19 Haunting Pictures That Showcase How The Most Beautiful Places Can Change After Being Abandoned Interview
Not long ago, an old matchbook laying on photographer Pablo Iglesias Maurer's desk caught his eye. Or rather, it was the postcard-like picture on it, of a resort complex built in the 1960s. It got Pablo wondering how the then-famous landmark looked now, and the answer has led him to make an amazing photo series called Abandoned States.
The vintage photo came with the title How to Run A Successful Golf Course, but when Maurer got to the place, it was clear the owner of Penn Hills Resort didn't follow that advice. He pointed the camera at the abandoned place at roughly the same spot and did a '5-decades-after' shot of the place.
Ever since then, Pablo was hooked. He ordered more '60s photo postcards from eBay and started going around the country, capturing these once beautiful buildings from old photos that now stand abandoned only as faint memories of what once was.
"The vintage postcards, have their own haze—the places were never as nice as they look. I often struggle to get the two images to line up, as well. But time blurs the difference and brings everything into focus."
Check out the incredible series of before and after pics below. And don't miss Bored Panda's interview with Maurer!
More of the indoor pool at Grossinger's. The tiled floor was heated, the entire structure air conditioned. Above, beautiful mid-century "sputnik" chandeliers cast a glow on the swimmers below. Below the pool are exercise rooms, a gym, salon and a host of other amenities. The pool has sat vacant since the late 90's and has fallen beyond repair.
Bored Panda got in touch with Maurer and he was kind enough to share his thoughts on the Abandoned States project with us. "I've been amazed at the staying power of the photographs and the whole project," he told us about the project he unveiled in 2017, from his perspective in 2023. "All of these photos are deeply meaningful to me, as is the time I've spent in the Catskills and Poconos over the years. These are places that allowed me some time and space to meditate, or reflect on life, so I remain attached."
Over the years, the photographer has revisited both places many times. "I've continued to marvel at the work others have done in documenting the area. My friend Marisa Schienfeld is a native of the Catskills and has worked for years to preserve the history of the Jewish resorts in the area. I also marvel at the work of Isaac Jeffreys whose nighttime photos of these resorts are awe-inspiring," he said.
Grossinger's outdoor pool, olympic sized, built in 1949 at a cost of $400,000 (about $5 million in today's market.) Long gone are the private cabanas, changing room and lounges that used to surround it.
Bored Panda wanted to get Maurer's thoughts on taking photos in abandoned buildings. He stressed the fact about how vital it is that everyone should use common sense and be safe. "And most importantly, respect these places for what they often are—historical sites. They should be afforded the same level of respect you offer some piece of untouched nature, or a work of art. Don't take anything, don't vandalize anything, and be extremely judicious about who you bring with you," he said.
Meanwhile, we were interested in what advice he'd give other, new photographers. "My advice to any photographer is pretty simple—develop your own style. I'd much rather someone go out with a camera and shoot what feels right to them than go out with a camera and try and recreate something they've seen on Instagram," he said that authenticity is essential.
"Taste is subjective by nature, so focus on finding your own voice and embracing it. You see this a lot in this stretch of 'abandoned' photography, which is full of over-saturated, highly retouched photographs aimed at making these places look horrific. My view is a little different—when you are in one of these places, the content itself is interesting enough. If you actually manage to take a good photograph of the place, it won't need much help after the fact."
The browns and reds and oranges of this Poconos dining hall's carpet have turned green, the color of the moss that's taken its place.
Maurer is currently a staff writer for The Athletic. He covers soccer and focuses on the history and culture of the game. Meanwhile, his writing and photography have been featured in a variety of well-known outlets, including National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Gothamist, and elsewhere.
The photographer’s Abandoned States project is widely known across the internet—you might have seen some of his photos without realizing who the man behind the camera lens is. Other people, however, spent their vacations at these very spots when they were young, so Maurer’s images were a real blast from the past for them.
The Homowack Lodge now sits abandoned on the southern edge of the famed "Borscht Belt." On its lower level, maybe the highlight of the place, a four-lane Brunswick bowling alley. It has seen better days. The resort closed in the mid-2000's but lived on briefly, first as a Hasidic resort and lastly as the site of a summer camp—one which was forced to shut down after the NY Department of Environmental Conservation deemed it uninhabitable.
Through his photos, taken in the resorts in Poconos in Pennsylvania and Catskills in New York, Maurer shows the stark contrast between once-booming holiday destinations and their current state. Ruins, abandonment, and deep silence have now replaced the smiling faces and joyous laughter of vacation-goers.
Pristine leisure spots have become overrun with nature or suffered so much damage from the environment that they look like something straight out of a post-Apocalyptic movie. The images are a reminder of the ravages of time and how it spares no place, no matter how popular it might have once been.
Grossinger's indoor tennis center. The rear of the postcard is an ad for Grossinger's rye bread, a local staple during the resort's operation. Resort royalty Jenny Grossinger lays out the pitch: "The fun and fresh air people get here at Grossinger's really gives them an appetite. They love all of our food - and a particular favorite is our Grossinger's rye and pumpernickel bread. Now you can get this same healthy, flavorful bread at your local food store. Try a loaf. I'm sure you'll love it."
