In 1920, the Flagler introduced the distinctive stucco covered, parapet and Palladian window dominated architectural style now known as Sullivan County Mission. Soon, virtually every other Sullivan County hotel was following suit.
In 1929 Flagler owners Asias Fleischer and Philip Morganstern unveiled a state-of-the-art, 1500 seat theatre and hired two young men, Moss Hart and Dore Schary to head their social staff. Before long, every hotel of any size and stature in the area was hiring entertainers and developing some kind of shows for their guests.
By the 1930s, the Flagler was operating during the winter as well as the summer, and another trend among larger Sullivan County hotels was born.
On a sadder note, the once proud Flagler was in the forefront of the demise of the Sullivan County resort industry when in 1966 it became one of the first of the major hotels to file for bankruptcy protection, with owner Jack Barsky citing debts incurred in building the hotel’s new Empire Room nightclub, a new indoor pool, and a new lobby for dooming his business.
And long after the region’s Golden Age of tourism here had ended, the Flagler became part of yet another trend, the re-purposing of the county’s many closed hotels.
The trend actually started in 1966 when Pauls Hotel in Swan Lake was reborn as part of the Daytop Village rehabilitation institute. By the end of the 1970s, the concept of converting old hotels for other uses had become commonplace enough that the New York Times took note in an article that focused on the Flagler’s new life as the Crystal Run School.
By that time, the Flagler had already been through a brief existence as the Fountains of Rome, a reincarnation sparked by the expectations of casino gambling which ended so suddenly after two years that the dishes from the last meal were left on the dining room tables. Then, in 1973 the property was purchased by Crystal Run and its re-purposing began.
“On the grounds of the former Flagler Hotel in Fallsburg, N.Y., retarded adults till a garden where golfers once teed off,” reporter Jonathan Steinberg wrote in a 1979 feature story. “Guest rooms are now classrooms. The golf shop is an arts and crafts room and woodworking shop, and one of the bars is a home economics workshop.”
Steinberg noted that the Flagler was not the only former resort in the area to have taken on a new look:
“A sign outside the former Windsor Hotel in South Fallsburg proclaims it ‘Capital of the Age of Enlightenment.’ Inside, disciples of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi meditate in what has become a major center for transcendental meditation. Nearby, Swami Baba Muktananda took over the Gilbert’s Hotel two months ago for another meditation facility.”
The Times article pointed out that “the more renowned hotels of the area—Grossinger’s, Kutsher’s, Concord—remain successful, but many of the smaller hotel operators, with less exhaustive facilities, are trying hard to make ends meet:
“Their facilities are often marginal operations, and they, along with many of the region’s residents, await the hoped-for introduction of legalized gambling to revitalize the Sullivan County resort region, once characterized as the Borscht Belt.
“Conversion and rehabilitation of Sullivan County’s most important manmade assets, its hotels, could radically alter the face of the Catskills by reducing dependence on the fortunes of the resort industry and by instituting a new economic base. But the present changes are not without drawbacks.
“The area faces the social difficulties of absorbing a significantly different population, and the financial problem of dealing with declines in the tax base brought on by the tax-exempt status of these new institutions.”
Mention was also made of New Hope, “another hotel converted to a home for the retarded a few miles from Crystal Run.” New Hope had taken over the property that had been the New Roxy and then later Green Acres and opened its facility in December of 1975.
“The recent hotel conversions have brought a mixed bag of benefits to Sullivan County,” Steinberg wrote. “Revitalizing old resorts removes a prominent source of blight from the environment. The new institutions buy from local merchants and businessmen, and the substantial number of handicapped and retarded people living in the area—more than 1.5 percent of the 65,000 population—has turned Sullivan County into a ‘major health care community’ according to Mark Brandt, director of the local Association for Retarded Children.
“’There are quite a number of people who are making a living off of this,’ Mr. Brandt said.”
Brandt’s insight proved to be prophetic, as the ensuing years would see unprecedented growth in the healthcare industry in Sullivan County. Not only would New Hope make major strides in growing into the 720 seat dining room left over from the days of the New Roxy, but another organization, shortly to become known as The Center for Discovery, would begin its steady ascent to becoming one of the nation’s most innovative institutions for the disabled and Sullivan County’s largest employer.
Photo: The Flager Hotel.