The Ruins of the Laurels Hotel and Country Club
September 1, 1998
You can't go home again.
I went back to the future this week. Added to my disparate encounters on the East Coast I decided to relive a summer haunt of my youth, The Laurels Hotel and Country Club.
Situated in the old "Borscht Belt" of upstate New York on Sackett Lake, near Monticello, this was one of many stellar weekend and summer retreats of the overworked and the lonely down state.
In the early Sixties while I was in college I earned a few extra bucks (and thrills) by working at the hotel in various guises- a bell boy, busboy, a swimming instructor and finally where the real money was- as a waiter. The main rewards of these endeavors included great hotel food, wonderful new friends and a guaranteed flock of exhilarated, nimble and conveniently short term companions once every seven days. Week after week after week.
With raging hormones and not really in the market for a wife at eighteen- I dove right in. Best of all I never knew who was going to show up next.
So, thirty years later, with my mind conveniently filtering out the disagreeable, remembrances of things past was looking pretty good. Wanting to somehow relive my lost youth, if only through a quick visceral rendezvous, I decided to take the hop and see what I could see. Hey, I had not been there in over three decades.
Well Bucko, you can't go home again. At least I could not.
Tried though I might I looked real hard but I could not find the Hotel. How could this be? After retracing the same path that my genes held the map to, I saw not a country club, but woods and more woods and weeds.
What happened? And, where was my hotel?
I would not give up. I could not give up. Finally I managed to find the pitted old main entrance road, or what was left of it. It was hardly recognizable but I realized what it was, like an archaeologist, because it was still adorned with the small concrete square that once held the old guard house that "Mike the Cop" had presided in.
Was there nothing else left?
I parked and trekked in until I finally found the only remnant still enduring...the once great and noble outdoor swimming pool. This blue oasis where I had once frolicked, performed diving exhibitions and had cuddled with my honey was now a gaping and desperately quiet ruin.
I saw many ghosts.
The Laurels "Olympic" Pool in its glory ---- (Thank you Vico Confino)
Postcard from the past ~ the indoor pool at the Laurels.
The Laurels Hotel Sackett Lake on Facebook !
Just added! For all you die hard Laurels aficionados- Jeff Pardo's
serious complete series of photo laden Laurels brochures... a collector's
paradise.. it's 29 mb... a compressed .zip file...GO FOR IT! --> HERE
Dec. 11, 2009
Thought you might like to see these.
I was the last band leader there in 1974. They still owe me money!
Nov. 14, 2009
Hi Robert:I can't believe I came across this web-site. Wow !!! I worked at the Laurels Hotel with two friends in 1961. We ran the switchboard. We all came from a small town (Montrose,Pa.) and it was a culture shock for me because I had never met any Jewish people before. But I soon became friends with many, Arlene Levine who worked in the beauty shop and Barbara Patron I think she worked in the office.. I remember well Bursnie, Bursin (bell Captain)
And I fell in love for the first time @ the Laurels with Sal Bonavita he was a bell hop... I also remember getting in trouble sleeping in the lobby one night,because I was working 11 to 7 am and it was dead about 2 in the morning.. Some body told Miriam Spears and I got hell... All my time off was spent in the pool or practicing dancing, that was when Latin dancing was all the rage.. I worked from Passover to Sept. At 19 It was one the greatest experiences of my life..
Living in the staff housing was the pits, We were eventually moved to the down stairs of the Pierre, we all loved that... When I left in Sept. it was the saddest day of my life... I also remember Arlene Novak's gloriously handsome Italian husband Vic... I saw Jackie Mason, Lucile Ball , and so many bands.. It was a wonderful summer....... Sincerely Rosalee (Cease) Rychlicki
Nov. 11, 2009
I lived two Laurels lives. The first was as a guest, We had a house on the Lake, next to Unick’s Boats, and bought summer passes into the hotel. We spent nearly every day there and got to know a lot of the staff…sort of as mascots. Saw lots of shows and stayed up way, way too late far too often.
We also played many, many rounds of golf at the hotel’s nine hole course.
I then worked there for a few years (1967-69) as a bar waiter while in college. (Remember the 18 year old drinking age?) It was during the last year that I met my wife. We will be celebrating our 40th anniversary next year.
We kept the house until my father died in 1976 and I moved to California the same year. I loved it, particularly in the late spring and the fall. We sold it to a friend of ours, but have only been back once…seeing the sad remains of what was a place of a million memories.
November 30, 2008
From an old Laurels bellhop 1957-1962
Just read your site regarding The Laurels. What great memories. I first worked there as a bellhop while in high school in 1957. I worked through college, always as a bellhop. What experiences!
Off the top of my head I remember Burnsie, Mike-Mike the Cop-Cop, the Laquana Cuban Boys, Arlene Novak, Miriam and Jerry Spier at the desk, and the elegant Gladys Novack. The bell captain was Robert Berzin. What characters there were. Anybody out there have similar memories? I can think of many more.