Maurer, a fan of exploring abandoned places, told National Geographic that he finds forgotten structures by simply getting in his car and driving.
"The images inspire emotion that's really difficult to put your finger on. It's a little melancholy," Maurer said.
The bowling alley in the Homowack Lodge in the Catskills, in particular, held a deep significance for Maurer. "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,” he told National Geographic.
After a fire destroyed the main building at this resort in the Poconos, a replacement went up in the early 70's. It is a truly striking sight, a modernist spaceship tucked away deep in the woods.
Sunbathing and swimming in the Poconos. Postmarked, 1967. "Dear Jonnie: If you were only here, I would take you out for a horse-back ride - or else we could go golfing. Be good until I see you. Dr. Waterman."
"People connect the decay in these photographs with a general sort of decay. Something once grand was left to rot. I think, for a lot of people, it's to them a symbol of how wasteful we are."
Photographing abandoned places and urban exploration are both very romantic ideas. However, before you rush off to follow in Maurer’s footsteps, you’ve got to keep some safety tips in mind. The last thing you want is to get badly hurt or to get into some trouble with the law. First of all, either go on the adventure with a friend or let your nearest and dearest know exactly where you’ll be. That way, you’ll have backup in case you get hurt or trapped.
The indoor pool at Grossinger's, which opened in 1958. Elizabeth Taylor attended the pool's opening, and Florence Chadwick - the first woman to swim the English Channel in both directions - took the first dip in it. From Ross Padluck's excellent "Lost Architecture of Paradise": "...The new indoor pool at Grossinger's was the zenith of the Catskills. Nothing quite like it had ever been built, and nothing ever would be again. It represented everything about the Catskills in the 1950s-style: extravagance, luxury, modernism and celebrity."
Second of all, take the time to do some background research on the property you plan to visit. Check out your local laws and know your rights, find some photographs (or even blueprints!) of the place, plan your time accordingly so you’re not stuck in some random ruins in the middle of the night while it’s freezing.
Urbex often falls into a legal and moral grey zone, so if you do ever run into the authorities, be respectful, apologize for trespassing, and promise that you won’t ever go back to that particular abandoned property ever again. In general, it’s best to visit the structure and leave it undisturbed or better than you found it. The only souvenirs that you should be taking are pictures.
The caption on the back of this Pocono resort's postcard touts this theater as the "resort world's most modern showplace." With a capacity of 1200, it remains splendorous even in disrepair. This postcard is also postmarked, and filled out. "Having a lovely weekend here. All pleasure - only exercise is rowing a boat and playing shuffleboard! Nice to be lady-like and not "rushing" about! We will see you soon."
The cocktail lounge of a now-defunct resort in the Poconos. "Peaceful relaxation - healthful recreation," says the caption on the rear of the card.
And finally, remember to keep yourself as physically safe as possible. Stating the obvious here, but abandoned structures can be very dangerous even if you think you’re prepared. Never assume that something’s safe, always be ready for the worst, have contingency plans ready, and keep all the different exit points in mind before venturing anywhere.
Stairs lead down to an abandoned theater in the Poconos. The curtain last fell here sometime in the early 90's
The Mies van der Rohe-inspired "Jenny G Wing" opened in 1964 and was among the last structures erected at Grossinger's. It was designed by famed architect Morris Lapidus—the man who near single-handedly created the "Miami Modern" look in hotels and, more locally, designed the Capitol Skyline Hotel.
Wear thick clothing so that you don’t hurt yourself on nails, glass, broken wood, and crumbling concrete. Good boots are a must, steel-capped if possible. As is a mask for your face so you don’t breathe in any toxic materials, a hard hat for your head, and a pair of thick gloves to protect your hands. Bring a flashlight with you (and possibly a second one just in case), as well as a fully-charged phone, and some food and water if it’s a long trip. Photography in abandoned places is possible without these things, but your safety really is paramount.
On the inside of the matchbook, some text: "Swim n' Sun Indoor Swimming Pool at Penn Hills Lodge and Cottages. The Poconos' Finest Modern Resort."
A lane attendant at the Homowack lodge in the Catskills.
Looking down the side of that same 70's structure. "Ultra-modern building houses the dining room, cocktail lounge, lobbies and offices."
A residential building at a Poconos resort sits in disrepair. On the back of the postcard: "Dear Bernie - Don't think we forgot you - but we're having such a grand time that post cards are a chore! This is the life & the place & the people are grand. We couldn't be happier or have more fun. See you soon! Love, Lou & Shiela.
Postcard caption: "Birchwood is the only resort offering three swimming pool facilities, indoor pool, outdoor pool and lake with beach. Pictured here is beautiful Eagle Lake, at the foot of the Village Green. Here couples enjoy the white-sand beach, chaise lounges, bicycle and row boats, and fish off its shores ... Six low-cost all-expense package plans include indoor swimming, airplane rides, movies, bowling, horseback riding, all winter sports and 40 other free activities!" More recently, the hangar at the resort's airstrip served a different purpose: cop killer Eric Frein made the place his home during a weeks-long manhunt and was eventually apprehended just a stone's throw from Eagle Lake.