A few weeks ago we attended the 30th anniversary party for Ed Finnerty and Nancie Battaglia, and the talk among the guests turned to the Lake Placid Club. That was after we had thoroughly rehashed our days as staff members of the 1980 Olympic Winter Games Organizing Committee when Ed and Nancie met.
In recalling the wedding reception and how much fun it was, I remarked about parking in this big field. Ed said, "Yeah, Howard, the party was at the Lake Placid Club Golf House; that big field was the golf course." Oops!
Having always been afflicted with a severe case of foot-in-mouth disease, it was flaring up when I met Nancie when we were setting up offices for the Olympic Committee in the Marcy Hotel. So, I sez to this adorable little girl, "Hi, are you helping your Dad set up his office?" That little girl very nicely told me where the bear crossed the brook and something else about the horse I rode in on, and we have been best friends ever since. At the time, she already had a degree in photojournalism from Syracuse University.
I found this strange card about fire danger on a dresser in the oldest part of the Lake Placid Club. There were very narrow hallways and tiny rooms in that first section, built in the early 1900’s. None of those rooms had been used when I was there, and I doubt if they were used by members of the International Olympic Committee who were housed there in 1980.
Back to the Lake Placid Club - it was a hectic time at the Club as the John Swaim reign started that long slide into foreclosure and bankruptcy.
Among the guests at the anniversary party was Debbie Allen, who at the time played a major role in those proceedings as branch manager of Key Bank in Lake Placid. Swaim bought the Club in October 1980, and it reopened Dec. 1, 1980. In April, 1983, Key Bank foreclosed on a $4.25 million loan and then operated the Club for about one season. I stayed on with the bank, reporting to retired Supreme Court Judge Harold Soden, who been appointed receiver.
I started work there in January 1981 as head of a news bureau and was made general manager by late 1982. Peter Crowley, now managing editor of the Enterprise, did a great, in-depth feature story on the Club in January 2002. In his interview with me, he practically made me famous when he used this quote (as last GM of the Club): "I was made captain of the Titanic after it hit the iceberg."
Trouble with the marketing
But all of the above has been reported many times. It was the time-share units that were going to make the Club go. It took months to get state legislation passed to allow this type of ownership (the first in New York state), and the marketing group, in anticipation of handling the sales, was already in residence at the Club, room and board included. It was a separate company, not owned by Swaim, and the marketing company earned 40 percent of the time-share sales. And for the few months the sales were cranking, there was about $11 million in sales. As sales faltered, a manager of the sales force started removing a recision page (in effect covering buyer's remorse) from the offering plan. That act eventually shut down the time-share sales.
Here are excerpts from a Syracuse Post-Standard story of October 1982:
"Hundreds of New Yorkers may be planning trips to Lake Placid this weekend to claim the 'modular, programmable electronic home computers' they were told they won this week in the Lake Placid Club Sweepstakes.
"Those travelers may or may not know that the unit, a Nixdorf LK-3000, is an out-of-production, hand-held model that has few available component modules and that recently sold in New York City for as little as $29.95."
I personally witnessed a guy come out of the Club with his prize, throw it on the ground and stomp on it. As the attorney general's office investigated the promotion, it was revealed that the office had received more than 90 complaints about the promotion.
Here is more from the Post-Standard:
"Nathan Riley of the attorney general's office estimated that since June of last year (1981) about 10,000 people have visited the resort in response to notices that they had won prizes. About 1,300 of those people purchased time shares in the condominiums at an average price of $10,000.
"There is no illegality (people disappointed in the premiums offered) there, of course. Nonetheless, the attorney general's staff is investigating the club for two reasons:
"First, the Speedograms say recipients have won a 'sweepstakes,' though the gift ordinarily conferred appears to us to be a gift given to anyone who comes into the office, Riley said.
"And second, some purchasers of time shares have complained that they were not verbally advised of their right to cancel the purchase order. Such a notification is required by the attorney general's office, Riley said."
Earlier in 1982 the attorney general's office won an injunction that prohibited the club from using stationery bearing the state's trademark "Lotto" and "Instant Lotto" logos.