Part 1 Stonecrest
I was born in the Brooklyn on the corner of Coney Island Avenue and Avenue J, the geographical center of Brooklyn, the intersection of the downtown and cross town buses and a few blocks from the subway and the elevated lines. You can’t get a more urban or more Jewish location than this.
My father, who grew up in New England (Hartford, Ct) would take us to “the country” on his annual vacation month of July. It began with a bungalow in Wingdale NY with my extended family of parents, grandmother, Aunt Charlotte and Uncle Bob and their 3 daughters.
In 1957 my father saw an ad for a bungalow colony in Bethlehem, NH. The proprietors, Ida and Max Schwartz, lived on Avenue R in Brooklyn, so my father contacted them and visited their home where they showed him a brochure of the grounds and facilities. There were picture of folks square dancing, swimming and playing golf, one of the sports my parents were now learning as they entered “middle age”.
And so they made reservations for “Stonecrest Colony”, in Bethlehem, NH.
In New York, we did not need an automobile and neither of my parents had a driver’s license, so we took the New York New Haven and Hartford Railroad.
Our luggage was packed into “Lupu’s Boxes”. Lupu’s was the local dress shop. They received their dresses in rectangular corrugated cardboard crates about 10” deep, about the size of a large valise. My mother would pack our clothes in these boxes tied with twine with the heavy cardboard handles attached (the type that is attached when you buy the dresses). They would be shipped by “railway express” the day before we would leave. The theory was that that your luggage would be waiting for you at the station when you reached your final destination.
Our “carry on luggage” consisted of vinyl bags of napkins, handkerchiefs, magazines and playing cards for the trip. There were also paper shopping bags with “provisions” of sandwiches: American cheese, tuna, peanut butter and jelly, and cream cheese and jelly on rye, white, or pumpernickel, and peaches, plums, cherries, and grapes. My mother had the sandwiches neatly “filed’ in shoeboxes and she could tell which was which by looking at the tin foil or saran wrap which sandwich it was wrapped.
The train ride was a full day experience from the bowels Grand Central Station to an open platform at White River Junction VT We had to leave the train at that point and cross over the tracks with our carry on bags to another platform, where we waited for a different train to travel the last leg of the journey…the next to the last leg….
This train puffed into the platform in Littleton at dusk. Waiting by the station was a pint sized 1948 Ford school bus. It was the Stonecrest bus. A wrinkled old man wearing a dark green workman’s outfit was in the driver’s seat with a half smoked cigarette in his mouth. That was George, Stonecrest’s one-man maintenance staff and bus driver. The bus whined and growled its way from Littleton up, up, up to Bethlehem, George would be furiously shifting up and down to keep the engine from racing and then stalling up and down the hills.
We arrived at Bethlehem in the dark. The main street was brightly lit with fluorescent street lamps but Prospect Street was dark with the occasional incandescent light pole.
We were led to the “Stone House’, an old fieldstone carriage house. Each “stall” must have been made into apartments with a continuous screened porch covering the front.
We had #2 the 2nd “stall”. The four of us entered through the porch to one bedroom with a double bed on one wall, a single bed on the other side, and a folded cot in the corner (that would be my bed). There was just enough room between the beds to enter the eat- in kitchen. To the left of the kitchen was the bathroom so narrow you could barely walk through it to get to the toilet or the shower. There was a wall between the bathrooms of unit 2 and 3 but the metal stall showers of the two showers were set back to back with no wall above them! The Schwartz’s must have figured that the 7’ stall was tall enough and there wasn’t room for a wall. So the bathrooms were uh, semi-private…
When we woke up in the morning it was a whole new world. Instead of July’s tepid, thick, and pungent NYC air, it was freezing, crisp and clear. Outside there were fields soaked with dew surrounded by old fieldstone fences, hills and distant mountains.
The Stone House and “Flamingo Cottage”. Mt Agassiz is in the background.
Stonehouse #2 (1950’s)
Stonecrest was an old estate and farm. It had an old mansion, “the main house”, a farmhouse, a stone carriage house, and a “chicken coup”. These buildings were all chopped up and turned into housekeeping apartments. That is, each had a bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen. Most of them had screened porches added on as well. Near the main house there was another long bungalow known as the “doll house”, there was also a building known as the “Jerry house” and the “Sky View” and the “Flamingo”
The center of activity was “the Barn” which was converted into a grocery store, social hall, and camp headquarters with an indoor Gym, Arts and crafts room, Nursery room and rooms for the camp counselors.
