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Simple Summers Remembered

Sarah Hale
Staff Writer

There weren't fox trot lessons or well-known performers for the adults. The children had to make do without television. Nevertheless, every summer dozens of families moved to Loch Sheldrake near the Catskills to spend three months in the quiet company of one woman and her hotel.

"There was really nothing to do," said Barbara Milone, 59, whose grandmother owned the Pine Grove Hotel. "But those were the best times." Nearby hotels attracted noteworthy comedy acts, offered tennis courts and other activities. But not the Pine Grove. It was the "no frills" atmosphere that kept hundreds of working-class guests returning each summer.

On Saturday night, more than 70 of those summer residents gathered at a Levittown restaurant to reminisce and pay homage to a place where bungalows became their homes and best friends became their families.

"We grew up at that hotel," said Joan Levy, 51, of Miami, who spent her first 16 summers at the Pine Grove. "We had our first loves, our first bras and maybe even our first steps together. We were a family." Comedian Jackie Mason visited the hotel once. But for the most part, it was a simple place for groups seeking an escape from the city.

Ida Oskard, who emigrated from Poland in the 1920s, was living in a tiny apartment in Manhattan's Lower East Side when she purchased the 24-acre hotel and land for $50,000 in the early 1950s. She'd been working at a small restaurant, Ida's Daily Restaurant, below her apartment. She didn't live extravagantly-the windowsill kept her food cold-and she saved money to start her new enterprise.

With the help of family, she kept the hotel running for nearly 20 years, charging $35 per adult and $20 per child a week. She fed hundreds of guests and kept them entertained with productions by the guests, not by noteworthy stars building their careers. Meanwhile, she slept on the lobby sofa and ignored her own needs, often staying home while other guests traveled into the city for a movie.

"Everyone loved her cooking," Milone said. "She'd make roasted chicken and challah every was like having a traditional Jewish mother right there." When visitors weren't wading in the pool, wandering the woods to collect blueberries or exploring other nearby hotels, most relied on conversation to pass the time.

"Everybody always had to know everybody's business," said Milone, who described some guests as yentas, or gossips. "One time, one of the guests had an affair with the milkman. Everyone knew about it." There may not have been much to distract visitors, but there was much laughter, former guests recalled.

"There was this fellow who used to put food coloring in the swimming pool," said Roz Kaiser of Bayside, who is working on a book about the Pine Grove.

"Every day it was a different color." Oskard sold the hotel in the late 1960s. She died in 1969, and the hotel was used as apartments for nearby Loch Sheldrake College for some years after.

The main building and surrounding buildings have since been leveled, said Pamela Blank, 52, Milone's sister and Oskard's granddaughter.

"There's nothing left," said Blank, who organized the reunion simply because it had been more than 30 years since the summering families had been together. "It's very sad. All we have is our memories to keep the hotel alive." Although the hotel was bustling during the height of its popularity-people slept in their cars waiting for rooms to open-Milone said she doesn't believe it would survive now.

"People have different values today," she said. "They're always on the move and they want more to do...That's why this reunion was so important. We wanted to remember the simple times."

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