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Famed Catskills resort that helped inspire "Dirty Dancing" burns down

CBS News 8/19/2022 Li Cohen

The 1987 film "Dirty Dancing" has been revered for its iconic setting in the Catskills. On Tuesday night, a building at the famed New York resort that once hosted idyllic family summers and served as inspiration for the film's backdrop burned down. 

The Liberty, New York, fire department said Wednesday that a three-and-a-half-story building at Grossinger's Catskill resort had caught on fire overnight. The fire was so massive, they said, that smoke could be seen "for several miles." 

Fire consumed a building at the site of the long-closed Grossinger's resort, once among the most storied and glamorous hotels in New York's Catskills, in Liberty, N.Y., Tuesday, Aug 16, 2022. / Credit: Liberty Fire Chief Mark Johnstone via AP © Provided by CBS News Fire consumed a building at the site of the long-closed Grossinger's resort, once among the most storied and glamorous hotels in New York's Catskills, in Liberty, N.Y., Tuesday, Aug 16, 2022. / Credit: Liberty Fire Chief Mark Johnstone via AP

Firefighters had a difficult time accessing the blazing structure, as the long-vacant property was overgrown and there were concrete barriers on the road. They had to use more than 1,000 feet of hose and it took "several hours" to get the fire under control, they said in a Facebook post. 

It's unclear what the burned structure was being used for at the time. The main building on the property was torn down about four years ago, Sullivan County Fire Coordinator John Hauschild told the Associated Press. Many of the other structures on the property were previously demolished, according to The New York Times. 

"At the request of Town of Liberty Code Enforcement, an excavator was brought into the scene to knock down the structure once the fire was out," Liberty Fire Department said. "The cause of the Fire is currently under investigation by the NYSP and Sullivan County Bureau of Fire." 

Grossinger's, an 812-acre resort about 80 miles north of New York City, was once one of the most storied and glamorous hotels in the Catskills, according to the Associated Press, as hundreds of thousands of people, many of them Jewish, would visit it every year. At its prime, it had a 27-hole golf course, both indoor and outdoor pools, a nightclub, two Kosher kitchens and a massive dining room that could seat 1,500 people. 

It served families for nearly 70 years before it shuttered in 1986. 

The happenings and scenery of the resort helped inspire the iconic romantic film "Dirty Dancing." The movie, which was primarily filmed at Mountain Lake Lodge in Pembroke, Virginia, and in North Carolina's Lake Lure, showcased much of what families loved about the Catskills resort – large dinners, group activities and, of course, dancing. 

Eleanor Berstein, the screenwriter for the movie, vacationed at Grossinger's as a child. In a 2021 conversation with the Center for Jewish History, she spoke about her time there – and how closely "Dirty Dancing" mimicked the real experience. 

"We couldn't afford the Catskills because no place could afford to close the hotel and let us take it," Berstein said, which prompted filming in other states. "... I tried to get the details right."

That included inspiration from her own childhood dance numbers and music records. 

The news of the fire ignited sorrow among those who were once frequent visitors. 

"I spent three Passovers at Grossinger's during its final years of existence," writer Sarene Leeds tweeted on Wednesday. "Watching the grounds and buildings decline into ruin has been nothing short of heartbreaking." 

New Jersey-based journalist Alfred Doblin said that he performed at Grossinger's in 1981 with his group, the Winged Victory Singers. 

"We sang at all the Catskills hotels. They were unique places with very specific identities and now pretty much gone," he tweeted. "Grossinger's the Concorde, Browns, the Pines ... buildings go, memories remain." 

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