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LES Photo Show Captures Borscht Belt's Crumbling Beauty

By Serena Solomon | August 9, 2013 9:06am
 As a teenager, photographer Marisa Scheinfel worked in one of the last operating resorts.
The Ruins of the Borscht Belt
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LOWER EAST SIDE — A photographer who captured the crumbling beauty of the mostly abandoned Borscht Belt — a vacation spot that at its height offered 600 Catskills resorts to vacationing Jewish New Yorkers — will speak about her experiences at an event on the Lower East Side Sunday.

Photographer Marisa Scheinfeld, 32, who is behind the photo exhibit "The Ruins of the Borscht Belt," will discuss growing up in the Catskills and working as a teenager in one of the last operating resorts during its final years.

The photos, which capture some the former glory of these huge resorts as nature begins to reclaim them, are on display at the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy Kling and Niman Family Visitor Center at 400 Grand St. until mid-September.

"It was a social place where people returned every single year — they met their partners, expanded their families," said Scheinfeld, an Upper East Side resident. "It was a really great place where memories were made."

Working on a project for her Master of Fine Arts at San Diego State University, Scheinfeld took the advice to "shoot what you know" and went back to her hometown, tracking down what was left of the disintegrating Borscht Belt.

The resorts were the sets of movies such as "Dirty Dancing" and "Sweet Lorraine." Their huge entertaining halls helped launch the careers of comics including Joan Rivers and Woody Allen.

But the resorts began to decline in popularity, as vacationers began to travel farther afield, and the shuttered hotels soon disintegrated.

While Scheinfeld knew about a handful of the closed resorts, older residents in the area showed her more and she found additional locations using the satellite maps of Google Earth.

"You would see two stone pillars with an overgrown driveway and if you walked into the woods a bit you would find an empty drained pool," said Scheinfeld, who captured her derelict subjects in all four seasons.

Some resorts had been completely razed and others still had giant intact canopies for heir ice-skating rinks. A few have found new life as vacation homes.

"It is really a metaphor for the process of life," Scheinfeld said. "Everything has a birth and death, and in between there are very beautiful things, but also very dark things."

Marisa Scheinfeld will hold a talk about "The Ruins of the Borscht Belt" Aug. 11 at 11 a.m. at 400 Grand St. There is a suggested donation of $5.