Brown’s Hotel and Country Club is an abandoned resort in the Borscht Belt of the Catskill Mountains of New York.
The Black Apple Inn was constructed by the Appel family along a hillside above Hilldale Pond in rural Sullivan County in the 1920’s. 2
In 1944, Charles Brown, owner of several other hotels, purchased the Black Apple Inn for $70,000. 3 Brown completed $100,000 in renovations, reopening the Black Apple Inn as the 473-room Charles and Lillian Brown’s Hotel and Country Club. 4
The resort soon became known for its wealthy patrons, with the Brown family focusing on fine dining and live entertainment to entice tourists. 3 The hotel’s Brown Derby nightclub attracted comedians such as Bob Hope, Buddy Hackett, 5 Jackie Mason, 6 Woody Allen, 7 and George Burns, and musicians such as Sammy Davis, Jr., Tony Bennett, 8 Harry Belafonte, 9 and Liberace. 3 Jerry Lewis began his comedic career at Brown’s, beginning as a waiter and working up to nightly performances in what became the Jerry Lewis Theater. 29
As it did not boast ski slopes, Brown’s would open in April and close in early November. 10
Brown’s Hotel and Country Club also attracted Italian and Jewish gangsters as well. During the 1940’s, the bodies of their numerous victims would often turn up in Loch Sheldrake, 11 less than two miles away from the hotel.
The resort became one of the largest in the Catskills by the middle of the 20th century, rivaling Grossinger’s and The Concord, 9 boasting 570 rooms. 12 29 It was luxurious and family friendly, with tourists lured by unlimited food and entertainment. 13 Brown’s used the slogan “There’s More of Everything” and “A Bit of California at Your Doorstep.” 14
Decline and Closure
Brown’s was a part of the “Borscht Belt,” an area once distinguished by scores of Jewish summer resort hotels, cabin colonies and camps. 1 Tourism peaked after World War II when massive resort facilities were built in the countryside.
By the 1960’s, tourism in the “Borscht Belt” had entered a decline. 1 Air travel was becoming increasingly convenient and cheap and the advent of interstate highways made long distance automobile travel easier.
In 1978, Charles Brown died. 10 Lillian Brown, who owned 100% of the resort, began gifting small shares of stock to her grandson, Bruce. While the resort was still profitable, it was facing ever declining attendance numbers.
In December 1985, Brown’s opened model luxury townhouses that featured cathedral ceilings and fireplaces. 8 Investors included Hotels International who were targeting second-home buyers from New York City. It was projected that Brown’s would be surrounded by 250 townhouses and several thousand houses.
Brown’s, suffering from financial troubles, led Lillian Brown to step down as president. 10 Her grandson, Bruce, took over. A turnaround plan was launched but failed to work and the resort filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in July 1988. 12 The hotel owed $11.7 million to 203 creditors and the county for back taxes. 28 29 A deal, which involved the owner of the Tamarack Lodge purchasing Brown’s, fell through. 10
Brown’s closed for the season on November 11 and never reopened. 12 The property was sold on November 29 at a foreclosure auction for $5.3 million to Brooklyn-based Vista Environments Inc. President Rubin Margules, a real-estate developer, planned to continue operating Brown’s as a resort. The sale was used to pay down a $5.2 million mortgage debt.
Renovation of Brown’s began in 1997 and was converted into the 396-unit 18 Grandview Palace condominiums. 5 Most amenities were kept, such as the swimming pools, tennis courts, miniature golf course, chapel, synagogue, theater and bar. 15 The restaurant remained closed. Within a few years, nearly 75% of the units had sold. 16
The city of Fallsburg had threatened to condemn Grandview Palace over numerous violations, including inoperable sprinklers, fire alarms and fire doors. 17 The owners promised to fix the issues. 9 In the interim, security personnel were ordered by the city to patrol the grounds every 30 minutes in the event that a fire started.
As a result of the violations, Grandview Palace’s two-month old insurance coverage, through the Hartford Insurance Company, was cancelled in September 2011. 22 A replacement policy was obtained through Illinois Union Insurance.
At 5:05 p.m. on April 14, 2012, a guard on patrol noticed a wood burning smell near an oil boiler room but could not locate any smoke. 19 A tenant smelled something burning 15 minutes later and observed smoke rising from the main building, but deemed it not serious enough to notify the fire department. Around 6:00 p.m., the guard on patrol unlocked the boiler room after reports of more smoke. 20 He observed heavy smoke and flames leaping from the room. 19
The Loch Sheldrake fire department was called at 6:06 p.m. but the fire chiefs were out of town for the weekend. 20 The Hurleyville fire department, five miles away, was instead called into action.
By the time the fire department arrived on the scene, there were 20- to 30-foot flames. 21 It became so large that over 43 fire companies and 300 firefighters were called in to what became the largest fire in the Catskills history. 23
The fire destroyed the century-old wood-framed structure that housed the original Black Apple Inn along with six other buildings. 19 Only two buildings remained. Over 100 residents were evacuated with no serious injuries. 9 Four firefighters were slightly injured. 20
While the owner believed that the fire code violations had been resolved prior to the incident, the insurance companies disagreed. 22 On May 24, it was confirmed by fire officials that the blaze began in the condominium’s main building in a boiler room that was no longer in use. 19
A subsequent meeting by the township resulted in the condemnation of Grandview Palace. 24 Only two buildings remained standing: Building F and one wing of Building I. Building B was not affected by the fire but a collapsing wall made it unsafe to enter.
The owners of the complex was given 60 days to demolish the complex. 24
The Grandview Palace had two insurance policies totalling $30 million, 24 but the insurers, Illinois Union Insurance and Great American Insurance, refused to make payments. 22 The insurers cited falsification of information by Grandview Palace whose board members claimed there were no existing code violations or lack of automatic sprinklers.
A meeting between the condominium board and condominium owners was held in November 2012. 25 Renters were not invited, nor were owners who had missed the $90 monthly maintenance fees that were still being collected after the fire. 26
A court case pitting Grandview Palace against the insurance companies and residents went to court in December 2012. 22
In August 2017, both the insurance companies and Grandview Palace filed motions for summary judgement but both motions were denied. 27 Oral arguments on the appeals was scheduled for November 2017 and it could be put on the trial calendar in 2018.