The Staff of Stonecrest consisted of Ida Schwartz, the owner and “the boss” she was in charge of everything, including her husband Max, who did just about everything. Then there was George the driver, plumber, electrician, locksmith, and mechanic. Every bungalow was surrounded by lawns as well as ballfields, play fields and then more fields. They were all mowed by Kenny, one man with scythe an old gasoline powered push mower.
Kenny could be seen with his mower from dawn to dusk all over Stonecrest. “Frank” was the last of the permanent staff. He helped Ida at the store and performed whatever chores were needed. He was said to be the Schwartz’s adopted son…
“Kenny” and the Stonecrest Bus
Stonecrest had a day camp for the children from toddlers to the pre teen age. Every morning the bungalow colony was awakened by the playing of a record recording of “Reveli” on the loudspeakers mounted on the peak of the roof of the barn. That meant camp would be starting in 5 minutes. We would all meet up at a Flag Pole located near the top of a grassy hill. There were large boulders surrounding the flagpole. Each group of campers divided up by age and gender had their own boulder where they would meet.
The counselors were kids in their late teens or early twenties. The boy counselors were also members of the Stonecrest Band and the girls were baby sitters.
The day was spent hiking through the forest, building Indian Tepees, baseball at Stonecrest’s own baseball field, shuffleboard, bocce, and miniature golf. On rainy days there was plaster molds to paint, whittling branches into letter openers and walking sticks, lanyards in Arts and crafts and basketball, bombardment, and tumbling in the gym.
We would go home for lunch except for Wednesdays when there was a hamburger-hotdog cook out behind the main house.
Meanwhile, my parents put their golf bags on their 2-wheeled golf carts and walked together up Prospect Street to the Bethlehem Country Club to check in. Stonecrest issued golf passes for free golf and swimming passes to the town pool (Many first timers didn’t know that the free golf and swimming pool were not on the premises). They would play 9 holes or 12 holes. The ninth hole was opposite the back entrance to Stonecrest and so it was very convenient to leave from there. It was also quite easy to sneak onto the course from there and play the “back nine” when it was not busy.
From the 12th hole you had to cross Prospect Street and walk up to the clubhouse to get to the 13th tee. My parents usually quit at the 12th and headed back to Stonecrest in time to make our lunch at 12, when the morning session of camp ended.
At 1:55 pm the loudspeaker let all of Stonecrest know that it was time to report back to the flagpole. If the sun was out we were off to the Bethlehem town pool. The trip on the Stonecrest bus was an adventure. Sometimes we didn’t make it up the stiff incline of Prospect St, especially when Max Schwartz the owner, was driving. He was a little old man who looked a little like David Ben-Gurion or Sam Jaffe, short and bent over. I don’t know how he reached the gas pedal and clutch and was able to see through the windshield at the same time. The bus often slipped down hill when he down shifted. Sometimes we had to back up and take the less steep street, which crossed the golf course and cut over to Maple Street to get to the pool. Sometimes it would stall out altogether and George would have to be called.
When we got to the town pool, we changed in the changing room, put our clothes in the cubbies and hoped they were still there when we came back….We stepped into a little footbath of disinfectant and stepped out onto the pool deck. All the town people and kids were sitting around the pool. No one ever seemed to be in the pool when we got there (years later a local friend told me that when they heard the Stonecrest Bus chug into the pool area all the locals got out of the pool).
After the pool we played in the playground. The camp staff gave out ice cream bars, popsicles, or fudgsicles.
In the afternoon there were often large camp-wide games like “capture the flag” or “Ringolivio”. Every Sunday there was an evening campfire and marshmallow roast by the flagpole followed by children’s and then adult square dancing called by “Sky Carter”.
We occasionally went on field trips to Forest Lake and hikes to “the old man in the tree” (Bretzfelder Park) and Mid-Acre Farm, where we would watch them process the milk and then buy glass pints of fresh plain or chocolate milk and drink them in the great pasture overlooking the mountains.
The accent of Agassiz Street started off rather mildly, passing the grounds of the “New Agassiz Hotel (the Sinclair’s annex and nightclub) on the left and Nan Perry’s “Perry House” on the right. Agassiz Street became increasingly steeper. Max had to rev up the old Bus in full throttle in its lowest gear to make it to the crest of the hill and pull into the Mt Agassiz parking lot.