September 4, 2008
I came across your web-site about the Laurels when I searching for images of the hotel. My family has had a summer bungalow on Sackett Lake since 1969. I never stayed at the Laurels but visited many times and have lots of memories.
We used to sneak in to swim in both the indoor and outdoor pools and skate in the ice skating rink. My family would go to the high holiday services every year. My brother learned to water ski at the Laurels and finally it closed down when I was 12 years old.
I remember being serenaded every night by the night club performers. I could hear them perform as I fell asleep and the lights from the night club would light up the lake.
My friends and I used to walk around the property after it closed down, it seemed like such a large complex. That same year I stood on my dock and watched it burn. The smoke covered the top of the lake and our dock was at least 200 yards away but I could still feel the heat from the flames. The flames towered over the buildings and trees, there were at least seven fire trucks that pulled up to the lake and pumped the lake water since there was no other source of water to fight the fire with.
A few years later my friends father started a petition and forced the Monticello Fire Department to systematically take it down building after building and burn the remains in a controlled fire.
This past summer I took my 10 year old son and his friend and we walked through the property. We saw a snapping turtle living in the outdoor pool. Its difficult to explain to people how massive a complex it was when all that is left are the two pools.
While it is sad that the hotel closed and almost nothing remains, the lake is much quieter and that side of the lake is quite nice, although the dilapidated boardwalk along the lake is an eye sore.
There have been many proposals to develop it including a music theater which eventually became Bethel Woods, built on the original Woodstock site.
August 6, 2008
I just wanted to say great pictures and lots of memories for me. My father used to bring groups up there in the winter to ski and party. I spent many weekends there and remember lots of the staff names. The owners Mr. & Mrs. Spears, I used to hang out with their grandson Joey Dannon and remember his mother Arlene. Sad to hear that its no longer even there, the lake was really nice.
August 3, 2008
Hi Robert, found your article on the web about the Laurels Country Club.
I too grew up over the summers on Sackett lake, My aunt owned Parnells bungalow colony right down the block. I cannot describe the great times I had up there, my cousins and I used to row the boat to the Laurels and leave it by the kitchen anchored, sneak in and run around all day, and yes, that pool was a blue oasis.
I am not sure who has it but our dock used to be about 300 yards from that hotel and we actually video taped on beta the burning down of that hotel, it really was like watching a loved one slip away, over the years sadly people looted and finally fell in such disrepair while empty. Thanks for the memories, nothing was better than the Catskills and that hotel back in the 70's. Oh, and don't forget the Dairy Queen across the street.ALWYSBECLSNG
May 10, 2008
Hi! I saw your pictures of the Laurels Hotel on the Internet and since you mentioned the pool and diving I thought I'd drop you a note....
I agree. It's hard to go back. It's just not the same. I spent the first 15 summers of my life in the family summer home on Sackett Lake until I started working at the Laurels on the Athletic Staff during the time I suspect you were there. It was probably from '63 to '70 or so. You might remember the Miss Shape Contests. I was the one who usually guided the shapes as they paraded around the pool deck. The names I remember... Marty Yuga, Bernie Israel, Buddy Kaye (my elders).
You might also remember the Keytones, the band until '64. I tracked down Chuck, the singer with the dark curly hair, a few years ago. He ended up managing a successful bar/summer hangout place on eastern Long Island.
I've gone back a few times since your picture when I'm in the area (I tell the people I'm with that I'm taking them to the world's largest steel pool). The pool still looks the same, still turquoise. There are a few trees growing in the indoor pool.
October 3, 2006
What a small world. I found your, "My Week September 1, 1998", quite by accident. I have been off and on writing a book based on a young boy who ventures to the Catskill's and ends up working as a busboy at The Laurel's.
To help my recollection of the spot, I too went to Sackett Lake back, five or six years ago, to find a weed infested lot. The only vestige of its former glory was the pool. I couldn't believe that everything had been removed...like it never existed!
To be very honest with you, The Laurel's, was a defining moment in my life. By the way, my book is entitled, "Ghosts of Sackett Lake". Although it's fiction, I've used characters I remember working with, possibly you.
Wishing you well,Phil Sills
August 18, 2008
The Laurels in the 1950's
I was an alumnus of Laurels circa Summers 1951-52 /Winter 1952, I agree, you can't go back but no one can take away the memories.
I worked the dining room as a busboy and then the athletic staff for Hy Lane.
Who can forget the unforgettable "Burnsie" and his Simon Sez at poolside, or Harry Lowenthal, maitre de.
The Leucuano Cuban Boys, Jose Bartolo, Tito Rodriguez, Joe Kane and his band.
Joe and Gladys Novak, Jerry and Miriam Spears. Joe and Gladys daughter Arlene.
