In idyllic places such as the Catskills and the Poconos, the '50s and '60s were a uniquely magical time for America. This was where newly suburban denizens went on holiday, flocking to lakeside resorts straight out of Dirty Dancing. But over the years, the people stopped coming, and the resorts closed. Now, their moss-covered ruins look like a tomb of the American dream.
The bowling alley of the abandoned Homowack Lodge in Spring Glen, New York. This area of the southern Catskills was once known as the Borscht Belt due to its popularity with Jewish holidaymakers from New York City. (Photograph: Pablo Iglesias Maurer, postcard published by Bill Bard Associates)
Photographer Pablo Maurer stumbled upon a few of these resorts while exploring the abandoned Penn Hills Resort. Once a honeymooner's destination, the so-called "Paradise of Pocono Pleasure" closed in 2009 and now looks like the set of a zombie apocalypse film. During his visit to the deserted resort, Maurer found an old matchbook adorned with an illustration of the Penn Hills pool at the height of its popularity. He looked at the illustration and then at the ruins of the pool and came up with the idea to photograph the current state of similar abandoned spaces that were once depicted in old postcards.
For the next couple of years, Maurer travelled around the Poconos and the Catskills, searching for resorts he'd seen in postcards bought at antique shops and on eBay. His journey not only became a treasure hunt, seeking out the most dramatic ruin porn, but it also became a time-travelling adventure. Maurer went looking for the spaces where a vibrant dining room or fun-filled bowling alley once existed. Instead, he found moss-covered caverns and graffiti-coated ruins.
The indoor pool at Grossinger's Catskill Resort Hotel in Liberty, New York. Elizabeth Taylor attended the pool's grand opening. (Photograph: Pablo Iglesias Maurer, postcard published by Bill Bard Associates.)
"The Catskills in particular are a truly stunning, beautiful place with this overarching melancholy that's hard to put your finger on," Maurer told Gizmodo. "But like so many other formerly grand places, you see glimmers of hope and rebirth along with the blight."
That's one way of putting it. By superimposing his photographs of the ruins onto the postcard images, however, Maurer does help highlight the grandeur that once existed at these resorts. You don't need to imagine the lounge chairs by a now-empty and polluted pool. You can see them in the postcard, lined up next to bright blue water and a diving board. As one image dissolves into another, you can almost feel yourself transported back to the '60s, when these places were fun and new.
The cocktail lounge of a now-abandoned resort in the Poconos. (Photograph: Pablo Iglesias Maurer, postcard published by Kardmaster Brochures)
Maurer explains that these resorts failed for various but sometimes related reasons. "Airfare became more affordable (allowing the general public to be a bit less local with their vacation time)," he said. "Tastes changed, and many of them did not evolve with the times."
So they decayed. But there are still those glimmers of hope. Some resorts, such as Grossinger's and the Penn Hills Resort, have new owners who might decide to revive them. After all, the Catskills and the Poconos are becoming revitalised as young people rediscover the humble wonders near cities such as New York and Philadelphia, places their parents might have gone or something they saw in a Patrick Swayze movie. There's a chance the decrepit state of these once-fantastic places is only temporary.
You can see more of Maurer's photographs, coupled with the postcards that inspired them, over at DCist. And you really should check them out. The time-travelling effect is mesmerising, contemplative and just plain neat.