The sign for the ”Magic Mountain” was a giant hand dropping the stones down (from heaven..) to form this magical place There was a small wooden “base lodge’ where you bought tickets to go up to the top of the mountain, as well as a snack bar and gift shop. You could then walk up the mountain or take “the Magic Mountain Express”, which was a model of a diesel locomotive (which covered a farm tractor) pulling a covered trolley up a steep winding paved road.”
As you road up the mountain there would be clearings in the forest to view scenery of the Franconia Mountains and the village of Bethlehem. At the top there was an impressive fieldstone observatory building with a 3-story wood and pipe rail fire tower, which was considered to be one of the best panoramic views of the White Mountains and its surroundings. The building had a large gift shop restaurant, and housed a U.S. Forest Service ranger. Outside in back of the building there was a terrace overlooking a stockade fenced area where thee were two Black Bears which you could feed buy putting food in a can attached to a clothesline to a perched platform which the bears would climb to.
Mt Agassiz Observatory, Gift Shop, Snack Bar and Ranger Station
The final thrill of that trip was the ride back down on the Stonecrest Bus. Would the brakes hold or would we be sailing down Agassiz Street out of control…?
Every year of our lives was a month long. There was July and there was the rest of the year waiting for July to come again. When we were staying in Stone House #2 my sister became friends with a girl in #3. They would talk to each other for hours through the opening above the showers in the bathrooms..!
We had New York friends and New Hampshire friends. Even though most of our Stonecrest friends lived in New York, we only saw each other in New Hampshire.
In the 60’s the trains stopped running and we then took the thoroughly modern Trailways Bus which went directly from Port Authority terminal to Bethlehem, non-stop. You could even reserve your seats in advance, and we did the two front row seats, every year.
The Trailways Bus: Lunch stop
In 1964 I went to Boy Scout Camp in July instead of going to New Hampshire. That was the year things changed. The Schwartz’s sold Stonecrest to two Long Island couples, the Pepitones and the Huberts.
When I returned I was now in my teenage years, too old for camp, playing handball, tennis, golf, baseball, and hanging out with other teens by the pinball machines and the jukebox.
The Pepitones were different too. They did not pack up and leave when summer was over. They began to live at Stonecrest year round. The summers were the same. Tony Pepitone obtained a 16mm projector and Monday night became movie night. I remember seeing Judy Holiday in “The Solid Gold Cadillac”, Kirk Douglas in “The Champion” and Henry Fonda in “Failsafe”.
Clem Hubert bought four sheep, which he surmised would help to keep the grass cut. Sheep (and their droppings) were all over the property. On movie night, in the dark of the casino, if you were sitting in the aisle would often feel a wet nose and a wooly coat brush by you foraging for dropped popcorn
Stonecrest 1969 (3 sheep are grazing upper right of pic)
That winter the Pepitones and Huberts had many dinners of lamb and mutton….
At the age of 16, kids my age were getting “working papers’ for summer jobs. I was again going to Stonecrest but felt I was out growing “summer vacations”. I remember my father spoke to the Pepitones, and suddenly I had my first summer resort job: I worked a few hours every afternoon at their little grocery store in the Barn. In addition to milk, eggs bread, and corn flakes, we mostly sold ice cream pops, soda, and penny candies….
The job expanded the next year to the full season. When my parents left in August I was housed with the counselors in the barn. The drummer, Barry Schiffman became a good friend of mine. He lived in Seaford NY when I was shocked to discover that his father was none other than “Sky Carter” the square dance caller (wasn’t anyone really from up there?) The other counselors were from Brooklyn and attended the same High School as I did but I only met them in New Hampshire. Midwood High School had 3 times as many students as there were people living in Bethlehem, NH….
In addition to the store, I was now mowing lawns and moving beds around from one unit to another. This was done with the help of an old black Plymouth, upon which we attached beds, changing from twin beds to doubles and back again depending upon which guest was checking in or out. I was working with a local Bethlehemite, Greg Clark, who lived on Agassiz St.
Stonecrest was now opened year round and would attract fall foliage “leaf peepers” in October, hunters in November and skiers and snowmobiles in the winter. Clem Hubert’s sister, Barbara and her husband Joe came to visit and eventually moved to Bethlehem converting a large cottage on Main Street to a restaurant they named “The Villa”. The Pepitones and Huberts had snowmobile paths cleared by loggers and their children became great skiers. In the summer the cleared paths would lead to an abandoned sugar maple shack and another path lead all the way down to Barretts Brook, which was still within their 200-acre property. It was becoming an all-season resort.
