For the last three years, Pablo Maurer has photographed vacation towns in the Poconos and Catskills mountain ranges. He’s one of few people to recently set foot in the once-booming vacation spots that today more resemble ruins than resorts.
In their heyday, resorts in the Poconos in Pennsylvania, and Catskills in New York were picturesque emblems of 1950s leisure. Today, resorts such as Pennsylvania’s Penn Hills and New York’s Grossinger and Homowack sit abandoned, filled with trash, and overcome by neglected flora.
Maurer enjoys exploring abandoned places. He says his method for finding forgotten structures is simply to get in his car and drive. While exploring an abandoned office at the former Penn Hills Resort, he found a matchbook with a picture of an indoor swimming pool on the cover. Exploring the resort further, he was able to find the angle at which the original photo was taken, align his camera, and capture the same image decades later.
"I came up with the idea to find other ephemera from that era. I picked up postcards from eBay and area antique shops," said Maurer.
Using these antique photos, Maurer then hunted down the original locations and created before-and-after comparisons.
"The images inspire emotion that's really difficult to put your finger on. It's a little melancholy," said Maurer. It was the idea of capturing this feeling that led the photographer, a Washington D.C. resident, to return to these resort regions over the course of three years to showcase the passage of time.
Each of the abandoned places and rooms that Maurer explored had its own personal significance to Maurer, he explained, but one room in particular seemed to resonate more than the others.
"The bowling alley," he says, was an attraction in the Homowack lodge in the Catskills. "I was there on Christmas day when my family was out of town, and I had nothing to do. I went up there and bowled. It was one of the most surreal moments of my life... It felt like it had been recently lived in."
The Homowack was one of a number of lodges in the Catskills known as the Borscht Belt that was prominent from the 1930s to 1980s. The region is attributed with inspiring the movie "Dirty Dancing." A report from Brown University's Catskills Institute attributes the decline to visitors becoming "bored with the old ways," and cheaper travel allowing people to reach more distant destinations.
Similarly, the Penn Hills Resort in the Poconos slowly slid into decline in the late 20th century and was closed by 2009.
Since publishing his work, Maurer has received emails and messages from people who say they once spent their summers in these broken-down resorts.
"People connect the decay in these photographs with general sort of decay," explained Maurer of the feedback he's received. "Something once grand was left to rot. I think to a lot of people, it's to them a symbol of how wasteful we are."