Weicholz. Mr. Blau believed Miss Weicholz was simply too skinny and so decided that in order to get her to gain some weight, he would send her to Kutsher’s to do some serious eating. The resort, run in those days by Max Kutsher and his brother Lou – Milton’s father and uncle – did the trick for Rose and whichever family member it was who accompanied her to the mountains. Rose was happy. She ate enough so that when she returned to Brooklyn, Elias was happy.

Milt Kutsher was delighted when I told him this story roughly 60 years after the fact. “The kitchen did it every time,” he said.

Kutsher’s guests had a never-ending appetite and that kitchen was designed to keep them happy, and sated. Something else that kept guests coming back was the sight of Helen or Milt patrolling the lobby and greeting vacationers by name and asking about their trip up from the city.

Milt Kutsher, who took over the place after World War II, always seemed to be the prescient owner who understood what the public wanted. He booked top name entertainment, created a sports academy whose instructors’ names were usually found on the sports pages, and made his hotel the home court for the annual Maurice Stokes basketball game. Stokes was the NBA all-star who died of a brain injury at 36. The game was a fundraiser to make Stokes’ last years bearable and affordable.

One view of the downfall of the resort industry held that some hotel keepers failed because they didn’t keep up with the competition. One owner, for example, believing there was money to be made as a winter resort as well as a summer place would install an indoor pool, and woe to the hotels that didn’t keep up.

But there were other causes. There was the much quoted line – often attributed to Milt Kutsher, but not necessarily his own – about the fate of the industry. “You want to know what killed the mountains? Air conditioning and airplanes,” he told me sometime during the seventies, a time when the bigger hotels were still hanging on.

All of a sudden, the hot summers of New York could be tamed, and all of a sudden, a summer trip to Paris or Rome seemed more exciting than playing Simon Says in Monticello.

Then, it was only a matter of time.