I felt that I would be happy for the rest of my life just living and working at Stonecrest…but next year I was replaced by “locals” and I found myself unemployed.
The Sinclair Hotel
I was now attending the College of Forestry in Syracuse, NY. Being the first person in the family to have a driver’s license, I would often drive 8 hours+ from Syracuse through the Adirondacks between Lake George and Lake Champlain and then through the Green Mts to go hiking n the White Mts. The Pepitones would always find a place for me to stay in Stonecrest. The day after I got there, I’d be diving back again. However, when spring came I had found out that Stonecrest had replaced me with local people. I had to find a summer job. I took out the Sunday times and turned to section 10. In the 50’s and 60’s the “Times had full pages filled with ads for Bethlehem hotels and resorts. In 1970, one page covered all of New Hampshire and a bit of Vermont and Maine as well.
I began to write letters to all f the resorts on the page. With some I received standard application forms. One evening the phone rang at our apartment in Brooklyn. It was George McAvoy. He was the General Manager of the Crawford House in Crawford Notch. For those who have interest in the history of White Mt tourism, Crawford House is one of birthplaces of White Mt tourism. For those who love to hike the Whites, the Crawford house is the link between to the 2 great mountain ranges, the Franconia’s and the Presidentials. It was a hikers’ Mecca. I was both of these people… There was no more perfect a place to work and the job he was offering was landscaping. It was perfect!
Before I could get over my enthusiasm for this first offer, the phone rang. It was Myron Herrman, the owner/manager of the Sinclair Hotel. He called to offer me the position of Life Guard or Athletic Director. The Sinclair was conveniently located in Bethlehem but I did not consider myself to be Life Guard material nor did I have any interest in being the Athletic Director. I don’t think I had been to the beach in years….
The choice seemed so simple to me. The Crawford House was where I wanted to be. For my parents, whom I was still living with it was also a simple decision. The Sinclair was where their 19 year old son needed to be, where I would meet Jewish girls…
My parents were right about one thing. All of the guests that I met at the Sinclair Hotel were Jewish. However, the average age of those guests was about 60….
I has gotten to the hotel a week early to help set up. The waitresses had not arrived yet. When I asked where the waitresses came from, (Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island, Boston?) I was told “Mexico” Mexican waitresses at a kosher hotel in the White Mountains? Well, yes and no. They were all from Mexico, Maine, twin cities with Rumford in a polluted valley off of US Route 2 in Western Maine.
Right away, the young waitresses were calling the kreplach ravioli’s and the matzo balls dumplings. How would they discern the 5 different morning herrings?
The Sinclair Hotel was not only the largest hotel in Bethlehem; it was the oldest, going back to the 1860’s. However, back in the 1930’s Michenoff and Spiwack, the owners of the New Agassiz Hotel, bought the faltering Sinclair, and brought with them those unique clientele who observed the” dietary laws” which they offered. The hotel was now being run by Spiwack’s son, David and daughter, Pauline Leander, and by Michenoff’s nephew, Myron Herrman.
The new modern pool and cabana, “the largest private pool in Bethlehem” was now over 24 years old. It appears that most of the hotels guests had been coming as long as the pool had been here, some longer.
The rooms were still “air conditioned by nature”. The fire suppression system consisted of fire hoses on the lower floors and buckets of water and sand on high shelves throughout the hallway s of the upper floors. The best rooms, in addition to facing east toward the mountains, had private baths. The Hotel elevator had an electric light and an “electromagnetic” call system but operated like a dumbwaiter. Instead of white gloves the elevator boy was issued work gloves to get a good grip on the steel cable, which had to be pulled up or down to get it moving. Occasionally, someone would have to get off if the car did not move after yanking the cable. This often happened after meals….
As the lifeguard, I was part of the “executive staff”. This means that I ate in the main dining room a half hour before the guests and received a limited menu of food options. It also entitled me a to have room on the top floor of the old Agassiz building, now the night club. The room was a bit shabby with worn and torn wallpaper. The bathroom was at the end of the hall. The adjacent room was wallpapered with magazine covers. That was Harry’s room. Harry was the cabana man. He set up the chaise lounges, tables and chairs around the pool, handed out pool towels and ash trays to the guests and cleaned and maintained the pool deck and sundeck where people played cards and board games.
