South Shore man retires from glove-making after decades
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – About two blocks from Heavenly Mountain Resort, down a quiet street, tucked into the garage of a chalet-style home is Martin Hollay’s workshop. It’s here that Hollay, now 91, has spent the last six decades cutting, stitching and lining his handcrafted leather gloves.
In the dusty space, photos of Hollay and Stein Erickson skiing, old Euro license plates, pictures of half-naked women and ski patrol hats line the walls. A tangled bundle of more than 40 years of season passes hangs from a shelf in the corner. The massive pair of steel scissors Hollay brought from Hungary when he immigrated to the U.S. in the 1940s sits on the counter. Near the window, a stack of freshly cut deerskin outlines waits for stitching.
“That’s going to be my last stitchings,” Hollay said in his deep Hungarian accent. “I hope I can finish them.”
Over the years, Hollay has crafted thousands upon thousands of gloves. He’s made countless leather hats and even a few leather vests. Through his work, he’s created friendships and a little notoriety. Now, Hollay is working on his final pairs.
“My eyesight, I have to use glasses now,” Hollay said, staring at a worn black glove. “I need sunlight to make black gloves. Sometimes, Jesus Christ, I miss a stitch. I have to pull the needle back out to make it even.”
The century-old press that Hollay bought in the 1950s in Gloverville, New York, a renowned glove-making community, still functions perfectly. Its circular wooden block is still smooth.
The 500-pound cast iron lever and frame is still black and solid. Hollay has decided to donate the machine to the Lake Tahoe Historical Society Museum.
“I’m really happy the museum is going to take it,” said Hollay’s daughter Cezi Hollay-DeTarr. “It’ll be preserved that way.”
Hollay began his glove-making as a teenager in Hungary. He apprenticed in the craft and likely would’ve made it his life’s work if World War II hadn’t intervened. Instead, he served in the Hungarian Air Force, and was held by the U.S. Army for four years as a prisoner of war.
As the communist revolution swept over Hungary in 1956, he left his country as a refugee. He landed in San Francisco in April 1957 with little money and speaking little English. Eventually, he made his way to a factory that made heavy work gloves, but the work just didn’t fit.
“I didn’t want to take the job,” Hollay remembered.
He traversed the state looking for glove-making work. His first job in the U.S. was at Parker’s Gloves in Los Angeles, making left-handed golf gloves. But when winter rolled around, it didn’t take long for Hollay to find his way to the snow.
“I saw Heavenly and the lake and I said, ‘Martin, what the hell are you doing in Los Angeles?'” he said.
By 1958, Hollay had begun bussing dishes at the Ski Run Lodge and sleeping in the boiler room. After finishing well in downhill races and the Snowshoe Thompson Classic, Hollay scored a job with Heavenly through early friend and Olympic gold medalist skier Stein Eriksen.
As the years rolled by, Hollay’s presence at Lake Tahoe grew. He continued to ski and make gloves and hats, often selling them to local skiers and businesses.
When the 1960 Olympics came to town, Hollay’s ability as a cross-country skier was noticed. He was chosen to help lay the course for the Winter Games. His service was recognized recently at the Olympic Heritage events on the West Shore. One attending official even wore the gloves Hollay had given him some 25 years ago.
He became a full-time employee at Heavenly in the 1960s, helping to develop the entire Nevada side. All the while, he’d work through the day and come home to make gloves and hats at night. Through the 1980s, he was selling hundreds of pairs every year to people from all over the country. He retired from his mountain job in 1990. Twenty years later, he’d write an autobiography titled, “I Was So Lucky – The Life of Martin Hollay.”
Hollay continues to ski almost every day, his hands protected by a pair of red and black gloves of his own design. He keeps his skis in a back room near Heavenly’s tram. He wonders what he’ll do once he’s done making gloves, but, for the time being, he’s still got pairs to stitch.
“It’s my hobby. That’s all I can tell you,” Hollay said. “It’s just my hobby.”
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