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Thursday, November 14, 2019

Calendar > Arts and Culture

‘Magic in the air' at the Liberty Museum

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Sullivan County Historian John Conway gave a presentation Sunday about the hundreds of hotels that once dotted the county's hills and valleys. Fellow speakers mulled how their remains might be repurposed.
LIBERTY — Architect Robert Dadras, the president of the Liberty Museum & Arts Center, could barely contain his enthusiasm Sunday as the museum's 13th Annual Catskills History and Preservation Conference began winding down.
“I know it's a cliché, but there is magic in the air!” he exclaimed while describing the day's events.
“There is a palpable energy on the part of the participants and the audience that I have rarely seen at any conference, anywhere, and I have attended many over the years.”
The conference, this year titled “500 Hotels! Tourism in the Sullivan County Catskills: Past, Present and Future,” began at 9 a.m. with a walking tour of many of the restored buildings in the hamlet of Ferndale, guided by Dadras and the man responsible for the restorations, longtime resident Maurice Gerry.
About 25 people took part in the tour.
Gerry, who has conducted many of these tours in the past, was in rare form Sunday.
“He always does a great tour, but I have never seen him this good,” Dadras remarked.
The conference kicked off after the tour, with three presentations before lunch, each one taking a different look at the heyday of the Sullivan County resort industry.
The highlight of the morning was an address by Dr. Irwin Richman, professor emeritus at Penn State University-Harrisburg. Dr. Richman - author of 25 books, including “Borscht Belt Bungalows,” and a founding member of the Catskills Institute, which promotes research and education on the significance of the Catskill Mountains for Jewish-American life - delivered a lighthearted look at bungalow life he titled, "Hotels and Bungalows: Ambivalence, Love and Hate."
The morning sessions were followed by the awarding of the second annual Preservation Award, which went to Maurice Gerry, who was honored for his distinguished service as a member of the Museum Board of Trustees, for his preservation work in Ferndale and for “his advocacy for greater stewardship of Sullivan County's significant historic places.”
Three presentations and two panel discussions followed after lunch, and unlike the morning sessions, which focused on the history of the region, the afternoon programs looked at the possibilities for the future of the Sullivan County resort industry.
A highlight was a presentation by Robert and Victor Dadras titled, “Re-Imagining and Re-Purposing the Great Catskill Resorts,” which offered specific steps that might make it feasible to reuse defunct hotel properties in modern configurations similar to resorts found in Vail, Colorado; Whistler, British Columbia; and Mont Tremblant, Quebec.
Robert Dadras felt it was important to leave the audience with more than just a trip down memory lane.
"I think that this year's conference could help to jumpstart what we've been talking about for many years: the re-envisioning of what the area's abandoned hotels could become,” he said. “They could be hotels without the American meal plan, hotels without chain-link fences or walls around them and guard posts at every entrance. They could become something to complement what the county now seems to be becoming, a kind of ‘Cultural Catskills,' or what you might call the ‘Smart Catskills.'”
Architect Victor Dadras - Robert's brother, business partner and co-presenter - added, “We might just be looking at an idea for the next 25 years of Sullivan County's tourism development.”
The evening ended with the opening reception for the Museum's newest exhibit, a retrospective of the former Pollack's Hotel in Liberty, as curated by Sharon Green. The irrepressible Marion Windt, a retired teacher and Liberty Village Trustee - and the last family member to operate the hotel - was on hand for the event.
The conference, just like all of the annual efforts before it, was organized entirely by volunteers, including members of the Museum's Board.





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