CHAUTAUQUA - At a time in America's history where entrepreneurship was stymied by the worst economic fallout since the great depression of the 1930s, a Buffalo school teacher with no formal architectural knowhow built the first condominium in the Chautauqua Institution from scratch.
"I love telling this story," said Laura Martin, the now retired nonagenarian school teacher who acted as the catalyst for the creation of the first condos in Chautauqua. "It's something that's just amazing to me that it happened."
Martin claims that the idea for the condos came to her at a morning lecture at Chautauqua. The lecturer, speaking about the recession of the early 1980s, had stated that, "you cannot do the same things that proved to be successful in year's past, as they will inevitably fail in today's day and age."
Situated near the south gate of Chautauqua Institution, Laura Martin, condo ground founder, says the building looks just as nice today as it did when it was built.
P-J photo by Remington Whitcomb
Laura's husband had purchased a small house on the grounds which provided a small bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and porch. The Martins owned the house with intentions of renting out the rooms, and according to Laura, the house was a smash hit.
"People really just wanted a small space where they could enjoy themselves and the beauty of Chautauqua," said Martin. "The house was always in high demand."
Martin continued that the success which she and her husband enjoyed in renting out the house gave her the idea to replicate the quaintness of the house en masse by building a condos of the same style. However, due to the financial state of the country, acquiring a loan for such an endeavor would likely handcuff her to an interest rate of around 20 percent.
"I thought, why don't we try to put up a building of just apartments that people would be able to buy themselves?" said Martin.
Martin spread word of her idea and acquired a few believers. Otto Schludecker, who owned the Spencer Hotel and the land on which Martin envisioned to place the condos, was first on board.
"He told me he'd hang on to the land for a few months while I tried to find people interested in going piecemeal with me on the project," said Martin. "However, I needed to get someone on board who had a thorough knowledge of building and architecture."
That person ended up being Tony Joy. At the time, Joy was building a home that was near the home Martin owned, and she took note of the fastidious attention to detail he took in his building projects.
"At the end of every single day, he would go to that house and do a thorough once-over of all the work, then he'd go back and do an even more thorough twice-over," said Martin. "I just had a feeling he was the person that would be the best for the job."
According to Martin, she desired leaders who showed the same outward dedication and professionalism in creating the condos. She attributes the still pristine condition of the condos 30 years later to the professionalism and quality of work given by those leaders.
"Finally, I asked (Joy), 'do you think it's practical for people who want a nice little spot in Chautauqua to pool their money and create such a thing?'" said Martin. "His resounding answer was yes. Finally, my friends who had heard about what I was planning came to me and asked to be a part of it, which was a blessing, because at least during that time, my understanding was there were laws prohibiting the advertisement of condominiums before they were fully built."
As more and more people approached Martin, the project started to come together more and more every day. Eventually, Joy convinced his coworker Jim Mayshark to sign on with the project, and the builder team for the condominiums was created.
"When the design of the condos finally needed to be discussed, we decided that we wanted to create something small that could accommodate one or two people per room," said Martin. "Something cozy something nice, but also something that could be used year-round. We wanted each individual unit in the condos to have their own temperature control and such, so each person could feel like the unit belonged to them."
"We took everyone who was interested and put them on a payment schedule," continued Martin. "Instead of putting up a bunch of money in the beginning, we all paid for it as the building took shape, with the rule that by the time the condos were finished, everyone would have fully paid for their unit and no one would be left owing anyone money."
The plan worked to a tee. Martin took it upon herself to send all the participants of the program monthly letters letting them know how progress of the building was coming along. By 1982, the condos were completed.
According to Walter Grosjean, president of the condominiums, four of the founding participants in the building of the condos still own their original units, and still regularly use them.
"(Martin) really created more than condos," said Grosjean. "She created a harmonious environment a family even. Everyone here in the condos gets along with each other and we make it a point to all gather at least once a year for dinner. Still to this day everyone who owns a unit is friends with each other and none of that could have been possible without Laura."