Posts Tagged ‘Milton Kutsher’

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.



The Wreck of the Red Apple

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

By Jeffrey Page

Once, the Red Apple Rest, halfway between Manhattan and the Catskills, was the perfectly located lunch stop on Route 17. It was a bustling place, where the men behind the counter would slap a hot dog onto a bun and, before you could reach for the plate, they’d be barking “Next!”

Though the opening of the Thruway reduced the crowds at the Red Apple, the place carried on for several years and the parking lots always had a respectable presence of cars and buses. There was something about the place, maybe the whimsical huge red apple that sat on the roof, that made people feel a little younger. Or maybe it was moms and dads with children remembering when their own folks took them to the Red Apple when they were kids.

Once, my family and I stopped on our way home to Liberty and I spotted Harry Seletsky in the parking lot doing a kind of waltz in tribute to his chocolate ice cream cone while slowing down every few seconds to take another lick. At the time, Harry was a Sullivan County elections commissioner and the chairman of the Sullivan County Republican Committee. You would not pay public homage to an ice cream cone in Monticello or South Fallsburg. But at the Red Apple Rest, it was all right.

The bill of fare was unquestionably slightly Jewish. The Apple’s vegetable soup with barley was renowned. It was one of a few places where you could order tomato herring sandwiches on onion rolls, or skinless and boneless sardines on pumpernickel. In spring, around Passover, the Red Apple served gefilte fish and matzoh, as well as leavened bread. Knishes were a fzvorite.

And always there was ice cream and custard, and what seemed like dozens of varieties of Danishes and muffins.

Another attraction was the presence of Mr. Reuben Freed, who opened the place in 1931. He did not sit in an office. He did not glad hand everyone who entered. Instead, Freed would clear tables – this in a suit and tie; always the suit and tie – greet long-time patrons, find tables for people with young children, and make sure no one on staff was malingering. He was in his eighties when I first saw him at work.

The crowds diminished as the resorts of Sullivan and Ulster Counties diminished. In an often used line, Milt Kutsher of the third generation of owners of the hotel bearing his name, once asked me, “You want to know what killed the Mountains? Air conditioning and airplanes.” They helped kill the Red Apple Rest as well.

In 1985, the Freeds of Monroe sold the place, and the crowds shrank some more. It might have said “Red Apple” in big letters on the side of the building, but it just wasn’t the same place. You’d walk in for breakfast and see maybe one guy sitting alone at a table finishing his eggs and coffee. Or you’d notice the stack of unsold newspapers. Even on weekends you no longer had to wait for a table.

The buyer of the Red Apple was Peter Kourakos; he closed down in 2006. One year later, officials condemned the building and it’s been going to seed ever since.

I mention all this because I was heading north on Route 17 the other day when I got to Southfields and saw the ghost of the Red Apple Rest. Most of the paint is gone. The big red apple up on the roof is gone. The big red lettering of RED APPLE REST on the building is crumbling. So is the invitation WASH ROOMS – though the fact is that even in the Apple’s last days under Freed family rule, the men’s room was by no means appealing. 

The building is surrounded by fencing. The front door seems to be falling apart. A bit of unintended irony is a sign on the door warning customers that they must wear shirts and shoes if they expected to be served.

The roof, which used to be a bright crimson, now is gray with a million flecks of red paint peeling off. You get the sense that one stiff wind would knock the place over. The day that happens, nothing will be left but the memories.