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July 31, 1987 - Image 28

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-07-31

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South Haven Sunset

Residents of the Lake Michigan resort recall
when their town was the Catskills of the Midwest.


Staff Writer


anthe days before the family
car and the airplane became
universal means of transpor-
tation, ferry boats would-reg-
ularly ply Lake Michigan bet-
ween Chicago and South Haven. It
was the summer visitors, arriving by
boat, by train, by bus, and then by car,
who brought the little lakeside town
to life. South Haven oldtimers say
that as many as 100,000 would jam
the resort on the weekends.
When the boats arrived, the
townspeople would crowd the shore to
greet the passengers. Many of those
present for the ships' arrivals were
South Haven Jews, eager for
customers for their resorts and boar-
ding houses.
In its heyday, South Haven,
Michigan, on the lower end of the
lake, boasted 55 Jewish-owned resort
hotels and boarding houses, where
Jews from Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland
and as far away as St. Louis would
come to pass sun-filled days on the
Lake Michigan beach.
Resort hotels owned by the
Mendelsons and the Fidelmans were
virtual self-contained villages, spread
over acres of land. They catered to an
upscale clientele, offering their
patrons food, activities and entertain-
ment around the clock. More modest
establishments offered the vacationer
a simple room close to the white sand
and blue surf of the lake.
South Haven's non-Jewish
residents never really embraced the
Jews, and when the resort business
began to decline in the 1960s and
'70s, the permanent Jewish presence
in town all but disappeared.
Why did South Haven, which was
once a kind of Catskills of the
Midwest, virtually disappear as a
resort town? And what happened to
the town once the vacationers stopped

Morris Horwitz owns the Victoria
Resort, a bed-and-breakfast establish-
ment, and the only Jewish-owned
hotel remaining in South Haven.
Once owned by the Glassman family,
Horwitz bought the resort's two
dilapidated buildings about ten years
ago, rather than see the last of his
boyhood memories of South Haven
destroyed. "It was one of the last old


FRIDAY, JULY 31, 1987

pieces of property,' he says. "It was
unrestored beauty."
Horwitz, 32, spent summers grow-
ing up in South Haven. His parents'
house is a block away from the Vic-
toria, which was built in the 'teens or
'20s. He says he began the restoration
project both out of sentiment and as
a personal challenge. "It was
something that had to be done,' he
Horwitz did not begin the renova-
tions until 1983; the Victoria's doors
re-opened in 1985. Set back from a
shady street two blocks from the lake
in what is now a residential district,
the hotel is located in the middle of
the North Shore, what used to be the
Jewish section of South Haven.
The restored structures have a
homey, old-fashioned ambience. "It's
a nostalgic type of place:' Horwitz
readily admits. The screened-in por-
ches invite the visitor to come in and
sit a spell. The rooms have a quaint
feel to them, with brass lighting fix-
tures and door knobs and antique
chests of drawers. Lacey sheer cur-
tains cover the windows; framed
postcards of South Haven in days past
line the hallway's walls. The wooden
floors squeak comfortably as they are
tread on. Although Horwitz installed
air conditioning as a gesture to
modern comfort, the cumulative effect
is of stepping back in time.
The centerpiece of the Victoria is
its ornate dining room/banquet hall.
At breakfast time, soft light and a
comfortable breeze from the lake
stream in through arched windows.
Ornate chandeliers, imported from
Czechoslovakia in 1934, hang from
the high ceiling. Red tablecloths cover
the tables, which are set with linen
napkins and the Glassman's original
china. "The ballroom is something
that should never die," Horwitz
declares, overseeing the room which
he found in ruins and which he
restored to its past opulence.
agels and lox are the extent of
the Jewish fare that Horwitz
can offer his guests, few of
whom are Jews. Once, though, per-
haps 50 years ago, Jews could stroll
the North Shore, grab a bite at Mick-
. ey's Sandwich Shop or an Eastern
European-style meal of herring and
tea at Weiner's Herring House.


Hotelier Morris Horwitz at the Victoria Resort.

Mention the old days and Donald
and Ruth Horwitz, Morris' parents,
will gladly reconstruct the sights and
sounds of South Haven in its prime.
"There were over 100 sleeping
areas," Donald says as he eats his
breakfast at the Victoria. In his mind,
he ranges around the streets of the
North Shore and passes the old
establishments one by one. "There
was Noodleman's, the Michigan
Beach, Eichenbaum's, Ashen's Beach
House, Mendelson's, Steuben's, the
Biltmore, the Sands."
"Every house bigger than a
shack, they had rented rooms;' Ruth
The Weiners let out a couple of
rooms in addition to their restaurant.
The Davidsons, says Donald, relishing
the memory, had a sign out front in
an apparent hybrid of Yiddish and
English, announcing, "All Kinds
Rooms For Rent."
Hoteliers would arrive in South
Haven in the spring, open up their

houses, and work non-stop until the
end of the season. "Mr. Mendelson
closed Labor Day and went to
Florida;' recalls Donald. "If one of his
children would ask him a question, he
would say, 'Talk to me after Labor
Day.' He'd never stop working, this old
Becky Patner is one of the three
Mendelson daughters who succeeded
their parents in the running of the
family resort which closed its doors
about ten years ago. She lives in an
airy, spacious cottage on the beach.
The location is almost too good, she
says. Traffic and noise on the beach
side are constant, but in her kitchen
on the other side of the cottage, the
quiet of a small beach community
South Haven was an elegant
place, she remembers. In the early
years there were no cars. "When we
were in business, we had to walk into
town to do the shopping."
Patner takes pride in the per-

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