While making plans to visit my family in upstate NY this October, fellow photographer Andy Wheeler and I began concocting ideas for our ideal photo-adventure. Andy did lots of research and by the time I flew in to the Elmira airport he had a nice sized list of places we could go. One location however jumped off the page at both of us: Grossinger’s Resort in the Catskill mountains. The history of Grossinger’s is a long one, so here’s the short version: “Grossinger’s was founded by Asher Selig Grossinger who moved to the Catskills in the 1900’s. The location grew and he turned ownership over to his daughter. The resort thrived for many years as a prime vacation spot for the rich. Grossinger’s daughter died in 1972, but by this time the resort had grown to a “sprawling complex of 35 buildings on 1200 acres that served 150,000 guests a year. It had it’s own airstrip and post office. But in the late 1970’s and 1980’s, resorts like Grossinger’s… could no longer attract younger guests. Grossinger’s closed in 1986, and only the golf course remains.” (Quote courtesy of http://www.catskillarchive.com/grossinger/index.htm) To us, the prospect of exploring the abandoned decaying ruins of a massive location such as this was too good to pass up.
My plane flew in on Saturday night, and first thing Sunday morning Andy and I headed out to Liberty NY to go explore the resort. It was a 2 1/2 hour drive from Elmira NY to Liberty, but we spent about 45 minutes driving back and forth across Liberty until we were able to track down the location. Not really sure about the legality of potentially trespassing on the land, we spent a few minutes driving around the surrounding areas trying to figure out the best place to stash our car and make a subtle sneaky entrance onto the property. We parked behind a large utility truck next to a warehouse on the back side of the still functioning golf course.
We unpacked our gear and followed the road to the back edge of the golf course. We headed towards the looming buildings in the distance as the grass and shrubs grew taller and denser. The first building we passed was a club house for the tennis courts. Peering through the shattered windows we could see trash and rubble all around. Old tennis ads from the 70’s/80’s still adorned the walls. We continued on down the hill towards the ever growing complex. Waist high grass, debris, and downed electrical wire covered the ground which was swampy in places.
The first large building we came to, part of the old hotel, was about 4 stories tall.
An open emergency exit revealed little to the naked eye but rubble in darkness. It was at this point that Andy realized that we forgot to pack flashlights. After deciding not to enter that particular part of the complex we continued around the outside of the building. About 50 yards away we came to another entrance that opened up into a large two story open room. Our best guess was that this area must have been a lobby for the banquet hall. Shattered ceiling tiles littered the floor, cracked and split, but undisturbed from the time when they had once fallen.
Other rubble was mixed into the piles of debris that we stepped through to get a good view of the room. Hundreds of old bowls and dining accessories from the kitchen lay strewn about.
We explored the immediate area without delving too far into the darkness.
We didn’t spend too long there as we had seen some amazing pictures taken from a decaying indoor swimming pool, and we really wanted to find that location and explore it. Looking out from the door we entered through, we saw that the brush was extremely thick around the outside of the building. We chose to cut through a large room, crossing over to another door on the far side where we saw some daylight shining in. The room was massive, two stories tall, and about the size of a football field. As we crossed through the darkness towards the daylight emanating from the exit on the other side, we speculated that this must have been a ballroom, used for huge events and parties. The room was mostly free from debris and the floor was a solid concrete foundation.
We exited the building and made our way up a steep embankment, crossing a small paved road that led up to the golf course. Careful to not be seen, we jogged towards a small greenhouse farther up the hill. The small anteroom was strewn with trash. We poked our heads through the door into the greenhouse itself and viewed a beautiful scene of plants, vines, and weeds, growing out of control, up to the ceiling of the room.
An old phone and scattered papers lay strewn about the room.
After shooting the greenhouse we back tracked down the hill and came upon what seemed to be a loading dock area next to the old boiler room building.
A monstrous pile of junk and debris was heaped between the buildings here and as if beckoning for a photo-op, an old wooden chair sat out in the middle of the courtyard in front of the junk pile. You can tell we are hardcore because of the wicked cool font I chose for our names! There are SKULLS in it!
We were having a blast, but at this point we were really getting anxious to see the fabled indoor swimming pool. Not knowing exactly where it was we continued around the outskirts of the complex. Just as we rounded the corner we saw it! The Pool!!! Magnificent two story glass windows surrounded three fourths of the pool. We rushed to the main outdoor entrance only to find it fully blocked and boarded up. As we began walking around the outside of the building we noticed an emergency exit door on the far corner of the building. The only problem was, there were no stairs. The door opened onto a small ledge that ran the full length around the building; however the ledge was easily 10 feet high and less than a foot wide. With all of our camera gear and the lack of good sturdy climbing trees, this was not going to be an easy option. We opted to fully circle the building to see if we could locate any other access. There were no other simple ways to get in from the ground level that we could see. It was at this point that we realized that up to now, we had not seen or heard any animals of any kind. Then, as if taking from a Hitchcock movie, a murder of large crows began circling above us, cawing loudly, as if to warn us that this was their domain and we should be warned. As we pondered our next move we noticed a glass entry way leading into an adjoining building.
The glass entrance gave way to a large vacant room, with large ‘trenches’ running the full length of the room that revealed pipes lying in the bottoms.
We crossed some planks over the trenches into what at one point, was the Coffee Shop and soda fountain area. A row of beautifully decaying green bar stools faced the wall of the room. The chairs were all still bolted in the floor and were textured with rust, mildew, and grime from years of neglect. Tattered red upholstery peeked from beneath the chairs offering a beautiful compliment to the vivid green vinyl of the chairs.