The Sinclair Pool
His name was Harry Tugan but everyone called him Harry Pool. Harry Pool represented everything that was charming, nostalgic, and comical as well as distressing, depressing, and outmoded about the Sinclair. He was a short thin Jewish Leprechaun of a man in his ‘60’s. He had worked for the Sinclair for over 30 years, originally as a bellhop. When the new pool was built he was assigned to the job of cabana man and he remained in that position to that day.
As a lifeguard, I was paid $400 for the season. That was $40 a week. Part of the lifeguard’s job was to call Bingo on “Game Night” every Wednesday evening (and also in the lobby on rainy days). Also on Tuesday and Saturday nights there would be a show in the nightclub. It was exclusive for Sinclair guests. So my job was to stamp each guest’s wrist with clear black light ink as they left the main dining room. Then I would sit by the door of the Agassiz nightclub with the black light and check for the stamped hands. Non-guests were charged $1.50 each.
For that amount you could here a comic with a name like “Joey O’Brien” tells jokes right out of the Catskills. Some of the jokes had Yiddish punch lines. The nightclub could hold hundreds of guests but rarely needed more than two cocktail waitresses. The most popular drink was probably ginger ale. If you ordered a tall ginger ale with 2 ice cubes it would stay cold and last the entire night. This was a favorite of the “chicken sisters” two elderly unmarried sisters, who got their nicknames from the fact that they ordered chicken every night at dinner, no matter what was on the menu.
On Saturday nights, the entertainer would do shows at two different hotels. Usually they would have dinner at the Sinclair work the 9:00pm show and then race off to the Mt. Washington, work the late show there and sleep over. I became friendly with the waitresses and began to bus tables and wait on “the family”, Myron Herrman’s table. From his table he could keep one eye on the front door and one eye on the kitchen door.
Mr. Herman always had a phone near him. Through the main switchboard he could call me at the pool (there were phones attached to light poles and trees) His partner, Dave Spiwack was in the kitchen directing the food service. You rarely saw him anywhere else.
Sinclair Dining Room
Thursday night was traditionally guest and staff talent night. Certain guests and staff always performed for this weekly event, like the ukulele-strumming butcher who could play a mean “Bye Bye, Black Bird” when he wasn’t talking about his other passion…meat. Harry Pool would recount earlier days when he and Maitre D’ Larry Bottolatta (“Mr. B”) would do an impromptu comedy routine akin to Martin and Lewis.
Since Mr. Herrman never hired an Athletic Director, I was that too. That involved raking and rolling and installing and maintaining the nylon striping hammered into what was left of the two old clay courts and handing out the sports equipment to the guests.
Harry Pool proudly announced his annual salary from the Sinclair of $100 per season. He prided himself on making cash tips at the pool independent of what the hotel offered him. To Harry, every towel, ashtray, chair, chaise and table was potential income for him. He was the Maitre D’ of the Pool deck. You could not sit by the pool without seeing him first. He virtually blocked your path and greeted you with a booming voice that could be heard across the property. “Hello Mr. and Mrs. Zuckerman! Yes it’s me, Harry! Would you like a table by the shade? Or no, you’re the sun lovers! I’ll save a place for you here through Sunday and you can see me before you leave…”
The Sinclair Pool, including its tables and chairs and chaise lounges and towels were all free of charge from the hotel, but not to Harry. He was going to provide you with a service of finding you a place to sit, like it or not. That was his business.
After breakfast I would go out to the pool and first dive in and remove the webbed chairs and the Lifeguard off duty sign that the wait staff and bellmen threw into the pool almost every night. I would then sweep the bottom of the pool and check the filter room, chlorine levels, etc. The Sinclair advertised a “heated pool”. However, the pool did not have its own heater. A pipe leading from the hotel’s hot water boiler could be turned on to add warm water to the frigid waters coming from the reservoir and chilling in the night air. With Mr. Herrman’s permission I could add hot water to the pool. It was important to remember to turn it off after a while or you could drain the entire hotel of its hot water supply…. which happened occasionally.
At around 9:30am I would see Harry coming to the pool deck. He would be wearing a terry tee shirt, Bermuda shorts, tennis sneakers and a lanyard with a whistle around his neck. He wore one of a dozen different hats from sailor hats, to bowlers, to sombreros. It was part of his “shtick.”.
