INTERVIEW: Fred Gasthalter - Paramount Hotel, Parksville

The Paramount Hotel in Parksville survived the demise of the Borscht Belt, but an early-morning fire in October 2000 devoured the then 96-year-old resort.

Once one of 30 hotels in Parksville, the Paramount survived by adapting. Several years ago, it was renovated and became part of the Best Western franchise.

In 2012, Fred Gasthalter, the former longtime owner and operator of the landmark resort, spoke from Florida about the love of his life, the Paramount. Fred died in June, 2013, at age 75.


What do you miss about the hotels, that period of time?

Well, I had a hotel; I was a very successful hotel owner. As a matter of fact it was probably one of the most successful hotels in Sullivan and Ulster counties. We did very, very well in the ’90s and the ’80s. I loved being with people and I enjoyed it very much.

Your hotel started out as a boarding house.

My father came there with his mother and father in 1906 from the lower East Side. We were there before almost any hotel in Sullivan and Ulster County.

Why come up to Sullivan County?

Well, they came up because my grandfather had TB and it was a great area for TB. As you know there were no resort hotels in Liberty; they were in places like Parksville, Swan Lake, Fallsburg, Ellenville, South Fallsburg and Hurleyville.

There’s a stretch in Fallsburg where there’s one resort practically bumping into another.

Now I’m gonna tell you something: There were more hotels in Parksville than any other place in Sullivan County. It’s hard to believe.

Especially when you look at Parksville today.

Today Parksville is a mountain with a bridge, nothing. My father, when he took the hotel over, he kept on building and my mother and I took it over until my father passed away in 1957, and my mother and I ran it until my mother passed away in 1979; then I took it over and I built it up to the highest occupancy hotel in Sullivan and Ulster counties. We had the greatest percentage of rooms taken all year round.

Why do you think that was?

Because I ran a very good hotel; what can I tell ya? It has to be kept up perfectly. Perfectly. And I knew how to do that because I was 100 percent handson.
I also had someone that worked for me that was very, very good; her name was Bella Farquhar. She also worked at Kutsher’s. She was excellent; she worked for me from 1974 till the hotel burned down.

How did the change in Parksville affect your resort?

Well, I became a Best Western in 1992. That was my saving grace because not only did we have regular guests, but we took in Best Western people. There were all these camps up there ... there were many many more camps. I did a tremendous business during the week and on the weekend. I had more signs on the road that said Best Western; you saw my signs, Best Western Paramount. That was my idea. A lot of signs were right off 17 a half a mile easy-on, easy-off; the gas station was down there.

From boarding house to seasonal resort to the Best Western.

In the 1960s there were hunters who had no place to stay, so I decided to take hunters and that was in ’61, ’62, ’63 and I finally became the largest hunting lodge in Sullivan and Ulster. We’d have 400 hunters. And I served them breakfast at 5 in the morning. That is what you call innovative; that’s what I did. The hunters were basically here in November. They wanted a good clean room, which I gave them, a good breakfast served fast – we were used to serving 300-400 people breakfast fast. We had the facilities; if they went to a local restaurant they’d have to wait two hours to get breakfast. They didn’t want that; they wanted to get in and out. I saw that to survive properly you have to be open all year round.

Because you’re still spending even when you’re closed.

Exactly. You have the taxes, the heat, the this, and if you shut it down when you open it up and it breaks, the buildings have to be repainted, they crack. You need to keep a minimum heat … and you save a tremendous amount of money.

A lot of the hotels kept adding on. How did you balance that?

I just figured it out to add on the right amount. Indoor pool? Of course. Ice skating? No. Outdoor pool, outdoor tennis – no indoor, those are too expensive
to heat in the winter time – that’s not for me. I didn’t want to compete with the other hotels that had indoor tennis and indoor ice skating; that’s ridiculous. I couldn’t afford that nonsense. You wanna go ice skating? We cleaned off our 20-acre lake. And we had snowmobiling also. Thirty years ago there was a big snowmobiling clientele. You wanna go indoor ice skating? I send them to Grossinger’s.

What was it like in the ’80s and ’90s when you see that Grossinger’s is selling?

I just had to do better and better, that’s why I became a Best Western. My best years, believe it or not, were ’95 and ’96, when there’s just a handful of
hotels at that point. But eventually you let it go. I had to let it go, it burnt down and that was it. No, I wasn’t gonna rebuild.

How would you like for the Catskills to be remembered?

It’s some great place to go in the surrounding 500-mile area.

You have a good Catskill story?

We had a lady that stayed in a room and she kept on stealing, which I didn’t know about. The waiters and busboys didn’t want to tell me because they didn’t want to lose their tip. She stole the silverware, the salt shakers, the Sweet ’n’ Lows, then she went home. But she ran out of the hotel room very quickly and the waiters and busboys got annoyed with her because she didn’t tip so I told them to go up and check her room to see what she left. She left a beautiful mink coat in the room so I put it in my bedroom closet. Naturally she called for the mink. I said I’d love to send it back to you but you gotta do one thing, you gotta send me all the tip money for the waiters and busboys, for the person that cleans your room and send back all the salt and pepper shakers, linen napkins and the silverware you stole. She sent it all back. I made her wait till a month before I sent the jacket back.


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