Of course "Mike Levine" the cop at the gate.
The bar and mamboing at the lakeside casino.
Anyone remember "Chesty" who lived a hermit's life in the woods on the other side of the lake. I can still see in my mind's eye "Chesty" ice skating across the lake and hanging out at the main house bar. Then there was Willie the waiter who you could find selling newspapers on Miami Beach in the winter. Joey Zelinski waiter par excellence. Bandleader Joe Kane's wife Terry waitressing.
Night time journeys to Liberty to watch "Mambo Bob".
Laurels staff dance team of "Tybee Afra and Joe Vega".
And then down to Miami Beach in the winter to meet up with lots of Laurel staff working the beach.
Flamingo Park where the New York Yankees baseball team trained. Breaking ground for the construction of the "Fontainbleu"
Big night at the Nautilus Hotel with searchlights piercing the sky to commemorate the first negro allowed to check into a Miami Beach Hotel his name was Roy Campanella. (Brooklyn Dodgers catcher) Going to see Nat King Cole at the Beachcomber night club and learning that Miami Beach law did not allow any negro's on the Beach after midnight. Quite a shock for a Brooklyn, NY boy. Also got to see Sophie Tucker, Frank Sinatra at the Beachcomber, courtesy of the wealthy father whose daughter I was dating.
I worked at The Glades, The Seacomber, Maurice's Steak House on Collins Avenue. Meeting up with old friends at the Dutch Kitchen on Washington Ave. Breakfast at an outdoor coffee shop. Two eggs, orange juice, toast and coffee for 29 cents. Let's not forget "Wolfies" 21st on Saturday nights.
The workingmans hotel "The Parada" on Euclid Avenue for 12 bucks a week 2 in a room.
The year was 1953 and I made a quick weekend flight ( $39.00 r/t) to Havana, Cuba. Stayed at the Surf Hotel on Malecon Drive while my rich friends stayed at the Hotel Nacional. Learned a lot about dictators. Batista was president and gambling and prostitution was rife. Those were the days my friend and unlike the song, they did end.
I still have a color postcard of the Laurels pool as it was. I will dig it out and email it to you.
PS- Vico's looking for old friends- Herb Bixson, Norton Sperling, Ted Cohen and Charlie Kalan (Kraus)
Nov. 8, 2008
Hello to my Laurels friends:
My name is Richard Burns and my father was Burnsie. Dad was was the fabulous Social Director who made sure all of the guests had a great stay and then at night he was the Master of ceremonies who introduced many unknowns performers who later became famous. In the fifties I and my brother Arthur worked down at the waterfront renting out motor boats and teaching water skiing. I also spent one summer on the athletic staff and am attaching a picture to challenge anyone who can identify these great guys.
My e-mail is Catskill21@yahoo.com.
June 15, 2009
Your postcards, emails from others and your nostalgic essay were sent to me by my lifelong friend from Sackett Lake. We were the "kids of Sackett Lake," that group of non-campgoers, who spent our summers in our family summer homes on the lake and enjoyed the most wonderful times. While I swam in the pool at the Laurels many times, I preferred the lake in those days. I even swam the length of it twice when I was a teenager, with my trusty friends rowing right by my side. I started at the Winston Camp end of the Lake and finished my swims at the Laurels.
I see that most of the emails you received were from men who worked at the hotel. The Sackett Lake community was very involved with the Laurels. My parents, entertainers who had met in the Catskills in the '30's, as well as my grandparents knew the owners, Mike and the band. I laughed remembering rowing over to sneak into the Laurels to meet boys and dance the night away in the casino.
We had our own casino for the Sackett Lake Property Owners Association (SLPOA) and my mother used to run the "talent night" shows there with all of the homeowners participating. I still have the pictures of my father miming a woman taking off her girdle and stockings.
By Sackett Lake kids' standards, I was considered "half a hick" because I was born in Monticello Hospital, being a summer baby, in 1946. Yes, that will make me 63 next month and in some ways you can go home again. Not only in memories, but also in reality. I now spend 1/2 of the year in Monticello, albeit on the "other side" near Kutsher's in a lovely townhouse.
Not only that, I write the newsletter for the homeowner's association and my treasured byline is "Remember when...." My first piece was about Chesty and the Laurels and many more pieces followed about my wonderful times "in the country." To this day, when I cross the Wursboro mountain and come upon that scene of the valley, I yell out, "I'm HOME!" This will always be home to me.
Having retired from the NYC Board of Education, I now winter in Florida not far from the home of my childhood friend. When we get together, we can't help but reminisce about our wonderful times and friends "from the country." The first time she said this phrase to her husband, he asked her, "What country?" Imagine that.... One of my prized possessions (I collect books and postcards where I can find them about those wonderful times and that amazing place) is an ashtray (although we no longer smoke), proudly displayed on my coffee table from the Laurels Country Club.