Theses Master's

“In The Mountains”: Neglected Resort Architecture and the Imperative of Preserving Jewish Cultural Legacy in the Borscht Belt

Dressler, Naomi

Throughout the twentieth century, the Western Catskills became home to a thriving Jewish summer resort industry commonly referred to as “The Borscht Belt.” Born out of the influx of Jewish immigrants into New York City and the flourishing anti-semitism that resulted, the Borscht Belt offered an Eden for Jewish vacationers looking to escape the harsh realities of city life. In the Mountains, Jews of all social backgrounds gathered and played within the hundreds of resorts and thousands of bungalows dotting Sullivan and Ulster Counties, celebrating their culture and curating what it meant to be a Jewish American. For many Jewish immigrants, life in the Borscht Belt was their first experience in leisure.

Despite the colorful histories of the Borscht Belt that live on through the collective memories of its past user groups, the architectural landscape of Jewish resort buildings has been neglected by community landowners and Historic Preservation practices over time. The Borscht Belt is often noted for its significant contributions to American culture through comedy and media, but little emphasis is placed upon the physical spaces that provided this underrepresented group safety from an unwelcoming world.

This master’s thesis argues for the significance of Borscht Belt hotels through methods of historical and archival research, oral histories, site visits, and more. Using two representative case studies, the thesis identifies the primary preservation challenges faced by Catskills resort architecture. These highly vulnerable buildings have been systematically neglected over decades, leading to widespread destruction through both accidental and intentional means. As sites of inarguable cultural heritage and unique architectural interest, it is essential that the extant Borscht Belt resorts be adequately reframed and reassessed to reflect their historical importance and speak to the story of Jewish American integration.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Historic Preservation
Thesis Advisors
Kose, Bilge
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
May 29, 2024