Comparison shot of what the bar area/coffee shop used to look like (different angle):
We walked back outside, pondering our dilemma of gaining access to the indoor pool. As we walked back around the pool building we passed under a second story hallway/catwalk that ran about 100 feet from the second story of the decaying hotel to the top level of the pool. This was going to be our only option. Nervously, we inspected the bottom of the raised hallway, we noted that it was made completely out of wood. Luckily for the most part it showed no signs of water damage save for one 5 by 10 foot segment that looked very rotted and decayed. We headed into the hotel building and climbed the stairs into the second floor. I poked my head in one of the hotel rooms on the second floor only to be smacked in the face by an overwhelming stench of mold and decay. I also noticed some graffiti which read “Jesus took LSD and thought he was ME”…Interesting…
A pair of steel swinging doors opened up into the raised wooden hallway which was littered with planks and boards which had fallen off the walls and ceiling.
We knew the decaying area was close to our end and we figured going one at a time would be a wise idea. Andy volunteered…me….Suddenly wishing I had not eaten those super-sized fries on the drive out, I timidly inched my way out into the hallway. Staying as close to the wall as possible I crept forward…one foot at a time…listening, and feeling. After I had made it about 10 feet, I put my foot down and felt it SINK as the floor flexed under my weight. Since I had already transferred my weight to that foot, I was committed, I screamed like a little girl (just kidding) leaped forward past the decaying area on to what I hoped was a sturdier part of the hallway. At this point, with my heart racing, and legs shaking, I was not about to stop moving, and I speed walked safely to the other end of the hallway. Andy was able to cross safely, now knowing the treacherous spots. Still, I am sure it was a little more than nerve racking for him to cross that same area.
We stepped through the doors at the end of the hallway and feasted our eyes on a truly magnificent scene. What we saw was the epitome of beauty in decay.
The massive indoor pool sat in the middle of the two story room surrounded by 20-30 feet of red and white checker board tiled floor, out of which grew lush moss, ferns, and grasses. Lounge chairs still adorned the green outskirts of the pool like broken Christmas ornaments on a tree hastily thrown out on the curb. From floor to ceiling, the still intact giant glass windows shone the mid day sun, which glowed off everything giving a warm nostalgic feel to the entire room.
Comparison shot of the pool:
Gigantic wooden beams ran up the walls and across the ceiling leading the eye to the rows and banks of lights that at one point lit up the room at night. From the ceiling hung beautiful art deco chandeliers straight out of the 70’s. As we walked around the pool gazing at the decadent beauty that surrounded us, particularly the vegetation, we noticed that for the most part, the moss seemed to grow only on the red tiles. This made for a strange checkerboard effect, the likes of which we had never seen before!
As we shot the room from all different angles, we heard noises echoing through the building. What must have been parts of the building falling and breaking off on distant floors, occasionally echoed through cavernous room, giving the feeling that the building indeed was alive and aware of our presence. Water trickled down from the leaky roof spattering on the floor around us.
Before we left I could not resist getting a picture of myself sitting in the bottom of the pool!
We successfully crossed back over the decaying hallway and continued our circle around the outskirts of the complex.
We passed by another few large hotel buildings on the west side.
Another shot to compare:
As we neared the first building we entered on the way in we discovered the outdoor swimming pool on the north west side of the complex.
Outdoor pool comparison:
Inside the power box at the outdoor poolside bar I discovered that the only breaker labeled was the beer cooler! This must have been party central!
Andy led us down some stairs at the end of the pool and we discovered the pool’s pump room below. We figured this was a good time to don our masks. We entered the room which was filled with decaying pool chairs stacked all around. Giant pipes, pumps, and tanks lined the far wall of the room.
Large industrial sized canisters sat on the floor in front of the tanks. Presumably at one point they held chlorine or other pool cleaning chemicals, but they had long since leaked out onto the floor, leaving a powdery snow-like substance which made us glad that we had masks.
We walked back up around the pool and headed towards the tennis courts and clubhouse. The office part of the clubhouse was utterly destroyed with papers and junk littering the floor, but the ‘den’ area was open with a few old couches and random junk spaced around.
An old pay phone hung on the wall next to the entrance.
We found an old panel that at one point controlled the lights and heat(?) on the tennis courts.
Stairs leading out of the clubhouse:
We headed up to the tennis courts and were witness to an amazing sight of birch trees growing up through cracks in the court. The interesting thing was that there was a straight line of trees growing directly across both courts where the tennis nets used to be!
We headed back to our car, thrilled and exhausted from an exciting afternoon photographing these amazing modern ruins.
While exploring and observing the decaying glory of what was once a beautiful thriving location, we could not help but feel that Grossinger’s was still alive. While it was obviously in a state of decay, it was autumn here. It was past the point where its shiny facade glistened in the sunlight, but it had yet to arrive at a state of complete entropy and ruin. If the resort was a living being, it gave the impression that it was still waking up each morning, still putting on its makeup, still trying to look good for its guests, but all the while slowly falling apart. Around every corner we could still see and imagine the beauty that once was. We could envision guests strolling around walkways lined with gardens and flowers, we could see people lounging in deck chairs next to the pool and jumping off the diving board. Grossinger’s physical beauty was slowly crumbling and dying, but its spirit was still very much alive.
This is an aerial map showing the path we took while exploring Grossinger’s:
View more of my work and purchase prints at The Digital Mirage
Map Provided By Andy Wheeler [email protected]
Comparison Photographs provided by Joe Lehman http://www.joe4speed.com/grossingers.htm