It was the beginning of the season and Harry came down to the pool deck with about 2 dozen cotton dress shirts. Harry methodically arranged the chaises, tables and chairs and put his shirts on some of the chairs and loungers in the “prime” locations, followed by ashtrays and pool towels.
Although no one had come to the pool at this early hour, it looked as if people had been there and left with their clothes on the chairs and tables. This was how Harry reserved your spot at the pool…! Hidden in his pool shack Harry kept wood and metal chaise lounges with springs and thick mattresses for his “special guests” He would not take them out unless the guests were to agree to a minimum $1 per day gratuity. The good tippers had their favorite spot on the pool deck “reserved” with Harry’s shirts, complete with padded lounges little drink tables with ash trays and hotel bath towels supplied with Harry’s “private stock’ instead of the standard thin pool towels. When new people came on one of the Sinclair’s advertised weekend packages, Harry was brazen enough to charge them outright 25c/chair and 50c/lounge/ I would hear his booming voice across the pool deck “DAVE…WEEKENDERS” and I was to bring them the chairs C.O.D…
Harry kept busy talking to people playing checkers with the guests at which he was a professional. He entertained the guests by throwing ice cubes into the pool on hot days and pouring a coffee pot of hot water into the pool when a guest was cold. He was constantly changing hats whistling for the sun to come out behind a cloud and joking around with guests and staff, but if you questioned his motives or criticized him, it could get quite ugly…
The pool was the jewel of the Sinclair, along with the food, the Catskill comics, and the pollen free Bethlehem Air, it was the reason to be there. In the past all of the hotel’s great outdoor events occurred around the pool including afternoon and evening dancing cocktails and evening pool parties. When I was working there an old gent by the name of Leonard “Ducky” Duckman would play the old tunes from the Jimmy Durante days.
The hotels MC Ethel Roth would come out and sing and give simple dancing lessons.
On Sunday morning you could here the bells of the Durrell Methodist Church ringing and like clockwork Harry Pool’s loudspeaker voice would retort: “Ladies! Mikvah services will commence in 10 minutes!...every Sunday…”
On Sunday it was quiet at the pool many people were checking out after lunch before the new guests checked in for dinner. Harry was stationed at the door as they checked out. No one was to leave without “remembering Harry”. He called it “Palm Sunday”.
Some people loved Harry but many hated him. The days of the wealthy big tippers had all but past. People were taking their own bags up to their rooms and were “sneaking out” rather than checking out, again to avoid having to tip the bellhop and the door man .So “why do I have to tip Harry to sit by the pool?”
And then there was Mr. Cohen.
Mr. Cohen came to the Sinclair on the holiday weekends, July 4th or Labor Day. He was Harry’s nemesis, one of them… Mr. Cohen was not just a non-tipping “stiff”. He would complain to Mr. Herrman that Harry was extorting all the guests just to sit by the pool.
Harry took it very personally. He knew when Mr. Cohen checked in and planned accordingly. In the morning he would have every chair and lounge on the deck covered with his shirts with towels and ashtrays. Any extra chairs and lounges we hid in the back of the pool shack. Then we had one webbed chair that was bent and missing some webbing. We called it “Mr. Cohen’s chair” and placed it prominently in the sun close to the center of the pool. The game was to get Mr. Cohen to sit in that chair.
As the day progressed Harry greeted the guests and found them places to sit, taking out special lounges from the back for his high rollers, etc. In mid afternoon Mr. Cohen arrives in his bathing suit. “Hello Harry (as if they were old friends..) Any place I can sit?”
“ Hello Mr. Cohen! Good to see you again! You can sit anywhere you like. Any available seat….”
Harry came over by the Lifeguard’s chair and we stood and watched Mr. Cohen peruse through the tables, chairs and chaises, looking for one that wasn’t occupied or covered with stuff. We already knew there wasn’t any. Finally he eased himself gingerly onto the broken chair at the poolside. Our weekend was a success…!
It was clear that I was witnessing the end of a hotel area in Bethlehem, where Jewish families would come together and bring their unique culture and customs with them. I am sure that in the past, many of the dining room staff and the bellman were the children of guests on their summer vacation and many long-term relationships were nurtured there amongst the staff as well as the guests. Mr. Herrman had started as a bellboy at his Aunt and Uncles hotel and met his wife Dotty who worked as a waitress there.
In three years at the Sinclair I met exactly one Jewish woman my age, a granddaughter of one of the guests. However, I was not her type.
Although the Sinclair closed for the season after Labor Day, it would stay open an extra week when Rosh Hashana arrived that early in the season. This would greatly increase attendance at BHC in those years.
The Catskill Style of Hotel service was dying out. People who came up for relief of Hay Fever often found relief in Europe or stayed in Florida, where at least they had air conditioning, or took “Allerest” and other antihistamine medications. Newer resorts had direct dial telephones, air conditioning and TV’s in the rooms and modern private bathrooms.
Harry Pool admitted to me at the age of 62 that having worked his whole life in resort hotels in Bethlehem and Miami for cash, that he had never paid income taxes or social security and needed a” real job”….
One year after the Sinclair closed he went to the Mt Washington Hotel for their convention season, which went to Columbus Day. He described the place as paradise. It had over 100 of the wooden lounges, which Harry used to charge $1/day to use (the Sinclair had 7). And there were indoor pool parties with endless opportunities to get tips.
Unfortunately, conventions paid “blanket tips” to the hotel and guests complained to the management that Harry would constantly remind them that he wasn’t covered by that blanket tip…After one season they let him go.
When I was working as Assistant Maitre D’ at the Mount Washington, Larry B’ came to the door looking for work. I knew that his Catskill old school ways wouldn’t be tolerated at this “Goyishke” place…He wasn’t hired either.
Mr. Herrman and Mr. Spiwack and Mrs. Leander closed the doors of the Sinclair for good in the mid 70’s. “The New Agassiz Hotel” which contained the nightclub and the Fairlawn was sold to “The Villa” and became a successful nightclub. The Main building with its 175 guest rooms and swimming pool on 10 Acres in the center of town did not get a single bid at auction. About two years later, the empty buildings caught fire and burned to the ground. Only the remnants of the Sinclair Pool remain…
The Sinclair Pool in the 1990’s
One of the last managers of the Crawford House obtained the Sinclair guest list and tried to entice them to Crawford’s. That business lasted one year and then the Crawford House also closed its door and auctioned off the building in parts down to its wooden shell…
In 1976 the remaining hotels of that era were up for sale. It was the last year for the Perry House, a hotel enclave in back of the Sinclair with “Glatt” kosher cuisine. In addition to its own pool it had the Perry Playhouse where the Weathervane Theater Company would perform once a week. Just west of the Bethlehem Country Club was the Alpine Hotel and Highland Hotel Annex. This was sold with the new owners catering to the Chassidic Jews that were now coming in increasing numbers. The Arlington Hotel had been under Chassidic ownership for the past 15 years. The old Park View Hotel and Columbia Annex had already been sold to Chassidim and the rooming houses such as Sherman’s, Rosenthal’s, and Steiner’s (the Buckeye) all had Chassidic guests. Where the Strawberry Hill Hotel and Howard House once stood were empty fields that were eventually turned over to the town.
The Site of the Sinclair Hotel today…
Former Parkview Hotel on Park Ave
Former Alpine Hotel and Highland Hotel Annex
Site of the Perry House, now subsidized housing
Since those years I moved on to work at the Mount Washington for 9 seasons, the Balsams, The Breakers in Palm Beach, and the Belleview Biltmore in Belair Florida, before I got my “real job” in NYC government.
The hotel season in Bethlehem was short, 10 weeks from July 4 to Labor Day, or occasionally, until Rosh Hashana. At the height of the fall foliage in early October, all of these summer hotels were closed.
In the Sanctuary of BHC one of the large Yartzeit Plaque Holders was donated by David Spiwack and Pauline Leander in memory of their parents Dora and Abraham Spiwack, who had owned the “New Agassiz Hotel”. The summer resort business was a 7 days per week job. Your time off came on closing day. I doubt that many of the hotel owners ever came to the Synagogue but records show that they contributed to BHC and hosted events, such as sisterhood luncheons and fundraisers. Many members listed their address as one of the Sinclair, Perry House, Strawberry Hill, Alpine or the Park View Hotel.
Any of my Jewish acquaintances in New York who knew where New Hampshire was knew Bethlehem. For Jews, Bethlehem was scenic, therapeutic and most importantly, unrestricted. It had great food and entertainment like the Catskills, but with pollen free air
We lived a whole year for those summer days…